Prominent in the Royals official press game notes on Friday was an item about “THE FINAL 42,” a reference to the baseball adage that every team will win at least 60 games and lose at least 60 … and that it’s the remaining 42 that will define the season.
As it happens, the Royals’ 121st game of the season also was attached to another substantial dividing line – the first of six games in 10 days with American League Central leader Cleveland.
Already lagging 5 ½ games behind the Indians entering the game Friday at Kauffman Stadium, this was a night that begged for a statement that they’ll be in the division race until the end.
But instead of bristling and flexing their resolve or just finding a way, the Royals first defaulted to what they’ve known best this season: hurl themselves into a chasm, in this case with a 10-1 drubbing.
The exasperating team that started the season 10-20, seemed to find itself and then became unable to bear prosperity for one reason or another was behind 3-0 five batters into the game after Ian Kennedy gave up his 23rd and 24th home runs of the season.
And that was about it for the Royals (61-60) with Corey Kluber on the mound for Cleveland.
It remains to be seen if the legacy of this group will be creating an inescapable bind or the ability to magically rebound the way the same core did in 2014 (see: wild-card game against Oakland that change everything) and took to another tier in the 2015 postseason.
Even this season, the trademark has been to repeatedly crush your hopes and look like they’ve got nothing only to be resurrected.
Like when they lost seven of eight last month.
Sell, you said.
Then they won nine in a row.
But between the recent bullpen volatility and the current lack of dependability in the rotation, well-encapsulated in Kennedy, it looks increasingly like it’s going to take some kind of supernatural intervention for this team to make a move in the division …
And more and more like their best postseason hope is for the roulette wheel of the wild-card.
This can all abruptly change, of course.
And even if it doesn’t, no team or fan base knows better what just creeping in with a wild-card berth might lead to.
As for the chance to get back in the division race, well, at least the Royals still have 41 games to make up ground with nine against Cleveland – including seven there.
On the flip side of so many opportunities left to make a run at the Indians (67-53) is that the defending American League champions are pretty good.
As are a lot of the Royals foes down the stretch:
Colorado (67-54) comes to town for three next week before the Royals head to Cleveland. The final series of the regular-season is against Arizona (67-54).
Meanwhile, even the ones that aren’t necessarily imposing pose an issue for the Royals.
The only teams they play that are notably under .500 are the Tigers (53-68) and White Sox (46-73), against each of which Kansas City barely has a winning record (7-6 and 7-6) heading into six more meetings apiece.
Then there’s the KC-kryptonite Twins, a half-game ahead of the Royals entering play Saturday and carrying an 8-4 record against them into their final seven meetings.
Now, the Royals should get a boost when catcher Sal Perez returns, most likely next week.
His absence has hurt in many ways, including his infectious exuberance.
But it’s also hard to know how much that has had an impact on a pitching staff that has given up 90 runs in 13 games since he went on the disabled list.
That’s a worrisome point, too, when it comes to projecting how they could fare even if they do make it to the postseason.
Plenty of time to fret about that if it comes to pass, though, which is all anyone can hope for now out of a team whose only constant is change.
“Luckily for us, we (get) a chance to come back tomorrow and play again,” manager Ned Yost said.
Only with one less chance to define the season as they might hope.