It was less than a week ago that the Royals opened a pivotal seven-game road trip with two confidence-fueling victories at Yankee Stadium.
Now they limp into the All-Star break on a five-game skid and their season on a brink after Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians completed a disastrous weekend at Progressive Field.
The Indians jumped struggling lefty Tim Collins for three runs in the sixth inning. A leadoff walk ignited the rally before Asdrubal Cabrera delivered the key blow with a two-run double.
It continued a horrific stretch for Collins, who had a 2.02 ERA before permitting 12 runs in 62/3 innings over his last 11 outings. His ERA now sits at 4.86.
“I still feel I’m going out there and making my pitches,” he said. “They’re just hitting them. I don’t know if they’re seeing them (well) or what I’m doing out there.
“But I feel I’m making my pitches. That’s really all I can say (and do). Just keep going out there and keep doing the same thing.”
Collins, 2-5, got the ball in the sixth, earlier than usual, because workhorse James Shields threw 113 pitches while laboring through five innings. Even so, Shields handed off a 4-3 lead.
“It was one of those days where he really had to compete,” manager Ned Yost said. “He competed his butt off to get through five innings with the lead.”
It didn’t last.
Collins began the sixth by walking Lonnie Chisenhall and yielding a single to Drew Stubbs, which turned over the lineup. Michael Bourn’s sacrifice moved the runners to second and third.
Cabrera then drove a two-run double over the head of center fielder Lorenzo Cain. The Indians led 5-4. Out came Collins; in came Everett Teaford.
Jason Kipnis rammed an RBI single up the middle that made it 6-4, which is how it ended.
Rich Hill, 1-1, got the victory for getting the final two outs in the sixth. Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and Chris Perez closed out the three-game sweep. Perez worked the ninth for his 13th save in 15 chances.
The Royals, at 43-49, have much to ponder as they head into the four-day break for the All-Star Game. Most important, perhaps, is their five-game skid positions them a season-worst eight games behind first-place Detroit.
“We’ve had a rough five games,” Yost agreed. “Now, everybody can go, take a break and regroup, come back and play more consistent baseball.”
The July 31 non-waiver trading deadline is fast approaching. Do the Royals still believe they can muster a postseason run over the season’s final 10 weeks or should they recalibrate their sights for next year?
“You never want to lose five in a row,” Shields said. “One year (at Tampa Bay), we lost seven or eight in a row. It put us in a deep hole. Then we ended up winning 10 in a row after the break. I’m not really too worried about it.”
Sunday offered the possibility of, at least, taking a slump-breaking victory into the break. The Royals had won each of Shields’ last eight starts and built leads of 2-1 and 4-3.
Shields dodged trouble throughout his five innings after opening the game with his usual early wobbles. Bourn led off with a check-swing single and went to third on Cabrera’s single up the middle.
Kipnis lofted a drive to deep left for a sacrifice fly and a 1-0 lead. That makes 17 runs in the first inning of Shields’ 20 starts.
“I didn’t feel like I struggled,” Shields insisted. “I threw some really good pitches. I think I threw three change-ups that probably would have hit the dirt, and they got base-hits on them.
“I was using my fastball a lot today, and they probably had 20 foul-offs. I was getting ahead of hitters for the most part all day, but it was a grinder.”
The Royals answered with two runs in the second against Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez after one-out singles by Cain and David Lough put runners at first and second. A walk to Johnny Giavotella loaded the bases.
Alcides Escobar sent a fly to short center that tied the game when Cain slid under Carlos Santana’s tag on a bang-bang play. Replays suggested the Royals might have caught a break.
Alex Gordon followed with an RBI single to right for a 2-1 lead — their first lead of the series.
Shields worked around two singles to start the Cleveland second but continued to labor in the third — and a one-out walk to Kipnis came back to bite him.
Kipnis went to second on Nick Swisher’s grounder to first and scored the tying run on Brantley’s two-out single to right.
Santana followed with a hard grounder past first for an RBI double and a 3-2 lead. Lough bobbled the ball in right, which took away any chance for a play at the plate.
Again, the Royals answered immediately.
Jimenez opened the fourth by walking Cain, who stole second and went to third when Santana threw wildly. Cain held third on Lough’s bunt single, and then Lough stole second.
Giavotella’s grounder to short tied the score, and the Royals took a 4-3 lead when Escobar followed with an RBI single to left.
That’s how it stayed until the sixth.