Vahe Gregorian

Sunday victory over White Sox illuminates major key to 2015 Royals season

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Ryan Madson (46) receives the Salvador Perez drenching after closing out the ninth inning for a 5-4 win over the Chicago White Sox and the three game sweep during Sunday's baseball game on August 9, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Ryan Madson (46) receives the Salvador Perez drenching after closing out the ninth inning for a 5-4 win over the Chicago White Sox and the three game sweep during Sunday's baseball game on August 9, 2015 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Even after the Royals surged out of nowhere to game seven of the World Series last season, even with their nucleus intact, the organization understood it would have to furnish a better team in 2015 to sustain that success and, ultimately, to try to win one more postseason game.

As the Royals enter a series with Detroit on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium, their season to date has more than validated the triumph of the mission.

The team is 66-44, five games ahead of the next-best team in the American League, the New York Yankees, and a preposterous 11 1/2 games ahead in the AL Central.

But the Royals’ 5-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday might be the most vivid example yet of how the team fortified itself in the offseason — and another fine snapshot of how the franchise’s fortunes have changed, too.

The victory was enabled largely by the bookend relief work of Kris Medlen and Ryan Madson, for one thing.

Before the Royals decided to give each a chance to resurrect their careers in the spring, Medlen hadn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2013 as he recovered from a second Tommy John surgery; Madson hadn’t appeared in a major-league game since 2011 because of a variety of arm issues and had, in fact, retired.

Then here they were on Sunday, with Medlen stabilizing things with 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief after a wobbly start by Danny Duffy and Madson entrusted to close it out with manager Ned Yost preferring to let Wade Davis (back) and Greg Holland rest.

Meanwhile, the Royals offense also had the imprint of the offseason mission on it.

Designated hitter Kendrys Morales drove in his 79th and 80th runs, second in the American League and 14 more than predecessor Billy Butler had all of last season (and 33 more than Butler has this season with Oakland).

The winning run was scored by newcomer Alex Rios, who was slow to recover from a broken hand but has been stabilizing for weeks even as he continues to seek his power stroke.

Rios is hitting .249 now and is seven for his last 21 with three doubles, and he was moved to third on a ground-rule double by 29-year-old rookie Paulo Orlando before scoring on a groundout by Omar Infante.

As for the fortune part here, consider: three of the aforementioned five newcomers (Medlen, Madson and Orlando) didn’t play in the major leagues last year; Morales struggled in 98 games after signing late and missing spring training and Rios labored in an injury-riddled season, too.

Many panned the signing of Morales, and few paid real heed to the acquisitions of Medlen and Madson or had even heard of Orlando.

You can debate how well Rios has worked out, of course, but he seems on track to be a net plus and likely would have been more so if not for the early injury.

All of this reflects more-than-due diligence by the Royals more than anything, of course.

But it also is a statement about how when they touch things now they typically turn to gold instead of disintegrating as was the case for so long.

That mojo showed up in other ways on Sunday, too, with some timely moves.

Orlando, it should be noted, was recalled Sunday morning for Cheslor Cuthbert, something the Royals had planned for weeks in order to keep Orlando sharp with playing time.

Meanwhile, the Royals inserted versatile newcomer Ben Zobrist at third base to rest Mike Moustakas.

It was Zobrist’s first game at third since 2010, and somehow through seven innings Zobrist had zero chances come his way in the field.

With the Royals leading 4-3 in the eighth thanks to Zobrist’s go-ahead RBI, manager Ned Yost inserted Moustakas as a defensive replacement.

In the dugout, Yost told coaches Don Wakamatsu and Pedro Grifol, “There’s going to be a tough play, and Moose is going to make it. And sure enough he did.”

Scrambling to his left on a ground shot by Jose Abreu with Adam Eaton on third, Moustakas seemed to prevent a run by holding the runner and nailing Abreu.

Yes, the run later came home on Melky Cabrera’s single.

But Moustakas’ play coming just after he came in for Zobrist was more evidence of how things fall into place these days for the Royals, who sure to know how to make their own luck now.

The exclamation point was made when they took back the lead in the bottom of the inning and Madson closed out a victory built on newcomers who’ve made the team better … with Johnny Cueto, incidentally, scheduled to pitch tonight at Kauffman for the first time as a Royal.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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