A handful of days ago, Royals left-hander Danny Duffy stood in front of his Kauffman Stadium locker and paused for a half-second to make mental calculations.
The Royals had just lost his third start of the year. Their record had fallen to 3-7.
“We’ve lost all three of my starts and we could have easily won them,” he said. “We could easily be 6-4 — wow. That’s a teller.”
There was a germ of truth to his statement. If Duffy hadn’t given up a big inning in each of his starts — five runs to the White Sox in the fourth on March 29, three in the first to the Indians on April 6 and two to the Mariners in the first on Wednesday — the Royals might be better off. They might not dwell in the cellar of the American League Central with a 3-10 record, five games behind the Minnesota Twins.
But the Royals’ early season problems extend far beyond what Duffy and the starting rotation — which ranks fifth-best in the major leagues with a 3.34 ERA — have done.
The Royals are off to their worst start since 2012, when they also posted a 3-10 record in their first 13 games. They ended that campaign at 72-90, 16 games out of first place in the American League Central.
Of course, it’s still early. That’s part of the reason manager Ned Yost and company haven’t begun to panic.
Yet something is amiss with this 2018 squad.
Here’s a look at two issues plaguing the Royals as they embark on a two-city road trip that starts Monday in Toronto and continues in Detroit on Friday.
The Royals have batted .231 in 13 games. They have clubbed five homers, a mark tied with Detroit for the fewest in baseball. They have been outscored 59-27 in their 10 losses.
And they have crossed the plate for runs a major-league low 39 times this season.
The Royals have done so little offensively that they’ve spoiled three quality outings by Ian Kennedy and a quality start by Jason Hammel. Kennedy is the only one of the pair to have earned a win — and he got it in a 1-0 victory in Cleveland.
To further illustrate the Royals’ offensive futility: Kennedy ranks sixth in the American League in average run support (1.67).
But there are two numbers that should stoke some hope:
.327: Mike Moustakas’ average, which is the 12th-best in the American League. He’s driven in a team-high nine runs.
.336: The Royals’ on-base percentage over the last seven games.
Additionally, Paulo Orlando has benefited from more consistent at-bats now that Alex Gordon is on the disabled list recovering from a left hip labral tear. Orlando batted .350 (7 for 20) with four RBIs in the Royals’ last five games.
Take some comfort in the recent surges of Lucas Duda and Jorge Soler, too. Duda is now hitting .282 after racking up seven hits in his last six games. And since he snapped out of his season-opening 0 for 11 rut, Soler has gone 8 for 26 with two doubles and an on-base percentage of .379.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Yost said this weekend. “Get two or three guys on track, it’s gonna help a lot.”
There is no team in baseball with a worse bullpen ERA than the Royals.
Their relievers have combined to allow 29 earned runs in 41 2/3 innings (6.26 ERA). Veteran Blaine Boyer has been the main offender, giving up 12 runs in 4 2/3 innings.
The bullpen has also blown four leads.
Yost tried to alleviate the relief problem by optioning Brandon Maurer, who gave up six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings, to Class AAA Omaha on Friday.
But there is some good news: Outside of Boyer, Maurer and Justin Grimm, the remainder of the bullpen has posted a 2.05 ERA.
Brian Flynn, Burch Smith, Brad Keller, Tim Hill, Kevin McCarthy and Kelvin Herrera have combined to allow just six earned runs in 26 1/3 innings.