The game may have started two hours later than it was supposed to, but the Royals got the exact result that they wanted on Friday night. Kansas City used a stellar outing from Danny Duffy, who continues to look more and more like his 2014 dominant form, to combine with the lethal "HDH" combo and blank the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0 at Kauffman Stadium.
At 51-33, the Royals are 18 games over .500 for the first time since 1989. They have won six games in a row for the first time since opening the season 7-0. Earlier in the day, Mike Moustakas returned from the bereavement list just hours before he was announced as the victor of the All Star Final Vote. He is the seventh representative from Kansas City, easily a franchise record.
When the game finally started, all eyes were on Danny Duffy (3-4), who was making his fourth start since returning from the disabled list. He's gotten better in each of the first three games, throwing 6.1 innings of two-run ball in his most recent start last Sunday. Tonight, he put forth arguably his best performance of the season, stifling the AL's best offense over six shutout innings. He wasn't particularly sharp, yielding eight baserunners without striking out a single hitter, but he managed to retire eight of the last nine Blue Jays that he faced to earn his second straight quality start. In all, he threw 95 pitches.
After his first eight starts of the year, Duffy's ERA stood at 5.87 and he headed to the disabled list with bicep tendinitis. In the four games since his return, he has allowed just seven earned runs in 23.2 innings, averaging out to an ERA of 2.66. His season ERA has lowered to 4.65, and on Friday night, he picked up his first win since April 30. There's no question that his control has been remarkably better; his ability to induce weak contact against the most powerful team in baseball was fantastic all evening. However, one area of concern is his recent trouble to strike out hitters. In his last two starts, he has fanned only one hitter over 12.1 innings.
Opposing Duffy was the inconsistent but talented Marco Estrada, and he was never able to settle in before getting clocked with an Eric Hosmer chopper. The comebacker struck Estrada in the left shin; he stayed in the game but was clearly hobbled for the rest of his outing. With two on and two out after getting struck by the liner, Estrada escaped the first on his next pitch by inducing a flyout by Kendrys Morales.
The next inning, however, Estrada wasn't as fortunate. Salvador Perez opened the frame with a single, advanced to second on a groundout by Omar Infante, and came around to score on a laser double off the bat of Alex Rios. The drive was struck to the left-center gap; it was perhaps the hardest ball Rios has hit since his opening day home run.
Duffy wouldn't need any additional insurance, but Alcides Escobar provided it in the fourth by singling home Rios with two outs. Rios reached on a bloop single down the right field line, marking the first time in almost a month that he has collected multiple hits in consecutive games. In the eighth, Perez crushed his team-leading 15th home run of the season into the Kansas City bullpen, right into the glove of an idle Franklin Morales.
Just as a comparison, a Royal didn't reach the 15 home run mark last year until August 23rd. Alex Gordon picked up his 15th big fly in the team's 128th game of the season. On Friday, Perez smacked #15 in Kansas City's 84th contest.
Estrada ultimately gave up two runs in 6.1 innings, scattering nine hits, walking one, and striking out two. He picked up the loss to fall to 6-5 on the season.
Kansas City's vaunted trio of cyborg relievers closed out the game's last three innings. Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis both overcame doubles to work scoreless seventh and eighth innings. Davis' ERA continues to lower by one one-hundredth of a point per scoreless outing, dropping his mark to a microscopic 0.24. Greg Holland slammed the door by picking up his 18th save in 20 chances. Rumors of his demise continue to be extremely exaggerated; he struck out all three batters he faced as his slider continues to be as ridiculous as ever.
In Minnesota, the Tigers' bullpen imploded and gagged up a 6-1 lead in the ninth inning, culminating with a three-run walk-off bomb by
All Star Final Vote winner Brian Dozier. As a result, the four-time defending AL Central champions dropped to a season-worst eight games behind the Royals. The Twins kept pace with Kansas City and still sit 5.5 games out of first. The Indians and White Sox also won on Friday evening, so considering how well the AL Central has done in the last week, the Royals couldn't have picked a better time for their current six-game winning streak.
One other note: Eric Hosmer was a perfect 4-for-4 against the Blue Jays, raising his average from .283 to .292. Hosmer now has seven hits in his last three games, potentially signaling that his bat is heating up.
Tomorrow, Kansas City will look to win the series when it sends Chris Young (7-4, 2.89 ERA) to the hill on three days rest. It is an afternoon game that will begin at 1:10 pm. The Royals will face a familiar foe in left-hander Mark Buehrle (9-5, 3.38), who hurled eight shutout innings the last time he faced Kansas City, which was last June.