Win streak ends at 4 as Royals miss chance to sweep Astros

September 17th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- For two nights, the Royals’ offense capitalized in big moments, and the pitching tamed the Astros’ vaunted lineup just enough to grab two wins during the weekend.

On Sunday, the matchup came back to reality.

The Astros flexed their power in the Royals’ 7-1 loss at Kauffman Stadium, with Kansas City unable to finish the sweep and snapping a four-game win streak.

Royals starter Jordan Lyles was hurt by the long ball again, allowing two homers to bring his season total up to 38 in 166 2/3 innings, which is the second most homers allowed in the Majors. Jake Meyers hit an elevated sweeper 419 feet to center field in the fourth inning, while Yordan Alvarez followed in the fifth by hitting a middle-middle cutter 115 mph off the bat.

Lyles has surrendered at least one home run in 22 of his 29 starts this season and has yielded multiple home runs in 12 starts.

“Not ideal,” Lyles said. “Got to be a little better. … It’s a good lineup and good team. One of the better teams in baseball. They’re going to make you pay on those mistakes.”

Offensively, the Royals fell quiet after two big days against the Astros’ pitching staff. Their only run of the day came in the second inning after a weird, confusing play that involved Astros first baseman José Abreu throwing his glove at an errant toss to first to prevent it from sailing into the outfield.

The Royals had a one-run lead after the second but quickly lost it when Lyles allowed a leadoff double, hit two consecutive batters and then allowed a sacrifice fly and an RBI single. Lyles allowed the leadoff man to reach in each of his first five innings before striking out the side in the sixth to end his outing.

“Just trying to navigate through, like I said, a really good lineup,” Lyles said. “Good offenses will make you work, and they made me work.”

The third inning snapped a stretch of 38 consecutive innings dating back to Game 2 of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the White Sox in which Kansas City either led (33) or was tied (five) after the frame.

“It’s very odd that you would keep these guys from scoring,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “A one-run lead, certainly you don’t think is going to be enough to beat these guys.”

One run was all the Royals, who entered Sunday’s game ranked third in baseball in OPS (.817) this month, could muster against Astros starter Framber Valdez for seven innings. They hit into a double play in the sixth and seventh, which shut down any momentum the lineup was gaining.

The Royals beat the Astros on Friday because of power and Saturday because they used their speed to their advantage when they got on base. But they were shut down from doing both of those Sunday because of Valdez’s stuff and approach.

“He located his fastball really well,” said rookie Nick Loftin, who was 2-for-4. “Weren’t able to string together hits consecutively when we needed to. He controlled the zone really well and was able to get us out in a short amount of time. He did really well commanding the zone.”

“You can’t just run freely, usually, against left-handed pitchers,” Quatraro added. “He slide-stepped, mixed up the height of his leg lift [and] we know he’s got a good snap move to first. So he was aware of what we wanted to do, but we didn’t have a lot of opportunities, first of all, and secondly, we quickly hit into the double plays.”

With two weeks left in the season, the Royals are simply trying to finish a disappointing, 100-plus-loss season strong. And a series win over the Astros, who have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Rangers in the American League West as they march toward October baseball, counts as a positive for the Royals despite Sunday’s result.

“That’s great, but it’s not good enough,” Quatraro said. “Good teams, you need to do this day in and day out -- regardless of who you’re playing, where you’re playing, what time you’re playing, what time of year it is. You’ve got to put these kinds of series on top of each other over and over and over again.”