Those early-May struggles feel like they were forever ago now, don't they?
The Royals continued their recent surge with an 10-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night, stretching their winning streak to a season-long five games. It was an offensive slug-fest that saw the red-hot Royals bang out 18 hits and score a season-high 10 runs.
Facing former Tigers starter Drew Smyly, Whit Merrifield singled before Lorenzo Cain homered to left field in the first inning. Cain's eighth homer of the year put the Royals in front 2-0, but that lead wouldn't hold for long. In the top of the second, the first two Rays reached before Corey Dickerson launched a three-run homer to right-center field, giving Tampa a 3-2 lead.
For Royals starter Dillon Gee, who was coming off a brutal outing that saw him give up six runs in just four-plus innings (including three home runs), it wasn't the best response to being given a lead. Fortunately for him, he would get plenty more opportunities to post a shutdown inning.
In the bottom of the third, Merrifield doubled to deep left before Cain was intentionally walked with one out. It was an interesting decision, especially when the next hitter was Eric Hosmer, and it wound up backfiring when Hosmer singled in Merrifield to tie the game at three. Smyly escaped the third without further damage, but his luck was about to run out.
The Royals would bat around in the fourth inning, plating five runs to blow the game wide open. Brett Eibner doubled, Cheslor Cuthbert singled, and Drew Butera came through with...a bunt single. It was perfectly placed, as it needed to be for Butera to reach base, but Eibner scored and re-gave the Royals the lead at 4-3.
Things got worse for Smyly in a hurry. After getting the next two Royals out, Smyly was one pitch away from escaping further damage. But Lorenzo Cain singled in Cuthbert and Butera to make it 6-3. Hosmer provided a hustling double to shallow center. Kendrys Morales singled in Hosmer. The score was suddenly 8-3, and Smyly had been rocked for 12 hits and eight runs in just four innings of work.
The Rays got a run back in the fifth on an Evan Longoria RBI single, but Gee got out of it without allowing any other scores. Gee allowed nine hits and four runs in 5.0 innings, but his offense backed him and he earned the win as a result. He threw 102 pitches, striking out seven and walking only one.
Morales provided additional insurance by hitting a two-run laser home run into the Tampa Bay bullpen in the sixth inning. The Royals, who were struggling to score runs as recently as two weeks ago, are suddenly an offensive juggernaut.
Chris Young pitched the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, holding the Rays scoreless and striking out five. He threw 57 pitches. He continues to look much sharper than he ever did before his stint on the disabled list. Scott Alexander ran into trouble in the ninth when he loaded the bases and gave up a run, making it a save situation for Wade Davis. He entered the game and recorded the last two outs, nailing down a save against his former team.
The win goes to Gee, who is 2-2. Drew Smyly took the loss; he is 2-7. Davis earned his 15th save in 16 chances.
Several Royals continue to tear the cover off of the baseball, particularly with runners on base. Lorenzo Cain concluded the month of May 39-for-111 (.351) with six home runs and 25 RBI. Eric Hosmer's May was even better: an on-base percentage of over .380 with seven homers and 27 RBI. Hosmer has recorded an RBI in six straight games; he has 14 in the last week. Suddenly, both sluggers are on pace for 25+ home runs and over 100 RBI.
Merrifield, Cain, Hosmer, Morales, Cuthbert, and Drew Butera (who reached base all four times) all had multi-hit games. Kansas City's 18 hits are a season-high. Paulo Orlando was the ninth and final Royal to get a hit, extending his hitting streak to 14 games.
The only negative news of the night came when Eibner came up hobbling while fielding a fly ball in the fifth inning. He was carted off the field with what the Royals are calling a left ankle sprain. He is day-to-day for now and figures to be re-evaluated in the coming days. He was replaced by Jarrod Dyson.
Kansas City is now 29-22, a season-best seven games over .500. The Royals are 12-3 since May 15. They went 17-11 in May. They also clinched their sixth straight series win.
Also, just to put this in perspective: this time last year, the Minnesota Twins were in first place. By mid-July, the Royals were boat-racing everybody else in the Central. So all of those early-season panics about Kansas City's demise were greatly exaggerated.
Tomorrow: the Royals go for their sixth straight win when Danny Duffy (0-0, 3.23 ERA) opposes Chris Archer (3-6, 4.62). Archer, an All Star last year, has struggled with command thus far in the young 2016 season. Kansas City was responsible for his worst outing last year; the Royals tagged him for nine runs on 12 hits in 6.0 innings on July 8.