On some nights, in some towns, the math of baseball can confound. Take Tuesday here at Camden Yards. Maybe include Monday, too.
In the month of July, the Royals’ offense purred like a well-oiled machine, blistering opposing pitchers for 38 homers and averaging 5.4 runs per game. The attack would serve as catalyst for a run up the American League standings. The surge was punctuated by an aggressive maneuver on Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City front office acquiring outfielder Melky Cabrera to further bolster production.
And yet, here were the Royals on Tuesday night, falling 7-2 to the Baltimore Orioles, the offense cooling off in a 48-hour stretch that saw July become August.
On Tuesday, Orioles starter Dylan Bundy surrendered just one unearned run in eight innings. The performance mirrored that of Baltimore’s Ubaldo Jimenez on Monday. In a span of two days, the Kansas City offense produced just three runs and 10 hits against two starters with a combined ERA over 10.00.
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“They’re major-league pitchers,” Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield said. “They’re good.”
The loss guaranteed the first series loss since the Royals dropped two of three against Texas during July 14-16, a span of four series. The performance was uneven all over. Starting pitcher Ian Kennedy survived just four innings while allowing four runs. Cabrera finished 1 for 4, collecting his first hit and scoring a run in the ninth inning after going hitless on Monday.
After starting a nine-game road trip with six straight wins, the result left the club needing a victory on Wednesday to avoid a three-game sweep.
“We got to do a better job of getting pitches in the zone and capitalizing,” Merrifield said.
On Monday afternoon, the Royals arrived in Baltimore having won 10 of 11 after a series victory in Boston. Cabrera joined the lineup, sliding into the third spot in the order after being acquired Sunday in a deal with the White Sox. Yet, baseball being baseball, the offensive mojo vanished as soon as an upgrade showed up.
The Royals could not solve Bundy’s slider. They could not string hits together. They fell into a 2-0 hole in the bottom of the first inning and absorbed a knockout blow when the Orioles ended Kennedy’s night and took a 6-1 lead in the fifth.
The inning included a two-run double to left-center field by Baltimore’s Seth Smith that just eluded a sprinting Lorenzo Cain, who appeared to come up short of the wall at the last moment. The play, in some ways, encapsulated the evening. The Royals, it appeared, were just a tick off.
“We’re used to seeing him make those great plays,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
By the end, the Royals (55-50) had lost their sixth straight game in Baltimore. Yet, they remained in a wild-card spot and two games behind first-place Cleveland after the Indians suffered a wild walk-off loss in Boston.
Let’s reset: As the offense struggled for a second straight night, Kennedy labored through a mediocre performance. The issues started in the bottom of the first.
“His command was off a little bit,” Yost said. “It was off … on the plate.”
Kennedy allowed four of the first five hitters to reach base. The Orioles struck for two runs. A recent run of success skidded to a stop on a pleasant night in Maryland. Before Tuesday, Kennedy had logged “quality” starts in five of his last six outings, going at least six innings while allowing fewer than three runs. On Tuesday, his pitchers were imminently hittable, sitting in the zone in the bottom of the first.
“When it happens in the first inning like that, you’re like: ‘OK, I got to switch things up,’ ” Kennedy said. “You don’t want your night to end quick. By 15 pitches, they had their two runs.
“You want to go as deep as you can and you’re like: ‘Make better pitches.’ ”
Kennedy would make better pitches, settling in during the second and third innings. But the Orioles spoiled enough good offerings to elevate his pitch count to 92 in the fifth inning. The Orioles maintained the attack against reliever Scott Alexander, who was nicked for two runs after entering in the fifth. By then, Bundy was in a rhythm and the heart of the Royals’ order was neutralized for a second straight night.
“He was very good,” Yost said of Bundy, echoing what he had said one night earlier. “Again, back-to-back excellent pitching performances.”