Okay, so Jakob Junis two-hitting the Cleveland Indians—not their Triple-A team or the Pedro Serrano/Rick Vaughn/Hats for Bats version of them—reignites the theory that perhaps there is something a little special about Junis after all.
He started his season like a house on fire, going 5-3 with a 3.51 ERA in his first 10 starts with 55 strikeouts in 61.1 innings. From late May to early August, everything cratered—his ERA shot above 5.00, he won just one of nine decisions and spent some time on the disabled list. Typical Royals—young guy shows promise and flames out. Seen this one.
But after Monday’s performance, Junis has now allowed two earned runs or fewer in six straight starts, against the Indians, Cubs and suddenly resurgent Cardinals (and the White Sox, Rays and Tigers, but let’s focus on the real milestones). It’s easily the best stretch of his career, and drug his ERA down to a half-respectable 4.32.
And that to the strong young men thwacking strong young men homers and it’s a real wonder why old goobers like Alcides Escobar, Lucas Duda or anyone else ever had a place in this lineup or rotation. Something something, clubhouse presence, something something locker room leaders. None of them helped the Royals defeat the Tribe 5-1 in the series opener.
One thing that did help was Jorge Bonifacio hitting a mighty dinger with one out in the second, his season’s second, and got out of dodge in a hurry—106.6 mph exit velocity was his hardest-hit ball of the season and gave the Good Guys a 1-0 lead.
After getting a boost from Bonifacio, Junis was aided by his defense in the third. With Greg Allen and Francisco Lindor on the corners, Lindor took off for second with the idea that perhaps they could catch the Royals napping and get the speedy Allen to scamper home to tie the game. Whit Merrifield, playing heads-up baseball, fired a rifle from the bag to the plate to nail Allen on a 2-6-3-4-2 caught stealing. I swear, if Whit played for a half-decent team instead of… whatever this is, the gang that couldn’t tank correctly, he’d get some down-ballot MVP votes. Alas.
Another big boy hit a big boy homer to lead off the fourth when Ryan O’Hearn took Adam Plutko deep to center. Two innings later, Mrs. O’Hearn’s Baby Boy slugged another blast deep into the right field seats to score his buddy Hunter Dozier. Two innings after that, Dozier cranked his season’s ninth out to left to make it 5-0.
And the Tribe still had all of two hits.
The Royals had a chance to add to it in the ninth, when Adalberto Mondesi and Alcides Escobar singled to put runners on the corners with no outs. Cam Gallagher flew out, Merrifield struck out and Alex Gordon grounded out to keep them trapped there.
Wily Peralta came to ostensibly mop up in the ninth and wound up getting into quite the pickle. It started with a one-out Lindor homer, but by the time Peralta departed, the Tribe had the sacks full thanks to Michael Brantley’s single and walks to Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion. Tim Hill was called upon to fix this mess, and low-and-behold, the Indians pinch-hit righty Yandy Diaz for lefty Yonder Alonso. Hill, who right-handed opponents came into the game hitting approximately .970 against, got Diaz to hit a first-pitch rocket right at Merrifield, who flipped to Mondesi, who turned to O’Hearn and hey presto, ballgame.
Your Happy Tweet of the Game That’s Becoming Far More Commonplace
— Nedtime Stories (@NedZepsKC) September 3, 2018
The Bright Spot: Between Junis (7.0 innings, two hits, six strikeouts) and O’Hearn (3-for-4, three RBI, two runs), it was a good day for 25-year old Royals.
The Nadir: Whit and Gordon combined to go 0-for-10 with four strikeouts, which usually won’t win you games from the top two guys in the order.
The Next Step: Danny Duffy and Mike Clevinger should be a good one Tuesday night at Progressive Field. Both picked up wins in their last start, both are pitching well and with the Royals streaking, you can bet Duffy isn’t interested in being the one who lets the good times end with him. 6:10 p.m. (CT) for those interested.