Vahe Gregorian

The Royals’ fielding, an asset all season, has mysteriously gone south

Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer couldn’t reach a double by Boston Red Sox’s Jemile Weeks in the third inning of Friday’s game.
Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer couldn’t reach a double by Boston Red Sox’s Jemile Weeks in the third inning of Friday’s game. The Kansas City Star

For most of this season on the brink of a breakthrough, the Royals defense has had a certain magical inevitability that buoyed the team as much as anything else.

Befitting their three Gold Glove players (Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez) and three others (Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas) who could earn that distinction in the future, the Royals frequently have made balletic or acrobatic plays that either kept them in games or outright won them.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Gordon in left field and Escobar at shortstop nearly take their skills to an art form.

At times, the collective group made the ridiculous look routine … and it nearly always made the routine just that.

Most of all, it made stellar pitching even better and propped up an offensive game that has managed to amass more than three runs in fewer than half its games and simply inspires no faith in its ability to score.

But when the Royals stumbled out of first place in the American League Central on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium for the first time in more than a month, what radiated from the listless 4-2 loss to Boston wasn’t just another feeble night at the plate.

After all, that’s become a foregone conclusion.

What’s changed is that the defense no longer is just as certain.

“Obviously, we’re not swinging the bats well,” manager Ned Yost said, “and we’re not playing our characteristically spectacular defense.”

For some time now.

Since committing just 76 errors in their first 131 games, the Royals have made 20 errors in their last 15 games, including three on Thursday and a costly one by Moustakas on Friday.

Not coincidentally, they’re 6-9 in those games as they’ve tumbled to 22nd in the majors in total errors.

Total errors, though, is only a crude measure of defense. And you need only have seen the game Friday to understand its limitations.

True, Moustakas’ error paved the way to a couple of extra runs in Boston’s three-run third.

But the sequence began when Hosmer seemed to move sluggishly for what became a double by Jemile Weeks to his backhand side, and it also included a wild pitch by Yordano Ventura.

Then came Boston’s insurance run that gave it what immediately felt like an insurmountable 4-2 lead in the fifth after Gordon appeared to have a bad jump or angle on another double by Meeks.

He scored on a single to left by Daniel Nava that eluded the glove of Escobar, who normally makes even that challenging play.

Naturally, Yost was more conscious of the last few days than the longer trend, though he at least publicly is struggling to identify a common denominator to it.

“We’re just not making plays when we need to,” said Yost, who dismissed the notion of tightness as a factor in any of the Royals current troubles.

But he also seems to see the fielding struggles as a contagious issue in a few ways.

Before the game, he had playfully said this is a team that tends to do everything together.

When it’s an in an offensive funk, it’s just about everyone joining in.

The same now might be said for the defense, illuminated by the fact that there’s no relief in sight on the other end.

“The thing about making mistakes, you can make mistakes, mistakes are going to happen,” he said. “You can make errors, but the important thing is you have to be able to cover it.

“You make a mistake, it costs you two runs. All right, you know, you’ve made a mistake. Now come in the dugout and let’s get those two runs back. And when you’re struggling offensively, it’s hard to cover it.

“But that’s what we need to do.”

The upside of this is that we know that’s completely correctable because we’ve seen it before.

Really, it’s who the Royals are.

But whatever the reason is, their best attribute is fizzling now.

They’ve gone from making you shake your head in wonder to shaking your head in disbelief and exasperation.

And they can’t wait so much as another day to get it back if they want to make the rest of September something to treasure instead of regret.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com.

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