By Jeffrey Flanagan and Rhett Bollinger
KANSAS CITY -- The defending World Series champions may not be done after all.
The Royals, after a miserable 7-19 July that plummeted them seemingly out of contention, suddenly can do no wrong in August. Behind Alex Gordon's two home runs and yet another dominant performance by right-hander Ian Kennedy, the Royals thumped the Twins, 10-0, on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals have won seven straight, are 14-5 in August, have won five straight series and are 4 1/2 games behind the Orioles for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"We've got everything going for us -- starting pitching, the bullpen has been spectacular, our defense has been good and we're starting to swing the bats well," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "That's a good combination."
Kennedy threw eight shutout innings, giving up four hits while striking out six and walking none. He now has pitched six or more innings while giving up one run or fewer in five straight starts -- that ties a franchise record set by Larry Gura in 1981.
Told of tying a franchise mark, Kennedy said, "Shoot, I would have guessed that [Danny] Duffy's been on that roll this whole time. ... He's been a stud, I'm trying to keep up with him."
Left-hander Hector Santiago started for the Twins and was chased after 4 2/3 innings. He gave up 11 hits and eight runs.
"There were too many pitches in the middle of the zone and too many mistakes," Santiago said. "One thing kept happening after another. I'm trying not to put extra guys on base [via walks], but I'm also leaving pitches over the middle the plate. I'm in a spot where I'm more worried about throwing strikes than getting guys to chase."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED No stopping Gordon: Gordon extended his hitting streak to 11 games; he is 17-for-41 (.415) in that span. And with his two home runs, he now has homered five times in his last five games. His last multihomer game was on May 18, 2014, against the Orioles at Kauffman Stadium. Gordon homered in the fourth and fifth innings, the second coming after Salvador Perez ripped a two-run homer.
"You just let him do his thing," Yost said of Gordon. "It's one of those things that he struggled so much, for the better part of a year. But still, as a manager, I had a lot of confidence that at the end of the year, his numbers were going to be pretty acceptable, almost Alex Gordon numbers. He's going to probably get up to .250 or .260 with 20 homers and a bunch of RBIs. Not a bad year."
Said Gordon of his hot streak, "I'm feeling comfortable. Actually, earlier in the year, [I was just] not swinging at the pitches I should have been. [Now] I'm really just waiting for my pitch, and when I get it, I'm not missing.
"Really, all year I was trying to find something. Obviously, the injury put a damper on that. It delayed trying to get comfortable in the box. I just really didn't feel it until the White Sox series [Aug. 9-10]. I kind of got better and better over the series."
Santiago continues struggles: Santiago was on a roll when the Twins acquired him from the Angels on Aug. 1, as he was 6-0 with a 1.78 ERA over his final six starts before the trade. But he has yet to find his groove with the Twins, as he dropped to 0-4 with a 10.89 ERA in four outings. He gave up three homers and has now served up seven with Minnesota.
"He needs to keep working," Twins manager Paul Molitor said, "and get a better feel for getting the ball where he needs to get it." More >
Cain heating up: Another Royal who is catching fire is Lorenzo Cain, who now has hit in seven straight games. Cain doubled in two runs in the third inning, he doubled and scored in the fifth, he hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth and he singled in the eighth. He is 14-for-27 during his hit streak.
Mejia makes debut: Left-hander Adalberto Mejia, who was called up from Triple-A Rochester before the game with Minnesota's bullpen depleted, took over for Santiago with two outs in the fifth. Mejia, who was due to start for Rochester on Saturday, went 2 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits and a walk while helping save the bullpen. He was optioned back to Rochester after the game; a corresponding roster move will come on Sunday.
"I felt great," Mejia said. "I thought this was a great experience for me. I worked hard for this experience. I was anxious about it, but it felt great." More >
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Twins successfully won a challenge in the sixth, when Christian Colon hit a comebacker off Mejia's foot and was ruled safe at first on a close play. But after a review, the call on the field was overturned, and Colon was ruled out.
WHAT'S NEXT Twins: Right-hander Ervin Santana (6-9, 3.43 ERA) will get the ball on Sunday for the finale between the Twins and Royals at 1:15 p.m. CT at Kauffman Stadium. Santana has been dominant over his last 10 starts, posting a 1.84 ERA. The Twins have gone 6-4 in those games.
Royals: Left-hander Danny Duffy (10-1, 2.73 ERA) will take the mound for the series finale at 1:15 p.m. CT. Duffy has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball as of late, posting a 1.15 ERA in four starts in August. He last took a loss on June 6.