Royals eye .500 mark as Red Sox come to town
Getting to and going over the .500 mark is becoming a possibility for the Kansas City Royals.
After a highly successful road trip, the Royals host the Boston Red Sox in the opener of a three-game series Monday night.
Kansas City returns home with a 33-35 record, and it is only two under for the first time since holding a 7-9 record following a 6-2 loss at Texas on April 21. That defeat was part of a nine-game losing streak to end April.
It was part of a stretch of 14 defeats in 19 games that left the Royals with a 12-21 record following a 12-1 loss at Tampa Bay on May 10. Since then, Kansas City is 21-14 and has made gradual progress in digging out of the bad start.
The Royals won seven times on their nine-game trip through San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles. During the trip, Kansas City scored 56 runs, hit 18 homers and batted .292 (96-for-329).
"It's the same team, with the same guys," Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. "We're just playing better in every area and finally getting wins."
The trip ended with a 7-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday. Salvador Perez hit a three-run homer and Moustakas contributed a three-run triple.
Most of Kansas City's hitters thrived on the trip.
Moustakas is hitting .360 in his last 13 games, with nine extra-base hits and 16 RBIs. He has 31 RBIs over the last 29 games.
Perez was 3-for-5 Sunday to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. In that span, he is batting .439 (18-for-41).
Lorenzo Cain had a double and hit .416 on the trip with 13 runs scored, six home runs and 11 RBIs. Eric Hosmer hit .323 on the trip and is hitting .350 since May 1.
"I know what this team is capable of," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We feel good about this team."
The Royals now turn their attention to a team starting to play like it was projected to in the Red Sox. Boston (39-30) is tied with the New York Yankees for the first place in the AL East after Xander Bogaerts recorded his first career multi-homer game in Sunday's 6-5 win at Houston.
The Red Sox needed more than four hours to get their latest win, and they didn't seal it until catcher Christian Vazquez threw out Derek Fisher trying to steal second for the final out.
"Bogey offensively is the difference in this one but our ability to throw the baseball on the defensive side is what preserved this win tonight," Boston manager John Farrell said.
The Red Sox are 7-3 in their last 10 games since getting outscored 17-1 in their final two games at New York June 7-8. They are trying to get 10 games over .500 for the first time this season.
Boston may have to do it without Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia was hit in the back by a pitch in the seventh inning Sunday and underwent X-rays on the area around his ribs.
Kansas City posted a 3.17 ERA during the trip and will turn to Jason Hammel, who is coming off one of his best starts of the season.
Hammel is 3-6 with a 5.05 ERA but Wednesday in San Francisco, he allowed one run and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings. In his last three starts, Hammel is 2-0 with a 2.21 ERA and holding opponents to a .218 average (17-for-78).
This turnaround is occurring after a dreadful start for the right-hander. He began his first season with the Royals by posting a 1-6 record with a 6.18 ERA through the first 10 starts.
Besides looking to continue his turnaround, Hammel hopes to reverse his career struggles against the Red Sox. He is 1-3 with a 4.61 ERA in 13 outings (six starts) against Boston.
Boston's Hector Velazquez will make his second career start, and the Red Sox hope it goes better than his debut May 18 in Oakland. In five innings, he allowed six runs and nine hits.
"I wasn't focused and concentrating on the way I wanted to attack hitters," he said to reporters through an interpreter Saturday. "Thankfully I was given another opportunity and I can take advantage of these opportunities that are being given."
He was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket Wednesday and pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings after Brian Johnson was injured. This season with Pawtucket, the right-hander is 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA in nine starts and opponents are hitting .189 against him.
Velazquez's last start was June 10 against Buffalo, when he allowed five hits in six scoreless innings. It was the second straight scoreless start for Velazquez, who made 136 appearances in the Mexican League from 2010-2016.
The 28-year-old is pitching in the spot held by Johnson, who replaced Eduardo Rodriguez.
Updated June 19, 2017