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Sweeping Up the Twins

Now that is more like it. A weekend sweep of the Twins can do a lot to raise the spirit of Royals fans who may have been ready to jump off the bandwagon. It’s been written a lot over the weekend that it felt like the roles of the two teams had been reversed in this series. Typically, the Twins don’t make stupid plays and errors that lead to huge innings, but this weekend they did just that and the Royals capitalized in a big way. On Friday night, when the Royals were trailing the whole way, you didn’t get the feeling that they were going to come back. Well, maybe you did. I certainly didn’t. Something about a six game losing streak beats you down enough that it makes it tough to believe in a big time comeback. But sure enough, the Royals did it. It’s rare that a pinch runner can change a game, but Jarrod Dyson absolutely did. Many people (myself included) believe that Dyson is not the only player on the team who could score on that popup. While that’s probably true, Dyson was the only player on the team who would have been on third in the first place.

Fast forward to Saturday night when the Royals and Sean O’Sullivan gave up two quick runs that could be attributed at least partly to shoddy defense. In a hole early, you got to feeling that Friday night may have been a bit of a fluke win. Then, the Royals started chipping away. Butler homered to tie the game at two and then the Royals clawed for another run before taking a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning. At this point, the goal in mind had to be to push an insurance run across to give Soria a little more cushion. Butler doubled, Dyson pinch ran and eventually scored. Before it was all said and done, the Royals had scored eight runs in the inning with the exclamation point an absolute bomb off the bat of Alex Gordon. I haven’t looked this up, and might later if I remember, but how many times in baseball history has a player scored two runs in an inning and only recorded one plate appearance? That’s exactly what Dyson did because, well, that’s what speed do.

I didn’t get the opportunity to see much of Sunday’s game, but it was one that appeared to be in command the entire way, which is always nice. Taking a 7-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth, the Royals struck for three on a three-run homer by Mike Aviles. Scoring runs in bunches and adding/piling on is something that I’ve been looking to see from this team as an indication that they are ready to take the next step. A few times in the early going, it seemed like the Royals scored what they thought should be enough to win and then just quit scoring. I’m not saying that they’re quitting on the game and packing it up, but they’ve lacked that kill shot that puts teams out of games for good. Saturday and Sunday they provided it. It was great to see them add on to a lead to make it insurmountable for the opponent in the late innings. That’s what good teams do.

One thing I want to touch on before I get into anything else is Mike Aviles, who has been resurgent at the plate since his little siesta after a rough first week. In 12 games since that time, Aviles has hit four homers and driven in 19 runs while slugging .640. He’s not walking much, but he’s also struck out only seven times in 50 at bats, so he’s making good contact. When Mike Aviles is successful, that’s what he does, and he has been extremely successful lately. He is now tied for the team lead in RBI and among the league leaders. I know that conventional wisdom says that the run batted in isn’t that important among the pantheon of statistics, but it’s hard for me to give up looking at it and attaching significance. It’s still great to see a high number for a player even if it isn’t indicative of how good he is. Aviles is on pace now for 120 or so runs batted in, and I don’t think he’ll achieve that, but he’s making us forget about that terrible first week.

The other big encouraging thing over the weekend is that Billy Butler seems to be breaking out of his slump and seems to be hitting for extra bases a little more than he had in the season’s first month. He’s now back up to a .320/.438/.490 line and while you’d like to see his slugging percentage begin with a five, it’s hard to complain too much about a line like that. The Royals 3-4-5 hitters right now have OPSes of .940, .928 and .930 respectively (Gordon, Butler, Francouer) which is a big reason why they’re fourth in the majors in runs scored. They’re fifth in runs per game if you want a more accurate account of their offense. The odds are good that one of those three will regress a little bit (I’m looking at you, Frenchy), but it’s nice to have other guys producing as well for when that happens. Betemit and Aviles have been the biggest contributers, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a Ka’aihue hot streak is on the horizon.

So after a very rough week in which the Royals didn’t hold a lead for over a week, they grabbed one in the eighth inning of their first game and didn’t really look back. Today is an off day that Royals fans can enjoy knowing that they are firmly in second place in the division and the Twins are ten whole games out of first place. That’s a nice feeling. The Orioles come into town next, and they’re a team who the Royals need to be beating, so it will be a good test for them. It looks like we’ll be having some good weather, too, so everyone should get out there and support the team. They’re 12-5 at home after all. It’s always fun to watch a winner.

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