Hunter Dozier homered and Whit Merrifield, Edward Olivares, and Jarrod Dyson each collected two hits apiece in the Kansas City Royals’ 6-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. But while Royals bats were hot, their pitching played with fire, and the ultimate deciding factor was the ineptitude of the the Twins offense, who went 0-10 with runners in scoring position and left a combined 23 (twenty-three!) batters on base.
Brad Keller’s 2021 struggles have been well documented. Over his first four games, only comprising 12 innings’ worth of work, Keller posted an ERA of 12.00 (yes, twelve) while giving up a slash line of .386/.464/.579. But his rebound has been somewhat less documented: over his last six games before today’s contest, his ERA has been only 3.48, giving up a much less terrifying slash line of .277/.340/.462 over those 33.2 innings.
Still, giving an OPS over .800 to your batters is generally a recipe for disaster, and Keller was the first pitcher this afternoon (but not the last) to flirt with that disaster. It started in the first inning, when Keller walked three batters and allowed a single to Alex Kirilloff. With the bases loaded, Keller squeezed out of that jam by striking out Miguel Sano and Rob Refsnyder.
Keller again loaded the bases in the fifth inning after a long stretch of cruising through the Twins lineup. Josh Donaldson doubled, Kiriloff singled, and Nelson Cruz walked to kick off the inning. But Sano grounded into a double play and Trevor Larnach struck out to end the threat.
All told, the Twins had five plate appearances with the bases loaded. Their results: strikeout, walk, strikeout, double play, strikeout, and only two runs scored. Keller ultimately gave up three runs on five hits, four walks, and six strikeouts in five innings, but the line doesn’t properly reflect how good he was—the Twins did an excellent job of laying off some pretty nasty stuff, and Keller was able to get strikeouts when he needed to.
On offense, the Royals channeled “Keep The Line Moving” energy from half a decade ago and did so well. They struck quickly in the top of the first, with Whit Merrifield poking an opposite-field hustle double and Andrew Benintendi singling on a nice looping line drive to score him.
But it was the fifth inning where that hustling, “Keep The Line Moving” energy really manifested. Edward Olivares, making his 2021 Royals debut, singled on a ground ball. Kelvin Gutierrez then singled on a ground ball of his own—with Olivares aggressively going to third base. Hunter Dozier grounded into what would have been a double play but for his sneaky speed; he beat out the throw at first and scored Olivares to make it 2-1. Jarrod Dyson then singled on a ground ball of his own, and Merrifield finally generated some lift to score Dozier to make it 3-2. A Carlos Santana walk, Benintendi sac fly, and Salvador Perez single scored the third and fourth runs of the inning to make the score 5-2.
Dozier finally turned on a pitch in the ninth inning for another insurance run for a homer. It was nice!
With a somewhat depleted bullpen, manager Mike Matheny turned to both Kyle Zimmer and Scott Barlow for multiple innings. Zimmer went 1.1 innings and walked two. Barlow was particularly excellent, striking out Twins in four of the five outs he recorded (and added the seventh walk of the day as well). Greg Holland slammed the door with little drama in the ninth, earning him his third save of the season.
The Royals are 25-26 as they head into a six-game homestand against the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Twins, and then face the Los Angeles Angels for their first three games of their next homestand. If they are to remain in the background of the contention conversation, they need to have a strong showing.