Fresh off a road trip in which they hit a franchise-record 22 home runs, the Kansas City Royals return to the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday to start a two-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The resumption of the I-70 rivalry pits the Cardinals, who are battling for a National League wild-card spot, against the Royals, who are discovering which young players might be part of their future.
The Royals went 3-6 on the road trip, with a suspended game in Boston still to be completed. That contest will be resumed Aug. 22 with the score 4-4.
The offense wasn't to blame on the trip, especially the power portion. The Royals had never previously hit more than 20 home runs on a 10-game trip. Jorge Soler became the first Royal to hit seven home runs on a 10-game road trip, and he now has 35 this season, only three behind the club record set by Mike Moustakas in 2016.
He wasn't the only Royal to find his homer stroke on the trip. Hunter Dozier hit six home runs as he became the first Royal to have three multi-homer games on a single road trip.
"I love it," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said Sunday after his team's 10-2 win over the Detroit Tigers in which Dozier went yard twice. "I need runs. I have to have runs. And they've been providing them in grand fashion.
"Doze hit the home run in the first, then he just missed a home run. And he came into the dugout and said, 'How far from a homer was that?' I said, 'Two feet.' And he went, 'Aw, man.' But I said, 'Stop. Something special is going to happen to you today.'"
The long ball has not been a regular part of the Royals' game. They have hit a total of 48 home runs through 58 games at home, 28th out of the 30 major league teams. On the road, they've hit 77 home runs in 62 contests, 20th in the major leagues.
Jack Flaherty (5-6, 3.72 ERA) takes the ball Tuesday for the Cardinals, looking to continue his outstanding run of late. Despite a 1-1 record his last six starts, he has a 0.94 ERA over that span. In his last outing, against the Dodgers on Wednesday, he scattered four hits and struck out 10 in seven scoreless innings of a no-decision.
Flaherty has faced the Royals once in his career, allowing two runs on three hits in seven innings in 2018.
Asked about potentially using an opener in the Royals series, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt replied, "We have some possibilities."
"Everyone has their own version of creativity, right?" he continued. "I think we've been fairly creative in how we've used the bullpen. We're going to challenge ourselves to continue to look at it and present the best opportunity to eliminate the other team from scoring.
"The innings come from somewhere. You've got the opportunity to go to the 'pen earlier, match up, and get some length, and I think we've displayed that we've done that, that we will do that. The 'middler' is a pretty good way of looking at it."
The Cardinals, who have won three in a row, likely will be helped by the return of Yadier Molina. The veteran catcher, who has not played since the All-Star break because of a torn tendon in his right thumb, completed his planned rehab assignment Sunday evening with Double-A Springfield and was activated Monday.
St. Louis returned rookie Andrew Knizner to Triple-A Memphis.
The Cardinals also placed outfielder Jose Martinez on the disabled list due to a right AC joint sprain that forced him out of the team's 11-9 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. Outfielder Randy Arozarena had his contract purchased from Memphis.
Arozarena, 24, hit a combined .349 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs in 80 games in Double-A and Triple-A this year.
Kansas City will send Glenn Sparkman (3-7, 5.71 ERA) to the mound on Tuesday. He's on a stretch of four straight rough outings since a complete-game shutout of the White Sox on July 16, allowing 22 runs in 19 2/3 innings over that span.
Sparkman is 0-0 with a 3.18 ERA against the Cardinals in two career appearances, both out of the bullpen.
--Field Level Media