KANSAS CITY -- Early deficits turned into late leads in the first two games of the season for the Royals, but the dynamic offense they showed in those games ran into a wall in Rangers starter Jordan Lyles in Sunday afternoon’s 7-3 series finale loss at Kauffman Stadium.
For the third consecutive game, a Royals starter allowed early runs, but this time, Kansas City wasn’t able to claw its way back. Salvador Perez's two-run homer to straightaway center in the sixth inning and Hanser Alberto's RBI double in the ninth provided the only runs after right-hander Brady Singer allowed six runs (five earned) in 3 1/3 innings, with three walks and five strikeouts.
Still, the Royals ended their opening homestand with a series win, scoring 25 runs in the first two games as they next hit the road against two American League Central opponents -- Cleveland and the White Sox.
“There were a lot of things to be excited about as we leave [for Cleveland], but I want us to be greedy with every win and not let one slip by,” manager Mike Matheny said. “And this was one that slipped away pretty early. We’ve got a lot of faith in our starting pitching -- our guys are going to have to keep us in games, and some special things are going to happen if they give us a chance.”
Here are three takeaways from the opening series:
Offense shows potential
The Rangers held the Royals to just three runs on Sunday, but it’s hard to ignore what the lineup showed in the first two games, stringing together 25 runs and overcoming early deficits in both contests. Four Kansas City batters hit homers during the series -- including two apiece from Michael A. Taylor and Whit Merrifield.
And it wasn’t just the top of the order that produced.
The bottom half of the lineup -- Nos. 6-9 -- went 16-for-35 (.457) during the opening series. Last season, the bottom half hit .221. Three games is a very small sample size but an early positive sign about the depth the lineup can offer.
“I love hitting with guys on base,” Merrifield, the Royals’ leadoff hitter, said on Saturday night. “Any time we can turn the lineup over, it’s huge for our offense. I love it. Guys down there have done an awesome job … [Nicky Lopez has] done exactly what we were hoping for him to do, and [Kyle Isbel] and Michael, they’ve been great. I look forward to hitting with guys on base all year.”
The key now? Kansas City wouldn’t oppose early leads.
“There’s nothing wrong with us taking an early lead,” Matheny said on Sunday with a smile. “So we’ll make sure our approach is to let the guys know that we don’t have something against taking the lead before we give something up. That might be our new approach.”
Bullpen a strength once again
Royals relievers posted a 2.20 ERA (four runs in 16 1/3 innings) in the series and held opponents to a .193 average with 24 strikeouts.
On Sunday, lefty Jake Brentz entered with two runners on and one out to face David Dahl and Joey Gallo. Brentz -- just a day removed from his Major League debut -- retired Dahl on a sacrifice fly to right field before striking out Gallo swinging on a 99-mph fastball.
Jakob Junis also pitched a scoreless inning on back-to-back days, a positive sign for his early role out of the ‘pen, and Kyle Zimmer logged a career-high three innings on Sunday to save some arms heading into Monday’s series opener at Progressive Field.
Carlos Hernández was another bright spot on Thursday when he pitched three innings in relief, allowing two runs with five strikeouts to earn his first Major League win.
“They’ve done a little bit of everything,” Matheny said. “We’ve stretched a few guys, had guys come in [for] leverage and pitch out of trouble, and they’re already starting to pick each other up. They’re throwing the ball really well.”
Rotation needs efficient starts
Mike Minor’s six-inning outing on Saturday was the deepest start the Royals saw this weekend, with Brad Keller only throwing 1 1/3 innings on Thursday and Singer not making it out of the fourth on Sunday after walking three consecutive batters and allowing a three-run shot to Nate Lowe the previous inning. All three put Kansas City in an early hole.
“I was definitely one pitch away in the last inning,” Singer said. “Ground ball anywhere in there could have helped. Just trying so hard to drive it in there and strike the guy out. I should have just made a good pitch. I think I was trying way too hard.”
Short outings from their starters isn’t sustainable, no matter how good the Royals’ bullpen and offense has been to start the season. Left-hander Danny Duffy will look to turn the trend around on Monday in Cleveland.
“We know we’re going to need our starters to go deeper,” Matheny said. “We know that we can’t keep expecting the offense to fight back every night. ... We’ve got to get our starters to give us a chance to make a mark so we can get a little momentum going forward and stay ahead instead of fighting back.”