In the wake of last season's miraculous World Series run, the Royals' ability to be successful in 2015 was met with immediate doubts. One of the concerns was due to the departure of James Shields, who anchored Kansas City's rotation for two seasons, and whether anybody would step up to replace his production.
Dayton Moore went out and signed Edinson Volquez, who has proved to be the Royals' most valuable pitcher this season. And as good as James Shields was for Kansas City, it's not a stretch to say that Volquez has been even better.
Volquez displayed the same consistency that has become normal for him, firing 6.2 innings of two-run ball (one of which was unearned) to lead the Royals past the Rays 3-2 on Friday night. Despite being shaky in the game's first few innings, he concluded his outing by allowing just one hit among the last 15 hitters he faced. Volquez struck out five Rays while walking two and scattering six hits. He also earned his 12th win of the season.
How comparable has Volquez' 2015 season been to the stats Shields logged last year? Pretty darn close. Here are the two's numbers through their first 27 starts of their seasons:
James Shields, 2014: 27 starts, 12-6 record, 178.1 innings, 183 hits, 143 K's, 3.28 ERA
Edinson Volquez, 2015: 27 starts, 12-7 record, 165.1 innings, 149 hits, 124 K's, 3.27 ERA
Also, remember that the contract Volquez received (2 years, $20 million) is microscopic when compared to the one Shields received this winter from the Padres (4 years, $75 million). Props to you, Dayton.
Paulo Orlando and James Loney each drove in second-inning runs to knot the score 1-1, but in the third inning, Kendrys Morales did exactly what he's done all season - drive in runs with two outs. Or drive in runs, period. Morales jumped on an 0-2 pitch and clobbered it into deep right field, only to see it bounce off the outer catwalk and drop onto the field. The play originally looked like a severe misread by center fielder Kevin Kiermaier; the video went viral in a matter of minutes as both teams tried to figure out exactly what had just happened:
A replay review upheld Morales' two run homer, his 15th of the season. It also counted for his 88th and 89th RBIs of the season, vaulting him to third in the American League. The Rays got a run back in the bottom of the third when Paulo Orlando dropped what would have been the third out of the inning, but with two men in scoring position, Volquez got Logan Forsythe to ground out and end the threat.
The pitching staffs shut down both offenses for the game's final six innings. Volquez allowed a two-out walk in the top of the seventh, but Franklin Morales came in to expel that fire. Kelvin Herrera worked a scoreless eighth inning, and Greg Holland got back on track by nailing down the game's final frame. He earned his 28th save of the season, his first since last Tuesday, by working through the bottom of the order. He threw seven pitches. He struck out two Rays. He did not throw one ball.
Former Ray Ben Zobrist, playing as a visitor in Tampa Bay for the first time, knocked a single and a double in his first two at-bats. It was quite the night for Zobrist, who was recognized as one of Tampa Bay's "Franchise Four" players before the game. His wife even sang the national anthem just before first pitch.
The Royals continued their dominance over the Rays by defeating Tampa Bay for the 15th time in the last 18 matchups. Kansas City has won all five matchups with Tampa Bay this season, and its most recent victory propelled it to a season-best 30 games over .500. At 79-49, the Royals maintained a 13 game lead in the American League Central.
Tomorrow, the Royals continue the series with a game that begins at 5:10 central time. Kris Medlen (2-0, 3.10 ERA) will make his second start for Kansas City. Opposing him will be Jake Odorizzi, one of the four prospects traded by the Royals in the James Shields trade, who will make his third start against his original club. He is 6-6 with a 3.02 ERA in 2015.
Kansas City just continues to be consistent, which is exactly what you look for as the last few weeks of the regular season unfold. Friday night is the 79th reason that Royals fans should be very excited about a potentially historic October, now just a few weeks on the horizon.