Royals on verge of rare series victory over Yankees

Field Level Media

September 30, 2023 at 10:58 am.

The New York Yankees, after dropping the series opener at Kansas City 12-5 on Friday, need to win both remaining games to continue their series winning streak against the Royals.

The Yankees (81-79) have won 15 consecutive series against the Royals, tied for their second-longest streak against any opponent. New York is 18-5 against Kansas City since April 19, 2019.

Despite losing their past two games, the Yankees are 16-10 in September, with rookie catcher Austin Wells helping spark the late resurgence. The 24-year-old made his debut on Sept. 1, initially impressing Yankees manager Aaron Boone with his defense.

“He’s done an outstanding job behind the plate,” Boone said. “He’s probably surpassed our expectations there.”

Wells managed just two hits in his first six games. Since then, he has hit safely in nine of his 12 games, and he has four homers and nine RBIs in his past seven games, including a three-run shot on Friday.

“Offensively, I feel like he’s starting to gain some traction here the last week or 10 days, really putting together lots of really good at-bats,” Boone said. “We’re starting to see the power show up a little bit. More than anything, he’s starting to have consistent at-bats.”

Boone sees Wells as a solid contender for regular catching duties in 2024.

“He’s got me more excited, moving forward, than when he got here,” Boone said.

The Yankees will send right-hander Clarke Schmidt (9-9, 4.65 ERA) to the mound on Saturday. Schmidt has faced the Royals once this year, in a win on July 21, when he went 5 2/3 innings and allowed three runs, all on a homer by Michael Massey.

Schmidt is 2-0 with a 2.79 ERA in three career games (one start) against Kansas City. He is 1-3 with a 5.85 ERA over his last eight starts overall.

The Royals will go with Steven Cruz (0-0, 5.40 ERA) as an opener on Saturday. The rookie right-hander will oppose the Yankees for the first time. He most recently pitched on Wednesday, when he allowed two runs in a two-inning relief outing against the Detroit Tigers.

In the series opener on Friday, 10 consecutive Royals hitters reached safely to start the game, a franchise record. Bobby Witt Jr. capped the scoring with a 423-foot home run, his 30th homer of the year, making him the club’s first-ever member of the 30-homer/30-steal club.

Witt had gone 11 games without a home run after hitting No. 29 on Sept. 15, raising concern he might fall short, just as Carlos Beltran did in 2002 when he hit 29 homers and stole 35 bases.

“It was definitely on my mind a little bit,” Witt said. “Missed it by one stolen base in Triple-A.”

Playing at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha in 2021, Witt combined for 33 homers and 29 steals.

“It’s special to be able to do it here at Kauffman (Stadium) in front of the fans,” he said.

Witt would make more history if he steals another base. After recording his 49th steal on Thursday at Detroit, he can become the fourth player in baseball history to reach the 30-homer/50-steal plateau, following Eric Davis (1987), Barry Bonds (1990) and Ronald Acuna Jr (2023).

“Just gotta get on first and we’ll see what happens,” Witt said.

The win on Friday gives the Royals a chance to avoid some uncomfortable history. At 55-105, the club needs one win to avoid eclipsing the franchise record for losses, set when the 2005 team finished 56-106.