Royals

Royals' offense remains quiet in a 9-1 loss to the Twins

Kansas City Royals pitcher Nate Karns walked to the dugout after he gave up a three-run triple to Minnesota Twins' Miguel Sano in the seventh inning Wednesday, April 5, 2017, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 9-1.
Kansas City Royals pitcher Nate Karns walked to the dugout after he gave up a three-run triple to Minnesota Twins' Miguel Sano in the seventh inning Wednesday, April 5, 2017, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 9-1. AP

They had spent the offseason on a quest for more punch, the Royals’ brain trust assessing, and then massaging, a roster that finished the 2016 season with just 675 runs.

The number was paltry, ranking 13th in the American League, 49 fewer than the World Series champions had scored in 2015. And the Royals believed that more run production could solve two problems. It could lead to more victories, of course. That concept was simple enough. But Royals general manager Dayton Moore was imbued with hope that more offense could insulate a bullpen that had crumbled in too many close games in 2016.

So Moore sent closer Wade Davis to Chicago for outfielder Jorge Soler, and he waited out the market before signing designated hitter Bradon Moss. A frugal strategy, to be sure, yet it represented only a portion of the offseason calculus. An offense in need of an upgrade would have to rely on improvement from within. So they would count on better health from Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. They would hope for more production from Alex Gordon. They would need another star turn from first baseman Eric Hosmer. This was the plan, the one still in place after a 9-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday at Target Field.

There are few moments in sports more ripe for overreaction than those of the opening days of a baseball season, yet in the aftermath of two ugly losses against a former AL Central punching bag, there were two realities: The Royals are still waiting for the offense to come alive. And that bullpen might need more protection than previously thought.

“We’re a little slow getting going with the bats,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But we’ve seen that changes quick.”

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The Royals have not suffered a three-game sweep in a season-opening series since 2001. A year ago, they finished 15-4 in the season series against Minnesota. On Thursday afternoon, they will attempt to avoid a third straight loss here as starter Jason Hammel makes his franchise debut.

Unsightly as it has been, the Royals have still played just two games of 162. The last time they opened a season with straight losses (2014), they played in the World Series. But the nature of these two defeats, in addition to the reactionary nature of baseball, has magnified two issues.

The Royals have produced just seven hits and two runs in two games. The bottom third of the batting order has started zero for 23. The bullpen, meanwhile, has been raked for 12 runs, all in the seventh inning. By contrast, the 2015 Royals bullpen allowed just eight runs in all of April. The pitching staff has issued 16 walks in two games, including nine on Wednesday afternoon.

“You’re just putting yourself in a position for them to put big numbers on the board when that happens,” Yost said.

Two days after a seventh-inning implosion in the opener, the wheels fell off again in the same moment. With the Royals trailing 3-1 after 6 1/2 innings, Yost handed the ball to Nathan Karns, the club’s fifth starter, set to make his first start on Sunday in Houston.

The Royals planned to give Karns an inning of work to break up a long wait between outings. He responded by loading the bases with a single and two walks. The death blow came from the bat of Miguel Sano, who hammered an opposite-field triple off the top of the wall in right-center field.

“I just need to do a better job of getting ahead,” Karns said. “I think I fell behind every hitter today. That’s not what you want to do when you’re trying to keep the ballgame within 3-1.”

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With the Twins leading 6-1, Yost emerged from the dugout and called upon left-hander Matt Strahm, who surrendered four runs in the seventh on Monday. This time, he issued a walk to Jason Castro before serving up a three-run blast to Eduardo Escobar.

“He’s fighting command,” Yost said.

Before the bullpen collapse redux, Royals starter Ian Kennedy survived for five innings, pitching through what he called a “grind.” He issued five walks for the first time since last May 30, a span of 23 starts, and needed 37 pitches to maneuver through the second inning as the Twins jumped to a 3-0 lead.

He ultimately threw 95 pitches in five innings, offering the Royals a chance to remain in the game. But that offered little consolation. All spring, he had been mostly excellent, allowing three runs in 19 1/3 innings. On Wednesday, he lost his command, a reminder of the inconsequential nature of spring training results. His fastball kept leaking back across the plate. He hung an 0-2 curveball in the second that resulted in a single and a run.

“I haven’t felt like that this whole time,” Kennedy said. “Maybe it was just the adrenalin of opening my first start. It just stinks. I just felt like I beat myself.”

As Kennedy labored, Twins starter Hector Santiago handcuffed the Royals for five innings. An RBI single from Paulo Orlando represented the only run. A pitch count around 90 was the only thing that could stop Santiago.

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“He comes after you with his fastball,” said left fielder Alex Gordon, who shook off a pitch that hit his hand in the first. “With righties, he mixed it up with his changeup. But against lefties, he liked his fastball. It was good today.”

By the end, there were plenty of numbers to illustrate two forgettable losses here in Minnesota. The offense has been quiet. The bullpen has elicited concern. But there was also the easy way that Santiago moved through the batting order. In 14 innings last season against the Royals, he had been ripped for 17 runs and 25 hits. On Wednesday, against a reconfigured and healthy lineup, he cruised.

Twins 9, Royals 1

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Gordon lf

3

0

0

0

0

0

.143

Moustakas dh

4

0

1

0

0

3

.250

Cain cf

3

1

1

0

1

1

.200

Hosmer 1b

4

0

1

0

0

0

.143

Perez c

3

0

0

0

1

0

.167

Orlando rf

4

0

1

1

0

2

.143

Cuthbert 3b

2

0

0

0

1

0

.000

A.Escobar ss

3

0

0

0

0

1

.000

Mondesi 2b

3

0

0

0

0

2

.000

Totals

29

1

4

1

3

9

Minnesota

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Dozier 2b

4

1

1

1

1

0

.250

Kepler rf

4

1

1

0

1

1

.250

Buxton cf

5

0

1

0

0

3

.100

Mauer 1b

3

1

1

0

1

1

.167

Gimenez ph-3b

1

0

0

0

0

0

.000

Sano 3b-1b

3

2

1

3

1

1

.333

Castro c

0

2

0

0

4

0

.667

E.Escobar ss

4

2

2

4

0

0

.500

Rosario lf

4

0

1

1

0

0

.286

Grossman dh

3

0

0

0

1

1

.000

Totals

31

9

8

9

9

7

Kansas City

000

100

000

1

4

0

Minnesota

030

000

60x

9

8

0

LOB: Kansas City 5, Minnesota 7. 3B: Sano (1). HR: E.Escobar (1), off Strahm. RBIs: Orlando (1), Dozier (1), Sano 3 (5), E.Escobar 4 (4), Rosario (1). SB: Dozier 2 (2). CS: Gordon (1). Runners left in scoring position: Kansas City 1 (Cuthbert); Minnesota 4 (Kepler 2, E.Escobar, Gimenez). RISP: Kansas City 1 for 3; Minnesota 4 for 9. LIDP: E.Escobar. GIDP: Cuthbert. DP: Kansas City 1 (Hosmer); Minnesota 2 (Castro, E.Escobar), (E.Escobar, Dozier, Mauer).

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Kennedy L, 0-1

5

3

3

3

5

5

95

5.40

Minor

1

0

0

0

1

0

16

0.00

Karns

 2/3

2

4

4

2

2

27

54.00

Strahm

 1/3

1

2

2

1

0

17

81.00

Young

1

2

0

0

0

0

18

0.00

Minnesota

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Santiago W, 1-0

5

4

1

1

2

4

88

1.80

Duffey

1

0

0

0

0

0

6

0.00

Belisle

 2/3

0

0

0

1

2

18

0.00

Rogers

 2/3

0

0

0

0

1

8

0.00

Pressly

 2/3

0

0

0

0

2

9

0.00

Haley

1

0

0

0

0

0

13

0.00

Santiago pitched to 1 batter in the 6th.

Holds: Duffey (1), Belisle (1), Rogers (1). Inherited runners-scored: Strahm 1-1, Duffey 1-0, Rogers 1-0. HBP: Santiago (Gordon). Umpires: Home, Tony Randazzo; First, Rob Drake; Second, Pat Hoberg; Third, Gerry Davis. Time: 3:06. Att. 15,171.

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