If Jakob Junis could only face the Tigers, there’s an outside chance we might consider him one of the game’s finest pitchers.
Unfortunately, there are 28 other teams and Junis seems not to fare as well against any of them. Fortunately, the Tigers were his opponent Tuesday and Junis did what Junis does in mowing down the Tigers to open the brief series at Kauffman Stadium.
Complete game turns are pretty rare in modern baseball—Old Hoss Radbourn ain’t walking through that door and finishing 45 games per year. A conflagration of events has to occur—pitch economy, multiple pitches working, a punchless lineup that a small child could dominate, a semi-comfortable lead—for such an event to unfold in 2018.
Welcome to 2018 American League Central Baseball, where mediocrity abounds!
This is not to cheapen the notion of a young man’s first career complete game but rather a nod to what baseball has become. In days of yore, Junis probably would’ve had a handful at this point in his career, back when nobody saw any potential issues with having 25-year olds throw 135 pitches to save the bullpen. In today’s game, only the truly elite ever go beyond around 110 pitches—Junis’ career-high even after this game remains at 106.
After the Tigers struck first blood on a Jeimer Candelario sac fly in the third inning, the Royals poured five runs home in the bottom of the inning to stake Junis’ lead. Adalberto Mondesi led off with an absolutely mammoth home run—410 feet, 104.5 exit velocity, 35 degree launch angle. Rex Hudler’s voice jumped an octave when reading out the mandatory Statcast numbers.
Whit Merrifield followed with a single, which was followed by an Alex Gordon walk and Salvador Perez single to load the bases. Jorge Bonifacio hit a sac fly to score Whit, then Rosell Herrera walked to load the bags again.
This brought up Hunter Dozier who, tired of the station-to-station nonsense, roped a double to right to score Gordon and Perez. Alcides Escobar even managed a productive out with a sac fly to score Rosie for the inning’s fifth run—the eighth time this season and third in August the Royals have produced an inning with five or more runs.
With a four-run lead, Junis set about setting the Tigers down, and in this endeavor he was wildly successful. Three times in his final six innings he set the Tigers down in order; only once did a runner reach scoring position (not counting JaCoby Jones, who hit a soler homer in the eighth inning).
Even when Junis slightly faltered, things worked out for him. After Jones’ homer—five of his 12 career home runs have now come against Kansas City—Candelario singled and the Royals bullpen began to cook.
One pitch—one well-placed sinker, leading to a 5-4-3 double play—and Tim Hill and Kevin McCarthy were no longer needed.
The Good Guys had tacked on another courtesy a Drew VerHagen wild pitch in the seventh, scoring Gordon, who got bloody on a successful steal attempt, moved to third on a Bonifacio single and scored when VerHagen’s slider got way away from James McCann. That left Junis with a four-run lead in the ninth, and he quickly sat down Nicholas Castellanos (strikeout), Victor Martinez (first-pitch groundout) and Jim Adduci (first-pitch popout) to end it.
Your Unusually Happy Tweet of the Night
Leave for five minutes miss an offensive explosion 5-1 #royals
— Eric (@RoyalSooner77) August 29, 2018
The Bright Spot: If you’ve had enough of me fawning over Junis, may I just point out that Merrifield, Perez, Dozier and BERTO all had multi-hit games? Still takes some runs to win a dang-ol’ baseball game.
If you haven’t had enough of me fawning over Junis, I point you to nine innings of six-hit ball with seven strikeouts. He now has 10 of the Royals 45 quality starts this season. Sure, his streak of not allowing a home run was finally snapped (34 innings), but you’ll take a gopher ball given up every five starts or so.
The Nadir: I’m not sure Brett Phillips can hit. He was 0-for-4, pushing the average down to .177. He’s now 1-for-his-last-26 with a couple of walks. Those are prime Alcides Escobar numbers.
The Next Step: A couple of years ago, Danny Duffy and Michael Fulmer opposing each other would be something of a marquee attraction. As it is, Fulmer has been hurt and Duffy has been inconsistent but they’ll start the 1:15 p.m. (CT) finale regardless.