Only four percent of the season has been completed, a seven-game sprint in the 162-game marathon. But the Royals stand alone in first place in the American League Central, unbeaten and undaunted, after a 12-3 trouncing the Twins on Monday afternoon. They are the last undefeated team remaining in Major League Baseball.
The Royals, 7-0, polished off their opponents a few hours after Detroit lost for the first time in 2015. The victory resembled so many others from this young season. Kendrys Morales homered to extend the team’s streak of consecutive games with a long ball to seven. His teammates capitalized on a slew of mistakes by the Twins. The rout pushed Kansas City’s margin of victory this season to 52-18.
“Our offense is destroying people right now,” said starter Danny Duffy, but all of the clubs units continue to click. Duffy allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings. The bullpen maintains an immaculate ERA. The defenders dive as their opponents bumble the basics.
The contrast between the high-octane, high-efficiency Royals and their hapless counterparts became clear in Monday’s eighth inning. Minnesota offered a textbook course on pitiful play. Trailing by two runs, their relief staff gave up a hit, issued a walk, hit two batters in a row, let a run score on a fielding error, yielded a two-run single to Alcides Escobar and issued two more walks.
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The Royals scored six runs in the frame. During the sequence, the Target Field crowd showered the Twins with jeers. It was their home opener. The club looked ill fit to share the field with their guests.
Kansas City continues to maintain a frightening offensive pace. On his 29th birthday, Lorenzo Cain drove in two runs. Eric Hosmer scored twice. Salvador Perez smacked a pair of hits and scored twice. Alcides Escobar contributed a two-run double. Mike Moustakas reached base three times.
The only holes in the lineup, at this date, are outfielder Alex Gordon and second baseman Omar Infante. And Gordon scored a run on Monday while Infante notched an RBI double.
What impressed manager Ned Yost thus far is “their energy, their focus, their intensity,” he said. “They’re just a real confident group.”
The atmosphere on Monday was subdued. When the clubhouse opened to reporters at 11:40 a.m., the stereo system blasted cuts from Pandora’s Drop It Low radio, the team’s station of choice. But few players were present to move to the beat. The music was soon turned off and the only sound in the room was the broadcast of a baseball game in New York.
The energy picked back up when Duffy (1-0, 6.35 ERA) entered the room. He had give up five runs in five innings in his debut. He allowed three extra-base hits on Monday – Brian Dozier doubled twice and scored twice, Trevor Plouffe hit a solo home run – but the offense provided plenty of support.
“I felt like I was commanding the ball pretty well down,” Duffy said. “Especially down and away to righties. I felt like I was really going in that part of the zone. So it felt good. I gave it a B.”
Once again, the offense reigned. Morales excelled in a building that once hounded him. In 39 games as a Twin in 2014, Morales managed one home run. In seven games as a Royal, he doubled that mark. Morales did not hit a single homer as a Twin at Target Field. He delivered one in his first at-bat here as a Royal.
The blast occurred in Monday’s second inning. Morales clobbered a thigh-high fastball from right-hander Trevor May. The ball flew 405 feet to right-center field and landed in the second deck. Morales finished the day hitting .414 with a 1.224 on-base plus slugging percentage to pace this club.
“There’s a great mix here of young and veteran players that feed off each other,” said catching coach Pedro Grifol, who translated for Morales. “The young players have a lot of energy, which helps the experienced player. And the experienced players have a lot of experience, which helps the young players. It’s a real good clubhouse.”
Kansas City opted for less explosive measures in the second. The Royals benefited from shoddy fielding by the middle of the Minnesota infield. First Perez rolled a single that slipped beneath the gloves of second baseman Brian Dozier and shortstop Danny Santana.
After Escobar dumped a single into center field, Dozier dove to his right to corral a hard-hit grounder off Moustakas’ bat. Dozier flicked the ball to Santana, who leaped to make a bare-handed grab. One problem: His foot came off the bag. His throw to first base was late, and the bases were loaded. Lorenzo Cain plated Perez with a sacrifice fly.
Another gaffe by the Twins aided the Royals in the sixth. Cain slashed a double past the reach of right fielder Torii Hunter. Kansas City identified Hunter as one of their top offensive targets this past winter. They offered Hunter a one-year contract with the hope he could play the field and also serve as a part-time designated hitter. When Hunter decided to return to Minnesota, the Royals shifted their sights to Morales, who has been a revelation thus far.
Hunter is still a productive hitter. His fielding has slipped from its once great heights. He uncorked a wild throw after Cain’s double that evaded any cut-off men. The ball dribbled into the infield as Cain took third and Moustakas scored. Hosmer doubled off the wall in left-center field to pad the lead. Perez added an RBI single soon after.
“We need to stay right where we’re at,” Duffy said. “It’s a long season. You hear that every day. We’re just keeping it all in front of us. I don’t think we’re really thinking about anything but executing right here and right now.”