Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jordan Lyles throws during the...

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jordan Lyles throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. Credit: AP/Charlie Riedel

This wasn't a run you saw coming — but then again, you rarely do when a baseball team starts to play spoiler.

The Kansas City Royals, who reached 100 losses more than two weeks ago and have been out of contention for almost the entire season, suddenly became a huge thorn in the side of the defending champions. The Royals went 5-1 in two recent series against Houston, leaving the Astros in a precarious spot in the playoff race. Kansas City has now won 10 of its last 11 games.

Even after that impressive stretch, the Royals have the second-worst record in baseball, but you wouldn't have known it watching those matchups with Houston. And the Astros looked nothing like the World Series champs from a season ago.

On Friday night, Kansas City scored seven runs on only five hits in a win over Framber Valdez. The next evening, Jordan Lyles pitched five scoreless innings and improved to 5-17 on the year for the Royals.

A nice September stretch doesn't necessarily mean Kansas City will be contending again anytime soon. The Royals have one of the game's top young players in Bobby Witt Jr., who has 29 home runs and 48 steals, but Kansas City doesn't have anyone on MLB Pipeline's list of the top 100 prospects.

For now, the Astros can be glad they won't see the Royals again until next season. Houston is just a half-game ahead of Seattle for the final playoff spot in the American League.

STATISTICAL RACES

Houston Astros' Jeremy Peña walks back to the dugout after...

Houston Astros' Jeremy Peña walks back to the dugout after striking out against the Kansas City Royals during the sixth inning of a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Houston. Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

There will be plenty of debate over the postseason awards — the National League MVP in particular — but the statistical leaders in a season are determined by the cold, hard numbers.

Among the closer races: Corey Seager leads Yandy Diaz .333 to .328 for the AL batting title. Kevin Gausman leads Pablo Lopez 232-228 in the AL strikeouts race. Gerrit Cole leads Sonny Gray 2.75 to 2.80 for the AL ERA title.

In one interesting twist, Lyles is one of only two pitchers in the majors with three complete games, joining Sandy Alcantara — who also has a losing record. All three of Lyles' complete games were losses, including two of the eighth-inning variety when the home team didn't have to bat in the ninth.

TRIVIA TIME

Houston Astros' Jeremy Peña walks back to the dugout after...

Houston Astros' Jeremy Peña walks back to the dugout after striking out against the Kansas City Royals during the sixth inning of a baseball game Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Houston. Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

Who was the last pitcher before Lyles to lose 17 games in a season?

LINE OF THE WEEK

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees hit three home runs for the second time this season — the first player in team history to do that — on Friday night against Arizona.

Judge missed quite a bit of time this season due to injury, and his numbers aren't as stupendous as last year when he hit 62 home runs, but his OPS is still over 1.000 in 2023. New York won't be in the playoffs, but Judge remains a formidable player to build around as the Yankees try to rebound.

COMEBACK OF THE WEEK

This is an obvious one. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been around since 1882, but never overcame a nine-run deficit until Saturday night when they beat Cincinnati 13-12.

The Pirates were down 9-0 after three innings. Their win probability bottomed out at 0.5% when they were down 9-1 after 4 1/2 innings, according to Baseball Savant. But remarkably, Pittsburgh's comeback didn't require a magical ninth-inning rally. The Pirates had stormed back to a 13-9 advantage by the middle of the eighth and then held on for the victory.

Pittsburgh has been an NL version of Kansas City, taking two of three from the Chicago Cubs and then two of three from Cincinnati while those two teams were chasing postseason spots.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox went 11-17 in 2017 — a year after going 22-4 and winning the Cy Young Award.

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