A quirky but real history exists of strange things happening at the annual School Day at The K game. Once, the game was snowed out. Once, it was delayed more than two hours by rain. Mike Moustakas did his Vargy-pitched-a-great-game thing on School Day.
This one was, sadly, pretty standard: Some team beat the bejeezus out of the Royals.
The White Sox had five runs before the Royals had one hit. Ian Kennedy said he felt strong as ever before the game, then left with an injury, after stinking. Travis Wood gave up four hits and three runs (two earned) in two innings and actually improved his ERA by more than a run.
The Royals lost 8-3 on an otherwise beautiful afternoon. No children were harmed in the making of another stink bomb. The Royals have lost 11 of 13, and haven’t won consecutive games since before taxes were due.
We are still two weeks shy of the 40-game industry standard on making grand proclamations, but when the optimism centers around the rest of the division not being very good either, it is a peculiar and rather sad version of optimism.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating right now,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “But I believe we’re going to get out of this. I like our team, I like our chances. We’ve played awful, terrible, offensively, everything. But we’re only five or six games back, so there’s no reason to panic. We’ve been here before.”
Gordon is right. The 9-18 Royals are six games back of the division-leading Indians, who begin a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium on Friday. The rest of the division is vulnerable — the White Sox (who are tied with the Indians for first place) and Twins likely don’t have the 162-game life to maintain promising starts, and the Tigers’ pitching is horrendous.
But that’s OK, they stink too is an unconvincing case, particularly as it’s still early is no longer applicable. The Royals are exactly one-sixth of the way through the season, which is enough time to make a postseason run increasingly silly to even mention.
In the five years of two wild-card spots in each league, the American League’s last team in has averaged 90 wins. The Royals would need to finish 81-54 to get there, a pace of 97 wins over a full season. The Royals team that went wire-to-wire and claimed the 2015 World Series championship won 95 games.
The last team to be bad enough to lose nine in a row and good enough to make the playoffs was the 2012 Oakland A’s. The Royals are the 20th team to lose nine or more in a row since then. The previous nine averaged 94 losses, all but two either finishing in last place or second-to-last, above another team with a nine-game losing streak.
The problem isn’t just the results, but the journey. One scout this week called the Royals “uninspired.” Another said it “looks like they’re going through the motions sometimes.”
Despite some positive signs this week, Gordon and Eric Hosmer have been the two biggest underachievers when compared to expectation and salary. But singling them out feels a little unfair because it’s been such a team effort.
Moustakas is playing well. Lorenzo Cain is getting on base. Sal Perez is hitting for power. Jason Vargas has been great, and Danny Duffy was, too, until his last two starts. Pretty much everyone else, bleh.
They are caught in, or have created, the nasty and wicked cycle most bad teams find. The same way the Royals of a few years ago found ways to win, this group is finding ways to lose.
The offense is wretched — everyone else in baseball has scored at least 100 runs; the Royals have scored 78 — but some days it’s the defense, others the pitching. Joakim Soria hadn’t allowed a run all year, until giving up four (three earned) and blowing a game last week.
By any measure, this is dire, and virtually any other group in baseball would be rightfully and completely counted out by now.
But Gordon is right. The Royals have been here before and come out on the better side. Maybe not technically exactly here — tied for the fewest wins in baseball in May — but the 2013 team was nine games under .500 in June and wasn’t eliminated from playoff contention until the final weekend. The 2014 team was under .500 in July and played in the World Series.
So, sure. This is a talented and proud group that’s earned a permanent place of esteem in Kansas City history. They’ve shown they can overcome slow starts before.
But it’s no longer “still early.” In the next month or so, executives around baseball are going to start deciding whether to be buyers or sellers at the July 31 trade deadline. This group needs to prove it’s worth one last push together, or else these guys won’t be together for this season’s last push.