Tampa Bay Rays at Kansas City Royals series primer

Matt Joyce is hitting .538 through the first week of the season.

Kim Klement

For whatever reason, they remained a puzzle, a code that was hard to crack. The proof is found in the black-and-blue bottom line: the Kansas City Royals went 6-1 against the Tampa Bay Rays last season, outscoring Joe Maddon’s guys a combined 53-22.

By the Bay, the result was a head-scratcher, a question mark that floated over another season that produced a playoff berth. The Rays earned just one or no victories against two other teams in 2013, the Arizona Diamondbacks (1-3) and Los Angeles Dodgers (0-3).

But the losses to Kansas City felt different. This was an American League foe most pegged Tampa Bay to control, like familiar skins such as the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox.

The Rays were scrappy, resilient overachievers from the AL East.

The Royals were perennial bumblers, tripping on their shoelaces since winning the World Series in 1985.

Still, there’s no debate. Kansas City toyed with Tampa Bay last season. Some of the beatings were brutal: 8-2, 10-1, 7-2, 11-1.

Will 2014 be different? The upcoming three-game series at Kauffman Stadium will provide a hint.

Tampa Bay Rays news

"Their lineup can turn some things around pretty fast and make the scoreboard not look so nice," said Rays left-hander Matt Moore, who will pitch Monday.

The Royals are like many teams this time of year. There’s some good, some bad, some neutral. Mostly, it’s hard to gain a quality read on potential after five games.

Kansas City is 2-3 after losing two games to start the season in Detroit and taking two of three against the White Sox at home.

After an 86-victory season last year, there are some make-it-or-break-it feelings regarding this team and the postseason. The patience toward general manager Dayton Moore is growing thinner by the hour. There’s urgency.

Enter the Rays. This will be their first taste of the road life in 2014, with the start of a nine-game, 10-day trek that will also include stops in Cincinnati and Baltimore. They say they’re prepared.

"We’re ready for the road," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We’ve got two tough opponents in this first part of it, and of course going back to Baltimore. Kansas City normally gives us a hard time."

The Rays know all too well. For whatever reason, whatever the cause, the Royals gave them fits.

Here’s a look at the upcoming Rays-Royals series:

Tampa Bay Rays on FOX Sports Sun

SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS

WHO’S HOT

Matt Joyce (Tampa Bay Rays): He’s hitting a team-best .538 among players with at least 13 at-bats. He has one home run and a team-high five RBI.  

Salvador Perez (Kansas City Royals): He’s hitting a team-best .438 with two RBI and a team-high four doubles. He has earned a hit in all but one of the Royals’ first five games.

WHO’S NOT

Logan Forsythe (Tampa Bay Rays): He’s hitting a team-low .188 among players with at least 12 at-bats. He has four strikeouts, one short of the team-worst total.

Alcides Escobar (Kansas City Royals): He has one hit in his first 17 at-bats, the first coming Sunday against the Chicago White Sox. He has struck out three times and drawn one walk.

STORYLINES

6: Consecutive starts in which left-hander David Price allowed two runs or fewer, before he surrendered four in six innings against the Texas Rangers on Saturday. He was one start from matching the franchise record.

2: Times the Rays have been shut out this season, after their 3-0 loss to the Rangers on Sunday. Before this year, the 2001 and 2002 campaigns were the only two in which they had been shut out twice in their first seven games. 

1: Errors the Rays have committed this season, the first coming from Evan Longoria in the ninth inning Sunday on a high throw to first baseman James Loney. Tampa Bay was one game shy of matching its franchise-best errorless streak from last year. The Rays were the last team in the majors to commit an error.

QUOTE BOARD

"I would say definitely excited. I just had my fourth child. Some might say that’s a little crazy. But I see it as an adventure." — Utility player Sean Rodriguez after he went 2 for 4 with a double, a home run and two RBI in the Rays’ 8-1 victory over the Rangers on Friday. The day before, he witnessed the birth of his fourth child, Zekiel Cruz Rodriguez, who weighs nine pounds.

"David really fought through a difficult night. He was sick as a dog last night. Pretty high fever, got through it, came out today and gave us six innings. Truly, I didn’t even know how he did it, because he was that bad yesterday." — Maddon after Price allowed four runs and nine hits while striking out six in Tampa Bay’s 5-4 victory over Texas on Saturday. Price is 1-0 with a 4.05 ERA and 12 strikeouts in two starts.

"I’m not really thinking about that too much. Really, just going out there and realizing that I can’t give up a run." — Right-hander Alex Cobb on his matchup with Texas right-hander Yu Darvish after he allowed three hits and struck out six in seven innings during the Rays’ loss Sunday. Darvish allowed seven hits and struck out six in seven. 

LOOKING AHEAD

April 11-13 — Tampa Bay Rays at Cincinnati Reds

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.