Five things we learned Sunday: Don't count out the Royals

12:13 AM ET

The Cleveland Indians rallied to beat the Toronto Blue Jays on Jose Ramirez‘s eighth-inning home run off Brett Cecil, and the Blue Jays announced they’ll send Aaron Sanchez to the minors in order to skip his next start. Justin Upton hit two long home runs as the Detroit Tigers out-slugged the Boston Red Sox. Jason Hammel became the first Chicago Cubs pitcher since 1930 to allow 10 runs twice in a season. Nolan Arenado became the first player to cross 100 RBIs with a pair of three-run homers off Hammel. Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Julio Urias tossed six scoreless innings. The Miami Marlins completed a road sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. But here are our top five things from Sunday:

1. The champs aren’t going down without a fight. The Kansas City Royals were the worst team in the majors in July, when they went 7-19 and were outscored by 47 runs. The rotation was falling apart, the offense wasn’t hitting, and the injuries were piling up. The season was declared over when, in early August, they fell to 51-58 and sat 9.5 games out of the second wild card with six teams to pass to climb into a playoff position.

Well, this is baseball. The Royals, of course, have won eight in a row and have gone on a 13-2 tear to climb back into the fringes of the playoff chase. They completed a four-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins with a 2-1 victory as Danny Duffy allowed one run in 6.2 innings to improve to 11-1 with a 2.66 ERA. It was the 11th straight Duffy start the Royals have won. The Royals are now 3.5 games behind the Orioles for the second wild card. What is impressive about this run is that Kansas City has outscored opponents 80 to 34, scoring 5.3 runs per game while allowing just 2.6. The Royals’ starting rotation has a 2.53 ERA in that span.

Are the playoffs possible? The Royals are tied with the Houston Astros and behind the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers, so they’ll need the teams ahead of them to fall off a bit. The schedule gets tougher the next two weeks, with series against the Marlins, Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tigers. According to FanGraphs, the Royals’ playoff odds entering Sunday were a scant 4.2 percent.

This August surge is becoming a Royals tradition, as they went 19-10 in 2014 and 19-9 last year. Those seasons ended in playoff trips. In a season in which so much has gone wrong, it’s a minor miracle that the Royals are even in this position. But they’ve surprised us before.

2. Mariners suffer devastating loss. No team has played as many exciting games this season as the Mariners. Unfortunately, that list includes both exhilarating wins and devastating losses, as the heart rates of Mariners fans will attest to. Seattle was going for a sweep of the Brewers and their eighth straight home win and led 6-3 going into the ninth. FanGraphs estimated their chances of winning at that point to be 97.2 percent.

Rookie closer Edwin Diaz had pitched in 10 of the team’s 19 games this month and, after throwing 34 pitches in a shaky outing Friday, was unavailable. Tom Wilhelmsen got the call. He had allowed just three runs in 18.1 innings since returning to Seattle, but Keon Broxton and Chris Carter tagged him for home runs, with Carter’s tying the game, and three hits later the Brewers took the lead. It was a crushing loss, but it’s something Mariners fans are used to. That’s six ninth-inning leads now that have melted away into defeats. They’ve also played 46 one-run games, the most in the majors (the Mariners are 23-23 in those games). A win would have tied Seattle with the Orioles for the second wild-card spot.

Oh, and that note about exciting games: Teams leading by three runs entering the ninth are now 254-6 this season. The Mariners are the only team with more than one such defeat.

3. The Cardinals’ secret weapon. When the Cardinals acquired Jedd Gyorko for Jon Jay in the offseason, it was viewed as a minor trade and mostly a salary dump by the Padres, who agreed to pay $7.5 million of Gyorko’s future salary. The initial plan was for Gyorko to primarily platoon with Kolten Wong at second base, but injuries to other infielders have opened up more playing time, and after homering in Sunday’s 9-0 win over the Phillies, Gyorko is hitting .246/.309/.496 with 20 home runs in just 272 at-bats. Among players with at least 200 at-bats, he’s fifth in at-bats per home run, behind teammate Brandon Moss, Mark Trumbo, Edwin Encarnacion and Khris Davis. Another key has been his solid defense, as he has been credited with plus-7 Defensive Runs Saved. After finishing 11th in the NL in home runs in 2015 and last in 2014, this Cardinals team ranks third in the majors with 173 home runs. They won’t get to the franchise record (235 in 2000, when Jim Edmonds led the way with 42), but it’s already a top-10 total in franchise history.

4. Yulieski Gurriel debuts for the Astros. The Astros signed the 32-year-old Cuban to a five-year, $47.5 contract, and after 15 games in the minors, he made his debut at DH while batting sixth. With a second-inning single off Yovani Gallardo, Gurriel became the oldest position player to get a hit in his debut since Rick Short of the Washington Nationals in 2005. He also walked but was lifted for a pinch hitter in the eighth after experiencing tightness in his hamstring. The Astros beat the Orioles 5-3 to take three out of four in the series.

5. Braves stun Nationals. The Atlanta Braves don’t show up here too often, so let’s give them some love. Specifically, let’s give some love to Jace Peterson, who made a great catch and then hit a walk-off home run:

The Nationals had leads of 4-0 and then 6-4 in the eighth, but the Braves’ bullpen tossed 4.1 scoreless as the offense rallied.



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