CHICAGO -- While the Royals worked through a mediocre-to-below average first eight weeks of the season, it could have been much worse if not for some of the best pitching and defense in the game.
Kansas City's bats have finally caught up to those two areas of strength. In their last 15 games entering Sunday, the Royals have gone 11-4, while averaging 4.7 runs per game.
Royals manager Ned Yost knew it was only a matter of time before the bats would come alive, and the luxury of never having to worry about run prevention made it that much easier to weather the sluggish offensive start.
"Our pitchers know that they have the freedom to pitch to contact, because our coaches are really, really good at placing our defenders in the right spot and our guys are really, really good at catching the ball and getting outs," Yost said. "So it helps them perform their job better and easier and exactly, when we struggle offensively and we're still winning ballgames like we did, the majority was on the pitching, the bullpen and the defense."
Heading into Sunday's series finale with the White Sox, the Royals led the Majors with 93 runs saved and a 79.9 Ultimate Zone Rating, per fangraphs.com. First baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez both earned American Laegue Gold Glove Awards last season, and Yost believes third baseman Mike Moustakas will win a Gold Glove down the road.
"I don't worry about any of the defense," Yost said. "The outfield defense is spectacular. Our infield defense is spectacular. And we've got a Gold Glove catcher behind home plate. They're a very talented group defensively."
Kansas City also ranked third in MLB in ERA (3.69) and fifth in bullpen ERA (3.50).
Yost ejected for arguing run-scoring balk
CHICAGO -- It didn't take long on Sunday for Royals manager Ned Yost to pick up his third ejection of the season.
Yost was tossed in the bottom of the first inning by home-plate umpire Paul Emmel after he was set off by a balk call on James Shields. Adam Eaton led off with a triple, and with a 1-0 count on Gordon Beckham in the next at-bat, James Shields tried a pickoff move for third. After Eaton was initially tagged out after being caught off the bag, Emmel signaled that Shields had balked, bringing home Eaton and cutting the Royals' lead to 2-1.
As Yost explained, arguing a step off leads to immediate ejection. His conversation with Emmel was at first cordial, but quickly became heated.
"Look, I don't think I've ever got kicked out of the game before the first out in the bottom of the first, so it was a long time in here," said Yost, referring to the manager's office. "I just felt real strongly in here that it was a real good play, even looking at the replay where he went to home and said something I shouldn't have said when I was walking away."
Shields felt he made a good play, and he wanted an explanation for the call. Emmel wouldn't give him one.
"[Emmel] told me I can't argue about it, and I said, 'I wasn't arguing about it, I was just asking what I did,'" Shields said. "And I asked for an explanation, and he said he can't give it to me and he told me not to talk to him. And then I said, 'I'm just asking for an explanation,' so it's just one of those things.
"I know you can't argue a balk call, I just wanted to know what I did, so I don't do it next time. And then he finally said I stepped at home, but honestly, I thought it was a good move, man. I thought it was a really good move, and I think if a lefty does it and they're used to it, I don't think they call that play. I think it was a good move and I don't think it was a balk."
The Royals ultimately won their seventh straight game and swept the White Sox with a 6-3 victory. Shields allowed three earned runs on 10 hits over six innings.
Fathers spend time with sons on Royals' road trip
CHICAGO -- Holidays aren't always easy for professional baseball players. They work on Memorial Day and July 4, among others. The grind of the season and lack of consecutive days off can make it tough to maintain a strong family life.
Players also work on Father's Day, another day of celebration during which they might be away from their families. To help rectify that situation, the Royals for the second straight season invited the players' fathers along for the team's road trip that coincides with the holiday. Kansas City's current seven-game road trip culminates with a four-game series in Detroit starting Monday.
"Well, it's a special day and the Royals are such a classy organization," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "It's really neat to see the dads, the pride they have in their sons, and to see the dads that are on this team and the pride that they have in their children. It's just a special day."
One dad along for the trip is Scott Holland, father of All-Star closer Greg Holland. Scott Holland lives in North Carolina, so he doesn't get to see his son much during the season.
"Well, it's amazing that they care that much about the players' families to do something like this," Scott Holland said. "This isn't something easy to set up, and I'm sure it's not inexpensive. We all really appreciate it. It's really nice."
Father's Day had Yost reminiscing about his father, Ned, who was an All-American football player at Santa Rosa Junior College. Yost's cousin, John Woodcock, played six seasons in the NFL. Though he came from a football family, Yost impressed the game of baseball onto his three sons.
"My sons, it was really big," said Yost, whose son, Ned Yost IV, is a Minor League coach in the Brewers system. "I came from a football family ... and they were a lot bigger than I was, so I kind of gravitated toward baseball. And they loved the game and grew up playing the game. It was a special time to be around."
Kansas City designated hitter Billy Butler, a father of two, brought his father, JD Butler. JD said Billy "read him the riot act" for not coming on last year's first annual fathers' trip, so he joined his son today and will stay with the team through the remainder of the road trip.
JD and Billy are somewhat unique in terms of a father-son relationship between baseball player and father. JD explained that their family has always been extremely close, so Billy's parents live a mile from his homes in both Kansas City and Arizona during Spring Training.
"Billy and I, I tell everybody that my wife raised two boys, one was just 35 years old already," JD Butler said. "We've just been two park rats our entire life, and we've managed to keep what I believe to be one of the best father-son relationships that you could ever ask. I've been very fortunate. Billy and I have been really, really close forever."
JD Butler said he also feels like somewhat of a father to many of Billy's teammates. Billy is in his eighth year in the Majors, making him one of the team's seasoned veterans.
"You know, a lot of these kids, I've watched them grow up," JD Butler said. "Billy was up here playing when they drafted half the guys on the squad. Eric [Hosmer], we used to kid that he was too young to shave. ... It's kind of like a family environment for me watching these kids."
• Kansas City leadoff man Nori Aoki was given the day off on Sunday in favor of Jarrod Dyson, who took Aoki's spot at the top of the order. Dyson was playing center, while Lorenzo Cain slid over to Aoki's usual spot in right field.
"We've got to keep Dyson involved. I don't want Dyson sitting on the bench too much, because he's a big part of our team too," Yost said. "We'll pick spots to give Lorenzo Cain days off and pick spots to give Nori days off and try to find spots, every once in a while, to give Alex Gordon a day off. Nori's been doing really well."
• Entering Sunday, the Royals had scored three or more runs in an inning 11 times since June 2.
• Alcides Escobar's career-best 12-game hit streak is the longest active streak in the AL.
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.