MLB EXTRA INNINGS: Surprising Royals right regal to start season

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The first month of the 2021 Major League Baseball season is in the books.

And with that, we flip into May with the usual suspects sitting atop the standings.

That’s right . . . the Kansas City Royals.



The Royals?

Call it a shocker, to be sure.

Maybe if this was 2015 — when they sealed the deal for their first World Series since 1985 — it wouldn’t be unexpected.

But it’s a surprise these days from a bunch who haven’t been relevant since winning that MLB championship.

They’ve been a .500 team or worse since, including in both 2018 and ’19, when they lost 104 and 103 games respectively.

Suddenly, after an off-season peppered with a few key pickups at the plate — Carlos Santana, Andrew Benintendi, Hanser Alberto and Michael A. Taylor — and seemingly a little pixie dust sprinkled on them, the Royals put together a magical April, flying to the top of the MLB charts with a 15-8 record heading into Friday night’s slate of games.


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“It’s totally different (this year),” Royals leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield told reporters. “I’ve come to the field every day expecting to win, feeling like we’re going to win the game. As opposed to coming to the field going, ‘Alright, it’s going to be a struggle. What are we going to have to do? They’re going to have to be off. We’re going to have to be on.’ That was years past.”

The new names don’t exactly comprise a list of household hitters.

And the Royals didn’t bolster their rotation at all.

But maybe the sorcery has been jumpstarted by the return of relievers Greg Holland — last year — and Wade Davis — this year — who made up two-thirds of what was considered a historically dominant trio of deep-inning relievers back in those majestic years of 2014 and ’15. (Remember . . . after snapping the longest playoff drought of any team in the big four sports — 29 years — the Royals lost the ’14 World Series to the wizardry of Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants, leaving a man on third base at the end of a 3-2 Game 7 loss.)

So maybe Holland and Davis have brought the winning witchcraft back to K.C.?

“I can honestly say I’ve never been around a team like this,” Royals manager Mike Matheny told reporters earlier this week. “Regardless of what happens, they just believe. They’re saying the right things, and that’s fine, and that’s good — you want that positive energy in there. But then it comes down to just, they’re willing to do whatever they’ve got to do to make it happen. That’s what makes it so special.”


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Stranger yet, they’re doing it without their biggest star, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, who has yet to suit up in the regular season due to an oblique injury.

Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Milwaukee Brewers celebrates a two-run home run during the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at American Family Field on April 30, 2021, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Milwaukee Brewers celebrates a two-run home run during the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at American Family Field on April 30, 2021, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by Stacy Revere /Getty Images


So where are the Los Angeles Dodgers with this regal Royals roll taking centre-stage in the MLB these days? The World Series champs have laboured with a recent 3-8 record heading into Friday’s action. The stumble had the 16-10 Dodgers suddenly looking up at the National League-best San Francisco Giants, who threatened late Friday to overtake everybody — including the Royals — with a win improving them to 17-9 on the last day of April . . . Is it just us or does anybody else ever wonder what the heck is an oblique is and how do you injure it? . . . Gotta give Dodgers star Trevor Bauer a little love for his response to Fernando Tatis Jr. mimicry of the oft-criticized pitcher. In case you missed it, the San Diego Padres slugger tattooed two homers off the ace in a game during that epic series last weekend and celebrated just as Bauer did against the Friars in a spring training clash — by covering his right eye as if to say he did it with one peeper closed and then putting on quite the confident strut in Bauer-esque fashion. “It’s just fun when you know you’re facing a guy like that,” Tatis told reporters. “He’s doing his stuff. He’s having fun on the mound. And when you get him, you get him, and you celebrate, too.” Bauer’s reply? “I like it,” Bauer told reporters. “I think that pitchers that have that done to them and react by throwing at people — I think it’s pretty soft. If you give up a homer, a guy should celebrate it. It’s hard to hit in the big leagues. So I’m all for it, and I think that it’s important that the game moves in that direction and that we stop throwing at people because they celebrated having some success on the field.” Bravo, boys, let’s have a little fun . . . BTW: Tatis Jr. absolutely blasted the Dodgers during that epic series — won 3-1 by the Padres — with five jacks in the four-game set. His oblique is apparently OK. Oh, sorry, his injury was a shoulder subluxation. And what’s that now? . . . The Dodgers, meanwhile, gear up for another major moment on the season, when they face Corbin Burnes on Saturday in Milwaukee, where the Brewers ace attempts to break the record for most strikeouts thrown before issuing a walk in a season. To make it even more dramatic, the mark is held by — you guessed it — a Dodgers pitcher, as closer Kenley Jansen K’d 51 batters before allowing his first base on balls back in 2017. You can bet Jansen’s teammates will try out-wait Burnes, who’s on 49 ahead of the evening affair . . . Right there with the Dodgers at 16-10, the Oakland Athletics had their 13-game win string snapped last Sunday in an 8-1 loss to the host Baltimore Orioles.


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The best pitch in baseball belongs to Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani, whose slider has been unhittable so far this season. According to, “In 20 plate appearances ending on Ohtani’s splitter this season, hitters are 0-for-19, with 18 strikeouts.” Wowzer . . . It took three years, but — finally — Ohtani got onto the field for the first time in another defensive position that wasn’t on the mound when he played left-field last Saturday as the Angels were getting hammered by the Astros 16-2 . . . In another lopsided tilt, the Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo took the hill in what was a hilarious strikeout sequence against Braves counterpart — and good friend — Freddie Freeman. Neither guy could stop smiling as Freeman KO’d on a 61-mph curveball and later told reporters, “He’ll have that over me forever now, unfortunately. But that’s one strikeout I’m OK with. That was fun to be a part of.” . . . Six years later, Bumgarner — now with the Diamondbacks and defying his much-maligned start to the season — is still weaving his magic. But ‘MadBum’ didn’t get credit for the no-hitter he threw as part of a doubleheader last Sunday, because, of course, it was only a seven-inning contest. So the 7-0 gem over the Braves is marked only as a complete-game shutout, which has many traditionalists smiling since they’ve been pooh-poohing the whole seven-inning doubleheader thing since MLB rolled it out in the face of COVID . . . BTW: In that Bumgarner non-no-hitter, the only at-bat that kept it from being a non-perfect game was a throwing error to put a Braves batter on base. And it was part of a historic one-hit doubleheader surrendered by the D-backs, as first-game starter Zac Gallen tossed a one-hitter to beat the Braves earlier in the day. It’s the fewest combined hits recorded by a team in a doubleheader MLB history, says Elias Sports Bureau. Maybe we should ask the traditionalists if that even counts.

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