Never mind that the Royals scored three runs in the first inning of Saturday night’s contest at Safeco Field against the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, a rather constant force in baseball since joining Seattle nearly 13 years ago. Never mind that Whit Merrifield had his first three-hit night since June 1 and that Jorge Bonifacio logged his first major-league singles since returning from an 80-game suspension.
Because as encouraging as those performances were, they did not matter in the end.
On a night where the Royals and Mariners celebrated the 20th anniversary of the original “Turn Ahead the Clock” night, the Royals failed to put their June struggles behind them. They lost 6-4 to the Mariners and fell to 25-57 on the season. They're dangerously close to the worst record in baseball, outpaced in losses only by the Baltimore Orioles (23-59).
In beating the Royals, the Mariners (53-31) tallied their sixth straight victory. They hadn’t won six games in a row since June 18-23, 2017.
But this Mariners lineup has been tough for all to crack. Their hitters own a fifth-ranked .259 batting average; they've done damage primarily by smaller cuts but have shown some pop with a .420 slugging percentage that ranks 11th in baseball.
Royals starting pitcher Jason Hammel got a taste of that on Saturday. He allowed a season-high 13 hits, four of which went for extra bases, in six innings and yielded at least six runs for a second consecutive start. He faced 18 batters in the first three innings, struggling to command his pitches in the zone before settling enough to retire nine of the last 12 he faced.
Mitch Haniger, who started the Mariners' comeback with an RBI double in the first, went 2 for 3 against Hammel.
"Mechanically for a few innings I was a mess," said Hammel, who lost for a fifth straight outing. "Just kind of Jekyll and Hyde — figured something out, then something else would pop out.
"I felt like I was throwing batting practice today."
After Hammel blew the three-run lead he was given in the first inning, the Royals failed to muster much else on offense. They tallied nine hits but left eight on base.
Their struggles capped an all-around atrocious month. The Royals won the fewest June games in franchise history, eclipsing the 1970 team that went 7-19 with a 5-21 showing. They batted below .200 for the majority of it, scoring a major-league-low 58 runs while they were at it.
The thing is, you can’t pin their struggles on one player. Although the decline in Alcides Escobar’s production has been precipitous — despite historically putting up his best numbers of a season in June, Escobar put together a career-worst .115 average (10 for 87) this month — so has Salvador Perez’s. The All-Star catcher batted .158 (15 for 95) this month while driving in just four runs. Mike Moustakas, too, barely kept himself afloat in June, entering with a .205 average in 24 games before going 2 for 3 with a three-run homer in the first inning and a walk on Saturday.
The pitching has also been streaky. Beyond rookie Brad Keller, who allowed just six earned runs in 22 2/3 innings in his first full month as a starter, the starting rotation has compiled mix results. Its 5.02 ERA in June was among the top-five highest.
"I mean, we haven’t done a whole lot good," Merrifield said. "We haven’t hit very well, we’ve kind of been streaky with our pitching. I actually feel our defense has been pretty solid. But we just haven’t been able to put it together.
"It’s frustrating. But what do you do? You just try to keep getting better every day and hopefully we can turn it around, we can get some guys hot and get some pitchers hot and string it together."
Although Royals manager Ned Yost was loathe to admit there was some kind of emotional value in flipping the calendar, the Royals will be glad to rid themselves of a June swoon that began around the same time they traded Jon Jay to the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 6.
"The month's over," Yost said. "It's behind us. Our guys are doing a great job. Every night they’re in that dugout high-fiving, let’s go, let’s have fun, let’s play hard, let’s play hard and have fun. Their attitude is great. They’re not getting down."