Sam Mellinger

Royals’ blemishes shine through in their loss to the Tigers

Royals catcher Salvador Perez (left) and reliever Casey Coleman looked into the Royals dugout in the fifth inning of Monday’s loss to the Tigers in Detroit.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez (left) and reliever Casey Coleman looked into the Royals dugout in the fifth inning of Monday’s loss to the Tigers in Detroit. The Associated Press

The worry isn’t the loss, as ugly as it is. The problem, if there is one, is in the details. The challenge — and this one is here — will be for the Royals to conceal their blemishes under the unforgiving light of a pennant race.

Actors had to adjust their makeup with the advent of high-definition television, and the Royals will have to stay on top of their own flaws with the added attention of being in first place into September.

That much is obvious, a 9-5 loss to the Tigers here on Monday serving as a raw reminder that this is a pennant-contending team working mostly without a safety net.

The Royals have bounced back from worse — much worse — and are still in first place. There is every reason for this group to be confident, even as sole possession of first place is on the line Tuesday against Max Scherzer.

That the Royals are here, in first place approaching the middle of September, is a testament to their ability to maximize their significant strengths, minimize their obvious flaws and generally outperform what the statheads say they should be based on run differential.

This is how it’s been all season. That’s been part of the thrill and most of the wonder in watching them avoid all the henchmen.

Well, the henchmen took a resounding victory in an awfully inconvenient spot on Monday.

This one game showed so much of what the Royals need to be mindful about, resilient against, the blemishes they need to cover with makeup under the bright lights of a pennant race.

The kill shot came early, exactly the kind of bullet the Royals have dodged for most of this season. The first two runs scored on Eric Hosmer’s thorough butchering of a grounder in the second inning. The ball banged off Hosmer’s glove, and then he tried a sort of backhanded flick that sailed past pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who was covering first base. Two errors, both on Hosmer, and this was only the most obvious defensive mistake.

In the third, the Royals missed a chance to shut down a big inning with one play that could’ve been made and another that should’ve. With runners on the corners, Victor Martinez smashed a grounder toward Hosmer, who dived to his right but saw the ball bounce off his glove again. It would’ve been a terrific play, and is the kind of play that earned him the Gold Glove last year. Bases loaded.

The next batter, J.D. Martinez, hit into what should’ve been a double play. Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar got the ball to second baseman Omar Infante in what looked like enough time to turn it, but Martinez beat Infante’s throw. After the game, manager Ned Yost conceded that the play should’ve been made.

Between Hosmer’s diving try and the double play that wasn’t, it’s conceivable the Royals could’ve been out of the first three innings with just one or even zero runs of damage.

Instead, Guthrie gave up five hits to the next six batters and the Tigers were up 8-2. Two of the runs were officially unearned, and perhaps five of the others could’ve been prevented.

It would’ve taken marvelous defense to get out of those innings giving up just one or zero runs, but then, the Royals are playing here with first place on the line in large part because they’ve played marvelous defense for most of the season.

The Royals remain in good position. Not just being in first place, but hearing the best possible news on Danny Duffy, who may only miss one start because of shoulder inflammation. If the Royals’ defense had been clean in the second and third innings, we’d probably be talking and writing about the offense scoring five runs for the first time in 10 games. Even now, we’re talking and writing about a first-place team that’s won six of its last eight.

It’s just that Monday’s loss is a reminder of how close the Royals operate to the edge, and of the blemishes so often covered up by their considerable strengths with pitching and defense.

As it stands, they have one more opportunity to show the resiliency that’s emerged as one of their defining strengths during what has already been a wild season with the most important parts still to come.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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