There is nothing in sports quite as soul-draining as a miserable baseball team. The saying goes that the best thing about baseball is that there’s always another game the next day, but whoever said that wasn’t around a team that lost 19 of 23 or 11 straight at home. When the losses pile up that like, failure after failure after monotonous failure, it can feel as if you will never get out.
The Royals have trapped themselves under incompetence many times during the last two decades, and as recently as last week, appeared to have found another way to disappointment. Torches lit. That’s about when a saying made its way through some in the organization.
When the ship’s leaking in the middle of the ocean, everybody starts praying, but you want the guys who can bail water and pray at the same time.
This isn’t a long-term solution, but a week of bailing water and praying has the Royals at least holding off the angriest mob for a few days. The alarm on what would be an inexcusably disappointing season has been downgraded from code red to orange. Hitting coaches have been fired, the franchise icon put in the dugout, and the Royals are 6-3 since. The last five games have been against the sorry Twins and Astros, but overall the Royals have played an even schedule.
George Brett doesn’t get the credit here — the Royals’ scoring, batting, on-base and slugging percentages are actually all down since he took over — but there does seem to be a renewed hope. Or maybe just a fading hopelessness.
Either way, the Royals won four in a row for the first time in a month and scored four or more runs four games in a row for the first time since April
Billy Butler is talking about a team’s changing luck, and maybe there’s something to it. The Royals are getting timely hits, and their opponents aren’t. The Royals are hitting broken-bat doubles, and their opponents are lining out.
The Royals have the good fortune of playing in the AL Central — the Tigers led by 61/2 games entering Saturday, which would’ve been in third place in either of the league’s other divisions — so even with a month of heart-numbing suck they’re still not out of the race.
Basically, at this moment, the Royals are living the dream of every death-row inmate: The governor called, just as they were headed to the chamber.
This is a reprieve, and a relative break in a schedule that had been packed with perennial playoff contenders has lightened. It’s up to the Royals to cash in.
Buddy Bell’s wisdom about never saying it can’t get worse aside, if the Royals’ season has indeed bottomed out, then a successful week and their sorry division give them a chance to create a different kind of momentum.
Instead of figuring out who needs to be fired and when, the Royals have been given longer than they deserve to prove they’re not really this bad.
The frustrating truth is that with a few possible tweaks — cut Jeff Francoeur? Demote Chris Getz? — the Royals have their best team. It’s up to the players to make it matter, and they have to know that at this point they’re competing for the jobs of manager Ned Yost, general manager Dayton Moore and others in a plainly critical season for the franchise’s future.
The Royals haven’t fixed their problems. The same weaknesses that sank their May — basically, everything that happens when anyone but Alex Gordon or Billy Butler is hitting — are still here. Alcides Escobar is quietly on pace for what would be the most inept offensive season for a hitter with 600-plus plate appearances in a decade. Francoeur has made himself unplayable. Second base remains a free out.
None of these issues is fixed. And most troubling, still, are the would-be cornerstones. Eric Hosmer has 11 extra-base hits in a season that’s 10 weeks old. Mike Moustakas has the fourth-worst adjusted on-base-plus-slugging percentage among all big-league regulars.
Until they and others are consistently better, bailing-and-praying is as much as the Royals can hope for.