Gridlocked in limbo between rebuilds, the Royals on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium fell for the seventh time in eight games and drooped to 13-30 overall.
For context, that’s the third-worst start in club history and plenty on trajectory to the 100-plus loss seasons that ensued in 2006 (10-33 en route to 62-100) and 2005 (12-31 on the way to 56-106) ...
With the best team in baseball, the New York Yankees, coming to town this weekend.
No one prides himself on staying upbeat with his team more than manager Ned Yost.
Even amid this funk, he started his day with the media in his office by playfully cranking up the “Yanny vs. Laurel” meme that’s been going viral — and getting the impressions of everyone in the room, not to mention some of his coaching staff and trainers and players.
But after the Royals' 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay, even Yost was acknowledging the challenge of staying gung-ho.
He mustered a little chuckle, then said, “It’s something you’ve got to work at; it doesn’t come natural. You’ve got to sit yourself down, and I’ve had to do it in the middle of a game: Sit myself down and tell me to shut the hell up.
“You just got to understand the process that we’re trying to accomplish and what the boys are going through and how they’re working hard at it and how they’re trying and they’re fighting right to the end.”
You know the economics of why it has come to this, know the decisions that some of us admired and others protested as the franchise tried to cling to and wring more from a unique core.
But now a team greater than the sum of its considerable parts along the way to the revival of 2014 and 2015 is more like a random bunch of fine pieces that just aren’t in sync … and alternately break down.
During one stretch, the bullpen sabotaged everything. More recently, and again Wednesday, the starting pitching has been incapacitating.
Other times, it’s been an inability to drive in runners in scoring position on a team that has scored three runs or fewer 23 times — and is 3-20 in those games. On Tuesday, closer Kelvin Herrera toted his 0.61 ERA into the ninth inning … and took a loss.
The flux is only beginning, too.
The extreme makeover won’t begin in earnest until the June MLB draft (in which the Royals have five of the top 58 picks).
More to the immediate point, you can expect a change in inventory on the major-league level as the July 31 trade deadline approaches and the Royals entertain offers for established players so they can further focus on reinvestment.
Even if you more or less intellectually accept this reality as a fan — and an average of 18,622 are nonetheless coming to games here — the humble ask now is this:
That you don’t see the Royals conceding so much as a pitch or an at-bat or an inning or a game.
So far, at least that’s held true.
They might not be good enough, but you don’t see a lapse in professional pride, either.
This isn’t the ballad of the loser, just a nod to reality and a standard of dignity.
“Nobody likes to lose,” super-utility man Whit Merrifield said. “But guys are playing hard, guys are putting in the work and guys want to win. So that’s all you can do.”
Sometimes, all you can do is all you can do.
So what you haven’t seen and shouldn’t expect to see is the fundamental ineptitude that marked the dismal bottom the franchise began to push off from after Dayton Moore took over as general manager in 2006.
You won’t witness idling, either, or moping in a clubhouse where you still hear chirping and most players chairs typically are turned out toward the room rather than toward their lockers.
“We lose, but we’re not playing sloppy, walking guys and (committing) errors and making base-running gaffes and all the dumb stuff that really tick you off as a manager,” Yost said, correctly. “Guys are playing good baseball, and they’re playing hard baseball, and (that) makes it easier to” handle.
None of that is a substitute for winning, but it’s at least a statement about how to cope with hard times and demonstrating respect for the game and Royals fans.
That’s why in the wake of the losses of Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain the Royals in the spring reached smart one-year deals with Mike Moustakas ($6.5 million), Jon Jay ($3 million) and Lucas Duda ($3.5 million).
The moves ran a little contrary to the cost-containment initiative, but even with Duda on the 10-day disabled list (plantar fasciitis) you shudder to think where this team would be without a productive trio that may or may not be here at season’s end.
So even as you might want to avert your eyes, the Royals are oddly intriguing.
Beyond just wondering what might go wrong next, there is the germ of a thought that these parts can be good enough to win some games and the search for slivers of future promise.
Such as in the progress of Jorge Soler and Jakob Junis, the development of Hunter Dozier or the happy story of Jason Adam, the Blue Valley Northwest graduate who lost more than two years of his career as he underwent four surgeries.
On Wednesday morning, Yost thought about “how cool it is” for a prospect like Adam when he finally gets to the big leagues and how precious that becomes to maintain.
Just like going back to the playoffs once you’re in.
“That’s why it’s so hard during playoff time if you don’t make it; it’s hard to watch,” he said, jokingly adding, ‘It’s like the royal wedding: (If) you’re not invited, it hurts.”
As they reset, alas, the Royals are going to be on the outside looking in for a while — and the challenge for Yost and his players to stay engaged is only going to intensify.