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Vintage bullpen and defense propel Royals to 4-1 win over the Cardinals

Six more to go.

Relief pitcher Josh Staumont #63 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium on September 21, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Relief pitcher Josh Staumont #63 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium on September 21, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Let’s see if this formula sounds familiar: mediocre starting pitching, excellent defense, enough timely offense to keep the line moving, and a killer bullpen anchored by Greg Holland led to the Kansas City Royals winning 4-1 over the St. Louis Cardinals. The year is not 2014, no. It is 2020, but tonight the Royals offered a pleasant throwback game for those choosing to watch baseball over Monday Night Football.

But let’s start at the beginning. Among the many, many consequences of COVID this season has been the mere existence of Carlos Hernandez at the Major League level. The 23-year-old had last pitched in A ball, down in Lexington. And in 9.1 innings tonight, prior to his second start of the year, his results have been (rather understandably) mixed.

Tonight was no difference. After getting through a low-stakes first inning, Hernandez gave up a solo home run to Matt Carpenter on a 95 MPH fastball that was not down enough and straight through the heart of the plate horizontally. He then walked Tyler O’Neill on five pitches. Though O’Neill would not score, Hernandez would walk another pair of Cardinals and generally labor through his 3.2 innings, throwing 72 pitches to do so. Hernandez did somehow limit damage, only allowing the one homer to Carpenter and striking out four batters.

It could have been worse. It probably should have been worse. In the first inning, Hernandez could have ran into more problems, but Bubba Starling mad a great diving play at a sinking liner off the bat of Paul Goldschmidt:

Hernandez walked two consecutive batters to lead off the third inning, but a smooth double play by Nicky Lopez and Adalberto Mondesi bailed him out. And when Hernandez left in the fourth inning responsible for runners at first base and second base, and Mike Matheny sent Jake Newberry, probably the worst arm in the bullpen, to mop up the damage. Dylan Carson promptly smashed a line drive at 100 MPH, but it fortunately found Alex Gordon’s glove and the inning ended. Newberry and his career FIP of about 6.00 live to fight another day, I guess.

Offensively, the Royals were dormant until the middle innings. With one out in the fifth inning, Maikel Franco singled to center field and went to third base on a Hunter Dozier double down the left field line. He was rather amusingly brought home by a groundout off the bat of Gordon at a whopping 48 MPH. Wheeeee!

The Royals even got a base hit with the bases loaded in the sixth inning! Franco’s single to right field brought home Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez to give the Royals a lead. Unfortunately, with two men on, Gordon made more weak contact, “lining” out to Tyler Webb at 51 MPH to end the inning. Gordon also ended the eighth inning, again with two men on base, again with a weak ground ball.

If you’ll allow me a bit of editorializing here, we are in all likelihood witnessing Gordon’s last days as a Royal. He is no longer a viable big league hitter, and while watching him take the field every day has been a joy, all good things must come to an end.

But Jorge Soler’s double was cool! Look! Welcome back, Soler Power!

The Royals’ bullpen closed out the game by being nails. A combination of Newberry, Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Jesse Hahn, and Greg Holland slammed the door, striking out five Cardinals, walking none, and only allowing two hits.

Kansas City has now won 22 games, and with six games left the team has the ability to make my preseason win prediction of 22 games either foolishly pessimistic or depressingly accurate. Your move, Royals.