Yankees sweep slumping Royals with 4-2 win

So maybe it’s not time to reach for the rip cord or pound the panic button. But make no mistake, the Royals are in an early-May funk, and this is the kind of streak that looks plenty familiar in the confines of Kauffman Stadium.

The latest loss came on Sunday afternoon, a 4-2 setback against the New York Yankees in front of a Mother’s Day crowd of 29,515. The Yankees polished off a three-game sweep, and the Royals, 18-16, have now lost six of their last seven games, dropping to within two games of .500 for the first time since April 24.

“These guys believe they can win now, but again, every team goes through little stretches where they struggle,” manager Ned Yost said, “Your hope is that you’re catching a team when they’re going through one of those stretches.”

This particular ominous stretch comes just as the Royals head out for a nine-game jaunt through the American League West. The road trip starts today in Anaheim, Calif., against the Los Angeles Angels before concluding with three-game sets in Oakland, Calif., and Houston.

It’s not a make-or-break trip, of course, but it is worth dissecting what is ailing this still-young Royals squad.

First and foremost, the offense. The Royals managed just two runs and six hits on Sunday against Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda, and the offensive numbers have been particularly bleak during their last seven games.

Sunday’s loss was the fifth time in seven games with three runs or fewer. And Billy Butler (.228), Mike Moustakas (.209) and Jeff Francoeur (.229) all continued to scuffle, combining to go one for 11.

“We already know our bats are gonna come through,” said center fielder Jarrod Dyson, who had a double while starting in the leadoff spot. “It’s just a certain amount of time (before) it’s gonna come through. It’s coming. We know that. We believe that.”

It hasn’t been just offense, though. The Royals posted their sixth multi-error game of the season, and they now have 10 errors in their last 10 games. (The counter: Dyson saved a run with a sliding catch in the fourth.)

All in all, there wasn’t much help for starter Ervin Santana, who yielded more than three earned runs for the first time since April 3, his first start of the season.

Santana, who dropped to 3-2 while his ERA crept to 2.79, was nicked by an old nemesis in the third inning. Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano erased the Royals’ early 1-0 lead with a two-run homer to right. And if it felt familiar, that’s because it was.

Cano improved to 13 for 40 (.325) with six home runs against Santana in his career.

“I just go to the plate with a mind-set that I want to get a pitch that I can make good contact with,” Cano said. “I never had it in my mind that I was successful against him or anything like that.”

Left fielder Vernon Wells followed Cano with a booming solo shot to left, putting the Yankees ahead 3-1. And it’s worth pointing out that the 34-year-old Wells has just as many home runs (nine) as the Royals’ entire starting infield on Sunday.

“I didn’t have my good stuff today,” Santana said. “But I just tried to keep my team in the ballgame. And just a couple pitches, I just leave them up, and that’s how it is against the Yankees.”

The Royals had opened the game by slapping Kuroda for a run in the bottom of the first. But the run, which came on a sacrifice fly from Alex Gordon, could have perhaps led to more.

Dyson, in the leadoff spot for the first time this year, began the game by yanking a double inside the first-base line. Shortstop Alcides Escobar followed with a bunt attempt that turned into a sacrifice. It moved the speedy Dyson up 90 feet, but it also squashed the possibility of a big inning.

Yost said Escobar bunted on his own, and he was comfortable with the decision.

“I want to get the lead,” Yost said. “Anytime we can take the lead early, I’m for it. What I want is for him to get the runner over, or get the runner over and in.”

The Royals closed the gap in the eighth inning after a leadoff double from Elliot Johnson, who later scored on a groundout from Escobar. Gordon then chased Kuroda with a double to left, but reliever David Robertson retired Butler on a liner to right-center.

Eric Hosmer led off the ninth with a single against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. But Salvador Perez followed with a double-play grounder to shortstop, and Rivera closed the door for his 29th straight save conversion against the Royals.

The mini-slide continued. The Royals prepared to hit the road. And Yost was adamant that his young lineup could weather the choppy waters.

“I think last year, at times, we definitely pressed,” Yost said. “I don’t see them pressing as much right now … which is progress. It’s improvement. They all know we can swing the bat. They all know we can put runs on the board, and I think that they all have understood that every team they’ve been on has been through streaks like this.”