Six days ago, Kansas City's front office had seen enough of Yordano Ventura. After allowing six runs in four innings against the Pirates, the Royals demoted their Opening Day starter to Omaha. He was recalled the next day after the Jason Vargas injury, but Dayton Moore got his message across to the 24 year-old Ventura.
On a day when the Royals acquired All Star starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, Ventura had no room for funny business. A bad start and he'd possibly be sent down to Omaha, this time for awhile. As so many of his teammates have done all year, Ventura came through in the biggest way when his team needed him the most.
Ventura (5-7) pitched seven fantastic innings against one of the league's best offenses, out-dueling Houston ace Dallas Keuchel to earn the Royals their fifth straight series win. The one run that he allowed came as a result of a misplay by Lorenzo Cain. He scattered six hits and struck out five while not walking a batter.
After scoring four runs on 10 hits in the first four innings, Houston closed out the three-game series by plating just two runs on 12 hits in the final 24 frames.
It was the best start for Ventura in over two months, dating back to a game against, ironically, Johnny Cueto and the Reds. Back on May 19, Ventura displayed the talent that earned him a six-year contract extension before the season started, hurling seven shutout frames and out-dueling the Cincinnati ace. He's a talent that has gone toe-to-toe with Keuchel, Cueto, Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija. The talent has always been there. If he has the mental part of the sport conquered (for now), the Royals just became a much better team, and that's not only because of Cueto.
The Royals wasted little time jumping on Keuchel, who shined against Kansas City just four weeks ago. On June 30, the eventual All Star Game starter blanked the Royals over eight innings. On Sunday, he had given up four runs before the first inning was over.
Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and Kendrys Morales opened the game with three consecutive singles to load the bases, but the threat was seemingly halted when Salvador Perez and Alex Rios grounded into forceouts that prevented runs from scoring. With two out, it appeared that the Royals would blow a fantastic chance to strike early against one of the league's best. Omar Infante rolled a single through the hole on the left side to plate two runs, and then Cheslor Cuthbert followed with the first double of his career to score two more.
In the second inning, right after Houston got on the board with an RBI single by Colby Rasmus, Lorenzo Cain snatched the run right back when he clobbered Keuchel's 3-1 high fastball into the fountains. His 11th home run of the season gave Kansas City its four-run advantage right back; it was the first big fly surrendered by Keuchel since June 20.
The Royals wouldn't score any additional runs, but with Ventura dealing, they didn't have to. The 10 hits by Kansas City set a season-high against Keuchel. He took the loss, dropping him to 12-5 on the year, by allowing the aforementioned five runs. He didn't walk a batter and struck out five.
Franklin Morales and Luke Hochevar pitched the eighth and ninth innings to finish off the contest. In the series, Kansas City's bullpen combined to throw eight scoreless innings.
This week, Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura pitched six and seven innings against an elite offense, allowing one run apiece. Edinson Volquez also gave up just one run in 7.2 sterling innings against Pittsburgh. Yesterday, Cueto blanked the Rockies over eight dynamite frames. The Royals rotation is taking major strides, and there's no reason to believe that this quartet can't lead Kansas City deep into the playoffs.
The win concluded a 4-2 homestand against two of the best teams in baseball. The Royals concluded an eight-game stretch that saw them oppose Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, John Lackey, Scott Kazmir and Dallas Kuechel with a winning 5-3 record.
At 59-38, the Royals climbed back to a season-best 21 games over .500. The Yankees defeated the Twins earlier on Sunday, pushing Kansas City's lead in the American League Central back to 7.5 games. Tomorrow, the Royals open a three-game series in Cleveland, beginning with a matchup between Volquez (9-5, 3.15 ERA) and Cody Anderson (2-1, 1.91).
If this isn't the American League's best team, I'd like you to show me who is. The Royals are getting better. And that should be a terrifying thought for the other 14 teams in the A.L.