Saunders makes Final Vote case in sweep of Royals

Saunders makes Final Vote case in sweep of Royals

TORONTO -- The Royals got the last laugh in 2015, but it's the Blue Jays who scored early bragging rights this season as they completed a three-game sweep on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

Michael Saunders homered and then drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning to secure a 3-2 victory. Ezequiel Carrera added a key RBI single and Russell Martin also chipped in with an RBI double. Right-hander Marcus Stroman carried a perfect game into the sixth and yielded two runs over eight innings to pick up the victory.

Cast your Esurance Final Vote

This was the first time these teams met since last October when Kansas City eliminated Toronto in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. The story line was much different this time around as the Blue Jays outscored the Royals, 18-7, over the three games.

Stroman's winning start

"First and foremost, what's important right now is that we get the wins and finish strong leading into the All-Star break," said Saunders, who is a Final Vote candidate for a spot on the American League All-Star team. "Obviously the support that I've received, not only from the guys in this locker room and this organization, but fans all across Canada, words can't explain how grateful I am."

Right-hander Ian Kennedy was saddled with a no-decision for Kansas City despite an impressive night on the mound. He yielded just two runs on four hits over six innings and racked up 10 strikeouts.

"It's a tough lineup to try and navigate through," Kennedy said, "especially with [Josh] Donaldson and [Edwin] Encarnacion in the heart of it, and Saunders playing so well, and [Troy] Tulowitzki hitting sixth -- he's usually an All-Star. It's tough to get through that.

"You just try to work your way through it. When I say navigate, I mean you just execute your pitches. There are sometimes it doesn't work. But you try to do it the best."

Kennedy's strong performance

Baltimore and Boston both won on Wednesday night, which meant the top of the AL East standings remained the same with Toronto in second place and 2 1/2 games back of the Orioles. Cleveland also lost, which meant the Royals remained eight games back of first in the AL Central.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Captain Canada: Final Vote candidate Saunders continued to make his case for a spot on the AL team with another big night at the plate. Saunders hit a solo home run in the fourth inning, but the big blow came in the eighth. Toronto blew a 2-1 lead earlier in the frame, but Saunders got things back on track with an RBI single to center for a 3-2 lead. Saunders is one of five candidates in the AL's Final Vote, which will decide the final man on the AL roster. Houston's George Springer, Boston's Dustin Pedroia, Detroit's Ian Kinsler and Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria are the others.

Saunders' solo home run

"Michael is having a tremendous year," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I can't say it goes unnoticed, but with some of the other firepower and some of the big names that we have on the team, I think he's just sliding by. He probably hasn't gotten the recognition he probably deserves ... From Day 1, he has been steady. I hope he wins it, he deserves it."

Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera said of Saunders' go-ahead single: "I got the first two guys. I got Donaldson and Cabrera, two quick outs. I just fell behind [Encarnacion and Saunders]. They're good hitters. They get here every day, ready to hit."

Wasted chance: Alcides Escobar broke up Stroman's no-hit bid with a scorching triple to left-center that scored Brett Eibner, who drew a leadoff walk. That brought the Royals within 2-1. The Blue Jays pulled their infield in, which worked, as Jarrod Dyson hit the ball sharply but grounded out to first. Alex Gordon followed by swinging at the first pitch and hit a broken-bat dribbler to second. Whit Merrifield then struck out on three pitches.

Escobar's RBI triple

Tacking it on: Toronto carried a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning when Junior Lake hit a one-out double to the gap in left-center field. Carrera followed two batters later with an RBI single up the middle. The extra run proved essential after the Royals added a run in the sixth. Carrera has at least one hit in four of his last five games.

Carrera's RBI single

Long ball: Eibner, who broke up the perfect game by drawing a walk in the sixth, unleashed a rocket into the Blue Jays' bullpen in left field that tied the score at 2. It was Eibner's second big league homer and first since June 16 against the Tigers. It was also his first hit on the road trip after going 0-for-8.

Eibner's game-tying homer

"He had a real quick arm so everything looks the same coming out," Eibner said of Stroman, "so you just look for a pitch up in the zone. I got a fastball middle-middle.

"His sinker, it's got a lot of movement. He's throwing it off the plate, but it looks like it's right there. He had good tilt to it and the velo looks like a fastball."

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The announced crowd was 39,971 for Wednesday night's game. The Blue Jays are now averaging 28,622 fans per home game, which is the highest average in the American League.

Stroman ranks first among all Major League pitchers with a ground-ball percentage of 60.2. His 210 grounders are the most among all pitchers this season.

WHAT'S NEXT
Royals: Left-hander Danny Duffy (4-1, 3.11 ERA) takes the mound on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. CT as the Royals open a four-game set against the Mariners at Kauffman Stadium. Duffy has gone eight or more innings in his last two starts for the first time in his career.

Blue Jays: Right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-0, 5.40) will take the mound on Thursday at 7:07 p.m. ET when the Blue Jays open a four-game series against the Tigers at Rogers Centre. This outing originally belonged to Marco Estrada, but the veteran righty went on the 15-day DL with a back issue. This will be Hutchison's second start of the year..

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Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.