SAM MELLINGER

The Royals need to make a change

Updated: 2013-05-28T19:53:15Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

The Royals stink, and that’s not all Ned Yost’s fault. This is a team that can’t get on base, and that’s not all Jeff Francoeur’s fault. They can’t hit, and it’s not fair to put all of that on the new hitting coaches. Sal Perez is the only part of the newest wave of homegrown talent making a major impact, and that’s not all Dayton Moore’s fault. The Royals are tracking toward what would be The Most Disappointing Season in Franchise History, and that’s not all Mike Moustakas’ fault.

But someone’s got to go.

This is enough. The Summer That Was Supposed To Be Different has turned into The Same Ol’ Royals with remarkable speed. Good turned to bad three weeks ago, and bad has now turned into worse.

The Royals lost 6-3 to the Cardinals on Monday, their sixth loss in a row, 10th in 11 games, and 17th in 21. Monday marked the three-week anniversary of what we might as well call The Ned Game, when James Shields was pulled after eight innings and the Royals blew the lead and lost.

Since that day — coincidence or not, and Royals fans have seen enough stink in their day to say not — this team has put on a how-to video on losing. They’ve lost from ahead, lost from behind, lost early, and lost late. They lost when bad calls went against them, and when bad calls went in their favor. They lost when scoring as many as six runs, and they’ve lost when giving up as few as two.

Lost.

Lost.

Lost.

“This sucks,” Billy Butler says. “It sucks. The only thing I do know: this sucks.”

The Royals are a walking mess right now, baseball’s worst team in May, with fewer home runs than the Cubs pitchers since May 15, and the same number of wins as Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Corbin since May 5. All of this with a franchise record payroll, and the club’s best team on paper since the strike in 1994.

They haven’t suffered the obvious indignity of a 12-game losing streak in April like last year, but the last three weeks have done even more damage: from seven games over .500 to now six games under.

There’s no simple fix here. No easy move to make. The Royals’ skid is the fault of many, and to scapegoat anyone specifically would be unfair and misleading. But to continue with the status quo — pretending or hoping it’ll fix itself — would be delusional.

Part of the problem is leadership. James Shields is deservedly revered, but baseball culture makes it hard for pitchers to lead position players. Alex Gordon is the best player in uniform, but it’s not in his personality to challenge teammates or drag them to study video.

The personalities best equipped for leadership may be Francoeur and Moustakas, but each have been bad enough that they’re part of the discussion about what needs to change. Along with those two, hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David, Yost and Chris Getz could all be sacrifices in an effort to refocus a group that shouldn’t be nearly this bad. If things don’t improve, it won’t be long before owner David Glass looks at Moore.

“They don’t know how to win,” is how one scout put it recently, echoing a cliché that basically means this: these Royals can’t handle expectations, and aren’t good enough to meet the demands of the big leagues. They’re not ready for curveballs in fastball counts, struggle to block outside praise or criticism, and show the occasional lack of focus.

Yost is all-in with a positive approach, and this is a player-driven industry anyway, so screaming and cussing will need to come from a player. Neither Moore nor Glass have given any indication of lost patience, but how long can they be quiet with this new normal?

“I’ve been part of these,” Butler says. “I’ve been part of 12-game losing streaks, a lot of losing streaks. Usually something breaks those. I hate to use the term ‘scapegoat,’ but there’s always some sort of one. I don’t know why they do that. I don’t know if I believe in them. I don’t believe anything gets you out of it. You just get out of it. You eventually play enough games, you catch a break, you catch a win, and then you never know. We just need something positive to happen.”

This group has had three weeks to get it right. Twenty-one games of stink is more than 10 percent of the season, and it’s not getting any easier with the next six against the Cardinals and Rangers.

Virtually every team has a bad week. Many have two in a row. The Royals are working on three weeks worth of stench that has now outlasted formerly reasonable calls for perspective.

In the last five seasons, 34 teams have had stretches this bad. Seven ended up losing more than 100 games. Seventeen more lost at least 90. Only two went .500 or better, and only two others won as many as 79. The Royals have given themselves a fairly certain mark of extreme loserdom, in other words, and now deserve to be treated as such.

They have done everything possible to turn a promising season to ashes, and the agonizing part — the part that makes this stumble different from so many in the past — is they’re really not this bad. Shouldn’t be, anyway.

Most around the game expected the Royals to be at or above .500. As tormenting as the last three weeks have been, the Royals’ overall run differential was in the positives before Monday. Advanced metrics show the Royals should be three games better, and typically the difference is written off as luck. The Royals have had their share of bad luck, but this is the lament of the loser.

The Royals can sit around and hope their luck evens out, or they can show that losing in bunches is no longer acceptable. It won’t be entirely fair to whoever is dumped, but that’s not the point. The point is that something needs to change.

Another day passes. Another day closer to this season being lost.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send e-mail to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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