The Royals’ first winning clubhouse in five days sounds like Macy’s in December.
Danny Duffy is often in charge of the postgame soundtrack, and he’s feeling sentimental or something because the speakers are blaring “Feliz Navidad” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” He is a staunch proponent of real Christmas trees, by the way, which is exactly how it should be.
Across the room, Edinson Volquez is talking about his team’s 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. It was important, he is saying, because the Royals had lost four in a row and the questions about a losing streak were starting to tire. He did not like the Christmas music, by the way.
“Too early,” he says.
He leaves unsaid that it was also too early for the talk about losing streaks. The Royals, as it turns out, do not stink all of a sudden. Their season is not a pile of rubbish. They have not forgotten how to win. They are not suffering from broken chemistry with new players in the clubhouse. And they are not panicking or coasting or any other theory some around Kansas City have been kicking around to explain a problem than didn’t exist in the first place.
The Royals are the best team in the American League. They had a chickenpox outbreak in the clubhouse, and it’s like some fans responded with an amnesia outbreak.
Losing streaks happen, a byproduct of a brutally long schedule and the randomness of a baseball season.
The Royals ended their four-game losing streak by scoring four runs on Twins starter Kyle Gibson’s first nine pitches, and then relying on the strengths that have served them so well these past 13 months or so — solid starting pitching, spectacular defense and a bullpen that won’t budge.
In the light of the win, there’s so much to like. Eric Hosmer is having the best year of his career, and has a chance at 100 RBIs. Alex Gordon is nine-for-18 since returning from that groin injury. Wade Davis and Greg Holland were each perfect in relief. The Royals now lead the Twins by 12 games in the division, and the Toronto Blue Jays by four in the league.
Actually, if we’re talking about streaks, the story here isn’t that the Royals lost four games in a row. The story is that they haven’t lost five straight games all season.
Every other team in baseball, save the St. Louis Cardinals, has lost at least five in a row. And the Cardinals have lost five of six. Losing streaks happen. A lot. Last year, the San Francisco Giants lost six in a row — twice — and their season turned out OK.
The Royals’ ability to avoid these skids is remarkable, particularly for a team that’s made losing streaks an indelible part of its past.
This is, basically, the fifth year this core group has been together. Five years takes us back to the big league debuts for Hosmer, Sal Perez, Mike Moustakas, Kelvin Herrera and Danny Duffy and the first seasons in Kansas City for Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain.
In that time, the Royals have had 10 losing streaks of five games or more. A skid in May that cost a hitting coach his job became something like an annual tradition, like a neighborhood garage sale. In 2012 — Our Time! — the Royals were booed 16 minutes into their home opener. That day turned out to be No. 2 of a 12-game losing streak.
That these Royals have avoided the baseball normalcy of even a five-game losing streak through suspensions and injuries and various individual slumps is as good of an explanation for their success as anything.
Consider this: The Royals’ last losing streak of five or more games ended last May.
“It’s confidence, that is a big difference,” Gordon says. “It’s also talent, and that’s what we have right now.”
“I think we’ve learned from the years in the past that those are times you can’t panic,” Hosmer says.
None of this is to say the Royals are concern-free. Johnny Cueto’s four-start slump is the most obvious.
But those concerns have largely overshadowed some postseason prep work by manager Ned Yost. Just in this four-game losing streak, Perez, Gordon, Hosmer, Cain and Moustakas all had days off, and Yost is adjusting his batting order for the playoffs.
Moustakas has been bothered by a hamstring, and Gordon is still a step slow in the outfield, but the Royals’ lead in the standings has afforded them the luxury of being cautious.
It’s probably more coincidence than anything else, but the four-game losing streak died in the first game since Gordon’s injury that the Royals have had what you would expect to be their playoff lineup together.
We can make some easy must-win jokes, but the reality is this particular win is a little bigger than normal. Not because a four-game losing streak is any indication of major trouble, but because four games can turn to five and six and on and on.
The Royals avoided that by scoring early and then choking out a win with pitching and defense. It’s the formula that’s worked so well for them in changing their franchise’s history. It’s the formula that’s worked so well for them in avoiding the actual crises that have sunk previous seasons.
And it’s the formula that gives them such reason for optimism when the games start to really matter next month.