Is it time to believe? Is it time to believe that the longest postseason drought in baseball ends this year? Is it time to believe that the Royals can do this?
There was a little bit more reason for Kansas City to believe after Wednesday night. Jason Vargas, the Royals’ 31-year-old lefty soft-tosser, pitched a three-hitter for his sixth career shutout, and the Royals beat the A’s 3-0 at Kauffman Stadium, maintaining their half-game lead over Detroit. Vargas needed just 92 pitches over eight innings and — after manager Ned Yost opted to keep him in the game rather than turn it over to All-Star closer Greg Holland — needed just five more to close out the highest scoring offense in baseball.
Vargas retired the final 23 A’s batters he faced, with Jed Lowrie — who singled to lead off the top of the 2nd inning — the last Oakland hitter to reach base. Vargas said after his start that he and catcher Salvador Perez decided to attack the A’s with more fastballs, and after the adjustment, Vargas, channeling vintage Jamie Moyer, was brilliant in locating the corners. The Royals offense, as usual, did just enough: Omar Infante hit a two-run home run in the third into the left-field bullpen, his first home run since June 27, and Kansas City added another run on a sac fly from Perez as the Royals beat A’s starter Scott Kazmir for the second time in 10 days.
The Royals do not have Max Scherzer, David Price or Justin Verlander. But for all the talk about the Tigers’ mighty rotation, the starters in Kansas City have been just as good this year. After Vargas’ gem on Wednesday, Royals starters had a 3.73 collective ERA on the year. The Tigers starters: 3.79.
In November, the Royals were mocked when they promised a major announcement, only to reveal that they had signed Vargas to a four-year, $32 million deal. At the time, it seemed like a bit of an overpay for a veteran with a 4.30 career ERA who had never won more than 14 games over his itinerant career. Now Vargas, who missed a month following an emergency appendectomy, is pitching like a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter.
In Detroit, the Tigers beat the Pirates 8-4 to end a four-game losing streak. Nick Castellanos homered and tripled as the Tigers' bats finally came alive in a much-needed win. It was Detroit’s first game home following a disastrous road trip in which it went 2-7 against the Yankees, Blue Jays and Pirates.
But the Royals have won 17 of their last 21. They swept the Giants over the weekend, and now they’ve taken two of their first three games against the best team in baseball. After they finish with Oakland on Thursday, they start a stretch where they’ll face last place teams in three straight series (Twins, Rockies and Rangers). They now have Josh Willingham — who went 1-for-2 with a stolen base and a walk in his second game as Kansas City’s DH — for the playoff push. And then there’s Vargas, now 9-5 with a 3.27 ERA, who's a big reason the Royals are in first place in mid-August.
It just may be time to believe in Kansas City.