The fiasco of a road trip with seven straight numbing losses left the Royals 7-14 as they trudge home this weekend, and it ruptured the faith of any number of fans.
And why not? When a team musters 17 runs in 10 games in the pivotal first half of a crucial season in the direction of the franchise, you’d have to be in denial not to be disheartened.
“Reason for concern,” as Danny Duffy put it on Twitter the other day, “but (I) dare somebody to count us out.”
This is the essence of the matter, one that Duffy added he believes will end with the Royals pulling together to “come out of this.”
You might wonder how, considering the Royals are averaging fewer than three runs a game and batting .203, the worst team average in the game.
You could scoff, considering the prolonged plights of Alex Gordon (hitting .188), Eric Hosmer (.220 with one home run), Alcides Escobar (.176) and Brandon Moss (.135 with 24 strikeouts). In fact, only two regulars (Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain) are hitting above .240.
You may fret about the end of an era, thinking ahead to the trade deadline that will be a litmus test for the immediate future trajectory of the Royals since Cain, Escobar, Hosmer and Moustakas all could become free agents by season’s end.
Any and all of that is plenty understandable, but it’s borrowing trouble — a waste of energy.
Tempting as it is to be the first or loudest to proclaim disaster, there is plenty of time to mope when you have a legitimate sample size.
But … it’s April.
The Royals have played 21 of 162 games and often have been awful ... and are all of 4 1/2 games out of first.
And the very nature of the game is flux and ever-changing trends, today’s blip becoming tomorrow’s streak and vice versa.
Not to mention that the core of this team remains the group who shrugged away a generation-plus of franchise futility and went to back-to-back World Series built on preposterous comebacks.
If we learned nothing else the last few years, flesh and blood has a way of eclipsing raw data and analytics.
That doesn’t mean a breakthrough inevitably awaits now, of course, especially from a team that looks listless and lost and at times leaves you wondering if it peaked with the 2015 World Series title.
But it does mean this:
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” manager Ned Yost took to saying in 2014 as the Royals teetered on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time in 29 years or falling short.
Nobody knows now, either.
Even if it’s not likely sustainable as is, exceptional pitching (the starting rotation has an ERA of 3.10, the best in the game) and defense will give the Royals a chance most of the time.
Now, if all those bats have simply gone feeble at once for keeps, that won’t matter much.
If the Royals have gone from a band of rising stars to jumping the shark in less than two years, that will be that.
But in the more likely case that most of the slumps are coincidences or that adjustments can and will be made, the Royals will score plenty more than 17 runs in their next 10 games — all at Kauffman Stadium, where they will play 16 of their next 20.
The Royals are 5-3 at home, and 2-11 on the road, so this stretch has the capacity to be a reset button.
It’s an opportunity the Royals have to seize, a potentially defining time.
It still will be relatively early after 20 more games, of course.
But this season is inherently a limited-time offer.
It comes equipped with a compressed window for evaluation given what looms with potential free agency — and the complicated calculations of legitimate contention and what to hold onto and what to cash in for prospects.
So it’s hardly time to surrender hope now.
Yet it’s also true that the next 20 games (and next 10 days of divisional games) could hold enormous meaning not just in the direction of the season but in the immediate course of the franchise.
If it’s not now-or-never to put this funk behind them, it’s at least now-or-pretty soon.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen.
But chances are 20 games from now, we’ll know the difference between “reason for concern” and coming out of this.