The manager approached Alex Gordon, one of his eldest players and his designated clubhouse leader. The clubhouse was quiet. The atmosphere was not funereal, not yet, but the duo stood together as if teetering on the edge of the abyss.
Ned Yost, the beleaguered Royals manager, met with Gordon less than an hour after a 9-3 loss, the team’s seventh in nine games. After Yost walked off, Gordon made plain the torture of the last three days.
“We got our butts kicked, in every aspect of the game, by the Houston Astros,” Gordon said.
The outcome was as painful as that statement sounds. In a three-game leveling, Houston outscored their hosts, 21-5. Owners of the worst record in the American League when this series began, the Astros now have two fewer victories than the Royals (24-28). “It’s terrible,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “It was embarrassing.”
Each day provided a fresh dose of agony. On Monday, Yordano Ventura injured his elbow. On Tuesday, Ned Yost found himself ejected, and steamed after watching his hapless offense on television inside the clubhouse. On Wednesday, Danny Duffy suffered from a fatigue arm and the offense continued on their quest to be baseball’s most disappointing unit.
All this occurred against a feeble opponent, at a time when the schedule only gets tougher. The club faces an 16-game gauntlet. A four-game series beckons in Toronto, home of the American League East’s division leaders. After that, the Royals play four more against their-cross state rivals from St. Louis. The Yankees visit Kauffman Stadium before series against division rivals Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit.
“We’re going to have to get this figured out quick,” Yost said. “Or we’re going to be in trouble.”
The team headed to Toronto on Wednesday night features a listless lineup and a suddenly rickety pitching staff. Duffy (2-5, 3.57 ERA) bumbled through his worst start of the season. Houston tagged him for six runs on seven hits. He also walked five batters. He left with no outs in the fifth.
The reasons for optimism are fleeting. The only consolation on Wednesday? The game wasn’t broadcast locally.
Yost admitted afterward this series embarrassed him. As he pondered the source of his troubles, he settled on his offense. They provided the lifeblood of his team. They remove stress from his pitchers, they allow his defenders to move with confidence, and, of course, they provide the runs necessary for victories.
Right now, on the edge of June, the group has failed in all aspects. Yost portrayed his offense as a broken, bewildered group. He listed a series of issues plaguing the group: Pitch selection, over-aggression, a lack of timing, mistakes within the basic mechanics of swinging at a baseball and connecting with the barrel of a bat.
“We’re not swinging the bats well,” Yost said. “And that’s the bottom line.”
Added Billy Butler, who has two hits in his last 22 at-bats after an 0-for-4 on Wednesday, “There’s not one guy in the lineup, really, that’s hitting the ball well. We’re just cold.”
They also began the game with a deficit. Astros rookie sensation George Springer clobbered a hanging slider for a two-run shot in the first.
In several ways, Springer serves as a vexing reminder of the organization’s struggles. He was chosen six selections after Bubba Starling in the 2011 draft. Starling entered Wednesday batting .196 for Class A Wilmington. Springer has hit six home runs in his last six games – or, two more than any Royal has hit this entire season.
He contributed to another rally in the second, walking before Dexter Fowler notched a two-run single. In the third, backup catcher Carlos Corporan raked an RBI double on an 89-mph fastball. Designated hitter Chris Carter added a solo homer on a 90-mph fastball in the fifth.
Duffy produced similar velocity readings all afternoon. He found himself mired with a case of “dead arm,” a common condition with a sinister name. His fastball lacked life, despite his best efforts.
“I have to emphasize that’s not the reason I gave it up today,” Duffy said. “I made horrible pitches to people who have some pop.”
The combination of lackluster stuff and dreadful located doomed him. He deemed his command “hogwash.”
“It was really bad,” Duffy said. “That was one of the worst outings I’ve had in a long time.”
The game only worsened after his departure. Louis Coleman served up a three-run homer in the sixth. The offense refused to wake up.
Before the game, Yost discussed the ongoing leadership void among his position players. He also lamented the pressures and the “fishbowl” his players reside in, where their every maneuver on the field is documented and criticized. It sounded like a rambling but genuine grasp for straws, a way to magnify the distractions faced by 29 other clubs in the major leagues.
After the game, after yet another resounding defeat, Yost could only offer up platitudes.
“We just keep working hard,” he said. “That’s what we do. Keep working hard.”