<
>

Rookies, Eric Hosmer lift still-flawed Kansas City Royals

Eric Hosmer is in the midst of a fantastic season for the Royals. John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Royals should have been swept.

Instead, they were the ones doing the sweeping. Elias Sports Bureau research showed that this is the first time the Royals have won three straight games this season, despite trailing by multiple runs in the seventh inning or later of each game.

The Chicago White Sox outscored the Royals 15-5 in the first six innings of their games. But the Royals outscored the White Sox 15-1 after that.

The Royals' work was reminiscent of their runs through the postseason the past two years. Their last two World Series wins against the New York Mets last year were in games that the Royals trailed 3-1 in the sixth inning and 2-0 in the ninth inning, respectively. In fact, they outscored the Mets by that same 15-1 margin after the sixth inning.

It’s almost as though some sort of comeback gene was passed on to those new to the roster. Rookies Whit Merrifield, Brett Eibner and Cheslor Cuthbert had key hits in the Royals rallies. They entered the weekend with a combined 114 career major league at-bats (Eibner had none of them; he debuted in this series). They combined to go 14-for-35 (.400 batting average) with seven RBIs in the series.

Difference-maker: Eric Hosmer

The Royals first baseman continued his fantastic season by going 8-for-13 with seven RBIs in the three games. He’s now hitting .319 with nine home runs and 30 RBIs. Hosmer is on pace to hit 29 home runs, which would be well beyond his career high of 19, set in 2011 (his rookie season).

Hosmer has feasted on pitches over the middle-third of the plate, width-wise. Hosmer has always hit those pitches well (his career batting average against them is now .345). But now he’s driving them with extraordinary authority. Eight of his nine home runs have come on pitches to that area. That matches the most he has had in a season against those pitches (in 2011, he hit eight of his 19; and in 2015, he hit eight of his 18).

First, but still flawed

Though the Royals were able to mount comebacks every day this weekend, they still have some issues. The most notable one is with their starting pitching. Royals starters rank 23rd in the majors with a 4.81 ERA and 26th in the majors with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2-to-1. They also allow the third-most home runs per nine innings (1.45).

On Sunday, their No. 2 starter Yordano Ventura gave them seven innings, but allowed seven runs, raising his 2016 ERA to 5.17.

The Royals will be without their usual starting catcher, Salvador Perez, who will be out seven to 10 days with a bruised thigh and bone bruise on his left knee. Perez was having a strong offensive season and is is on pace for a career high in doubles. He had 11 in his first 46 games (he has never had more than 28 in a season). He also ranks tied for third among catchers with five defensive runs saved.

And despite all of this, the Royals are alone in first place in the American League Central for the first time since April 22.

Paul Carr contributed to this article.