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Encouraging signs prevalent in Kansas City

If offense contributes enough, Royals could make some noise in AL Central

KANSAS CITY -- This may be one of the most encouraging 4-4 starts you're ever going to see.

The Kansas City Royals are merely .500 for their first eight games. But for the first seven games, they had averaged less than three runs per game. Thus they have been carried by their pitching, particularly their starting pitching. And that is the kind of thing that offers both short-term and long-term encouragement.

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On Wednesday, a blue-sky, baseball-weather kind of afternoon at Kauffman Stadium produced a virtual best-of-the-Royals highlight reel.

A 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays featured yet another fine starting performance, this one from Jeremy Guthrie. It also featured a series of defensive plays from shortstop Alcides Escobar that were somewhere between terrific and astounding.

"Escobar was making every play in the world," a suitably appreciative Guthrie said.

"I don't think you could play a better shortstop than he played today, at any level, on this earth," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He was spectacular."

And there was a component that had been missing over the first seven games. On Wednesday, the Royals produced a five-run fifth. In that inning, left fielder Alex Gordon hit the club's first home run of the season, a three-run blast. Never before had the Royals gone seven games at the start of a season without a home run.

But Gordon was taking nothing for granted.

"I hit it pretty good, but in this park you never know," Gordon said. "To give a little comfort zone to our starting pitchers, which we haven't done much this year, is always helpful."

Gordon was batting fifth for the Royals. This underscored how valuable the Royals' offseason trade for right fielder Nori Aoki was. Aoki is a genuine leadoff hitter, and his arrival allowed the team to move Gordon to the middle of the order.

"That is the benefit of having Alex hit lower in the lineup," first baseman Eric Hosmer said of the home run. "We need him to come up with runners on base."

Yost had found questions regarding the homerless streak to be tedious as early as a few days ago. Asked Wednesday if it was nice to get the first homer, Yost replied:

"Not really. It was nice to get three runs. I don't care how we get them. I don't care if it's a home run. I don't care if it's two doubles. "

One way or another, Wednesday's victory gave the Royals a 4-2 homestand, after they opened the season with two one-run losses in Detroit. Guthrie's performance -- one run allowed over seven innings -- was in keeping with the quality of the starting pitching this team has had.

Kansas City starters have compiled a 2.03 ERA over the first eight games of this season. This is a sturdy staff; the Royals led the AL in team ERA last season (3.45). But nobody is as good as a 2.03 rotation ERA over time.

"You hope it can be that good, but history tells us probably not," Yost said. "We're on a really good run. It's like when your team gets hot offensively, they get on a good run for a couple of weeks.

"But right now, our starting pitching is definitely carrying the club. And there are going to be times when the offense is carrying the club. It's all over the course of 162 games, there's give and take in different departments. They kind of take turns carrying a club if you want to win a championship."

An objective look at this club suggests that over time the pitchers may do more of the carrying than anybody else. And that's fine. Kansas City's pitching is very good and getting even better with the emergence of the phenomenal talent of Yordano Ventura.

The hitting should be significantly better than it was for the first seven games. The Royals will hit home runs at a pace significantly better than once every eight games.

And this club will continue to catch the ball. The Royals start three Gold Glove Award winners in Hosmer, Gordon and catcher Salvador Perez. Escobar doesn't have the award yet, but he makes all the plays a Gold Glove shortstop could make and then some.

All in all, 4-4 doesn't generally elicit a lot of elation. But the Royals' 4-4 looks better than that, with all kind of indications of strong pitching and defense, and on Wednesday, the promise of better hitting to come.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

Kansas City Royals