Kansas City, Mo. Kansas City is doing to the Tampa Bay Rays precisely what the St. Louis Cardinals did to the Royals over the weekend.
Bruce Chen gave the Royals strong pitching for the second straight night, Jeff Francoeur and Yuniesky Betancourt homered to extend a string of hot hitting, and Kansas City routed the Rays, 8-2, on Tuesday night to set up a chance for a series sweep.
Alex Gordon and Billy Butler also drove in runs to pace a Royals offense that was outscored by St. Louis 30-14 over the weekend, but has trumped Tampa Bay 16-2 through two games.
“What the Cardinals did to us those three days is what we’re doing to the Rays, just adding on and adding on,” Francoeur said. “It’s a good time for us to get going.”
Chen (7-6) gave up a run in the first inning and Brooks Conrad’s solo shot in the second, but was otherwise stingy on another warm night in Kansas City. The 35-year-old left-hander managed to avoid any serious trouble to win for the seventh time in his last nine decisions.
He built on a shutout tossed by Luke Hochevar in the series opener, and suddenly, a pitching staff that was hammered by the Cardinals has hamstrung the light-hitting Rays.
“I felt really good. I was mixing my pitches,” Chen said. “We’re not taking anything for granted, but we’re feeling good, we’re playing good, and now we we’ve won back-to-back games.”
The Rays looked as though they were about to emerge from their own offensive funk the first two innings. They coaxed a run across in the first on consecutive hits and a fly ball by Hideki Matsui, and Conrad made it 2-0 when he went deep in the second inning.
That’s where the highlights ended for Tampa Bay.
The Royals started to hit Tampa Bay starter Alex Archer (0-2) in the third inning, though they got plenty of help from Rays shortstop Sean Rodriguez, who committed errors on consecutive plays.
Jarrod Dyson led off with a single, and Alcides Escobar sent a rocket off the wall in left-center, just missing his second homer of the year. He was credited with a double, but went to third as Dyson scampered home when Rodriguez’s relay throw to the plate resulted in an error.
Gordon stepped the plate and sent a grounder at Rodriguez, which brought home Escobar with the tying run. Rodriguez couldn’t field the ball cleanly, which allowed Gordon to reach first.
It proved to be a costly when Betancourt homered over the bullpen in left to make it 4-0.
The 23-year-old Archer, who was recalled last week to start in place of the injured Jeremy Hellickson, still managed to keep things close into the sixth. It was his second straight strong start, one that could keep him hanging around the big leagues in the future.
“I did my best to keep us in the game. The ball just didn’t bounce our way on offense,” Archer said. “Overall, I think I did play well. I made some mistake pitches, hung a slider. It happens.”
It happened more once he turned things over to the bullpen.
Gordon doubled leading off the eighth inning, and after Mike Moustakas worked a one-out walk, Butler came through with an RBI single. Francoeur was next to the plate and crushed a pitch from reliever Brandon Gomes over the wall for an exclamation-point home run.
“The beat us. They just beat us,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We need to score more runs.”
They need to stop allowing so many, too. The Royals’ once-scuttling offense has scored at least eight runs only seven times this season — including both games against Tampa Bay.
“Our approach has been great. We’re swinging at good pitches, we’re hitting balls hard,” Butler said. “We were struggling before these last three games. It feels good to put up runs.”
Notes: LHP Everett Teaford will be recalled from Triple-A Omaha to start for Kansas City in the series finale Wednesday. LHP Matt Moore will start for Tampa Bay. ... Maddon said DH Luke Scott (back stiffness) could return by Thursday. ... Tampa Bay skipped batting practice in part because of the heat. The game-time temperature was 93 degrees, and the forecast calls for 100 on Wednesday.