Royals crushed by Cleveland, but look ahead to brighter days

Ian Kennedy started for the Royals, but things started to unwind for him and the Royals in the seventh inning in Friday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium.
Ian Kennedy started for the Royals, but things started to unwind for him and the Royals in the seventh inning in Friday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium. AP

The future was on display as the Royals welcomed and awarded their top minor-league players in a pregame ceremony Friday.

That’s also been the focus lately on the current team, which was cooled off by the Cleveland Indians in a 14-6 defeat before 15,920 Kauffman Stadium.

The outcome ended a four-game winning streak and evened the series with two games remaining in the regular season. The Royals dropped to 57-103, and Friday’s contest got ugly in one inning.

The Indians sent 14 to the plate in the seventh and scored 10 times, the most in an inning against the Royals this season. Josh Donaldson got things started with a double and later provided the biggest blow with a grand slam.

The Indians, who long ago clinched the AL Central, had their most productive inning of the season.

But the Royals didn’t go quietly, scoring five in the ninth, four on Brian Goodwin’s second grand slam of the season. The first came in March while playing for the Washington Nationals.

Ian Kennedy made his final start of the season and was solid through six innings. He started the seventh and was charged with three runs that inning, four for the night. His final numbers for 2018: 3-9 with a 4.66 ERA. His run support of 3.76 runs is the lowest for a Royals pitcher since 2014.

He missed nearly two months with an oblique strain but had some of his best starts at the end of the season.

“It was by far the longest time I’ve ever been hurt,” Kennedy said. “But it was encouraging the way it finished. Staying healthy is a big part of this. If I had had another month it would have been right where I needed to be.”

The Royals could muster little off Cleveland starter Mike Clevinger. Among the three hits he surrendered was Whit Merrifield’s two-out single in the third to extend his hitting streak to 18 games, baseball’s longest active streak. Merrifield entered the game leading baseball in base hits and now has 189.

No matter how the season finishes, Royals manager Ned Yost will take an optimistic tone into 2019 based on the performance of young players over the past few weeks.

“I don’t feel like it’s been a horribly bad year,” Yost said. “It’s weird. I’ve been on bad teams. This just doesn’t feel like a bad team, even with (103) losses.”

Even with Friday’s loss, the Royals have won 14 of their last 18 home games and are 19-13 since Aug. 24.

The season spiraled with 7-21 record in March and April, and the team bottomed out at 38-90 in mid-August. A race to baseball’s worst record between the Royals and Baltimore Orioles was on.

The Royals lost that that race by winning, and Yost sees this team ahead of the one he took over during the season in 2010. The Royals lost 95 games that season.

“When I got here in ’10, it wasn’t that great,” Yost said. “You could look around that locker room and that field and see there weren’t going to be many guys when we get good are going to be on this team.”

This is different. Even more advanced than 2012, when the Royals with a young group that included Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, where one year away from their first winning season in a decade and two years away from a World Series appearance.

“This group, I feel as good about this group as I did that group in ’12,” Yost said. “That makes me feel good going into the winter … the feelings are there. They don’t lie to you. This group is going to be the basis of a core group that’s going to get us back to where we want to be.”

The Royals have rolled out superb starting pitching over the last month. Brad Keller, Jorge Lopez, Jakob Junis, Heath Fillmyer and Eric Skoglund have contributed to an American League-best 3.38 ERA since Aug. 22. First- or-second year starters have started 27 of the 33 games and combined for 10-6 record with 3.47 ERA.

“The starting pitchers, it’s not a mistake they’re doing so well,” Yost said. “They’re doing their homework, studying. They can execute pitches and pitch to hitters’ weaknesses.”

Adalberto Mondesi has nine home runs in his last 26 games before Friday and 13 and 30 stolen bases for the season . He’s only the second AL shortstop with at least 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases in his age-22 season or younger. Alex Rodriguez is the other.

Blair Kerkhoff

Blair Kerkhoff covers the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals and college sports for The Star.