Royals off to solid start as team identity takes shape

The Kansas City Royals have won nine of their first 14 games to begin the 2021 season. (Royals Review)

Evan Lohman

The Kansas City Royals have won nine of their first 14 games to begin the 2021 season.

With new faces all around the clubhouse, Royals manager Mike Matheny works every day toward tailoring the lineup and pitching rotation to maximize the team’s strengths and improve its weaknesses. The good news is the talent and production come from many sources.

As expected, Royals veterans Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez lead Kansas City’s hitting, while pitcher Danny Duffy’s two starts have been the best for the team so far.

Merrifield has dominated from the leadoff spot for a few years now with a career .296 average, and he continues to show his reliability with a team-best in batting average (.375), hits (15), runs batted in (11), total bases (26) and is second on the team with three home runs.

Kansas City’s favorite catcher narrowly trails Merrifield in most major batting categories. Perez, the five-time Gold Glove winner, displayed his prowess from behind the plate several times already this season. His best play came in a game against the Las Angeles Angels on April 13. 

With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Perez handled an off-target pitch in the dirt and threw a laser to third baseman Hunter Dozier to record the final out of the 3-2 victory for the Royals.

Duffy began his 11th season in the majors with two impressive starts on the mound. Duffy’s 0.75 earned run average ranks 10th in the entire MLB, and he leads the team in strikeouts. Duffy has just one earned run in 12 innings pitched.

With the pillars of the team doing their job, the Royals need production from a few more complimentary players to win consistently. Luckily, there are several candidates ready to take on that role.

Outfielder Michael A. Taylor surprised Royals fans in the opening series against the Texas Rangers by racking up six hits in the first three games. After seven seasons with the Washington Nationals, Taylor signed with the Royals in free agency before the 2021 season. Taylor has hit in eight of the Royals 14 games this season, and has a .261 batting average with six RBIs early in the year.

The Royals made their headline move in the offseason by trading for Boston Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi. After early struggles in the opening games of the season, he has raised his batting average to its highest point this year.

Kansas City’s pitching staff also hit a few speed bumps in the first 14 games, but certainly showed flashes of brilliance.

Brad Keller started on opening day, but struggled in both that game and his second start against the Chicago White Sox. Keller seemed to find his touch against the high-powered Angels lineup that features Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, allowing a single run in the Royals’ 6-1 victory.

Matheny has experimented with schedules out of the bullpen, but there are plenty of capable weapons.

Josh Staumont, Jake Brentz, and Kyle Zimmer have a combined 19 scoreless innings pitched in relief. 

Zimmer came into the 10th inning of the April 11 contest against the White Sox to close out the game. With new MLB extra innings rules, a runner starts on second base, but Zimmer was not fazed. He struck out the first two batters and the third out came on a routine ground ball. The Royals won 4-3.

After taking three of four games against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Royals will finish the April home schedule against the Tampa Bay Rays before heading on the road to play the Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates. Kauffman Stadium limits capacity to 10,000 fans, but there are still plenty of affordable tickets available.

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