This wretched Royals season crumbled to new depths on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, where they lost 7-4 to Boston to suffer their ninth straight loss, their 27th defeat in 31 games and descend to 25-64 overall.
That means they are 39 games under .500 for the first time since ending the 2005 season 56-106, and it’s hard to see any reason to think they won’t break that club record for losses.
Not when they’re the worst pitching team in the major leagues and capable of going 29 consecutive games without scoring more than five runs, which is tied for the longest such streak of futility in the American League since Texas managed to do that for 33 in a row in 1972.
Not when players like Mike Moustakas and Whit Merrifield (hitting .303 after going 5 for 5 on Sunday) seem like fertile targets for contenders to trade for as the Royals gaze toward a future that seems to fade further on the horizon all the time.
So there’s not much to see here now, especially with so much of any promise to come still incubating in the minor leagues.
But if you’re inclined to squint for glimmers of better days ahead, you might take stock of the way Adalberto Mondesi is starting to make subtle-but-important strides as the preferred first choice at shortstop for the next stage of relevance.
As with other prospects on the 25-man roster, such as Brad Keller, Hunter Dozier and Jorge Bonifacio, some of the strides, alas, will be of the one-step-up and two-step-back variety.
Like the two-base error he committed on a day he otherwise was part of turning five double plays.
But even as his strikeout ratio remains unacceptable, (17 strikeouts and, gulp, one walk in 55 plate appearances), Mondesi on Sunday flashed signs of what could make him special.
With better plate discipline and pitch selection, he lashed two two-strike hits – including an opposite-field RBI single and a double off the right field wall in the ninth inning that led to him scoring on a Merrifield single.
“He’s really, I think, taking good step forward in his progress,” Merrifield said. “You can see the confidence starting to grow.”
Calling the double a “laser,” Merrifield added, “We’ve all seen (he has the potential). It’s just a matter of him kind of putting it together at this level. And, shoot, I mean, the kid’s what, 22 years old? So I think a lot of times we forget that.”
We do, maybe especially because Mondesi was only 20 in 2015 when he became the first player to make his major league debut in the World Series.
But that happened then largely because of one established niche, his speed, something the rest of his game has had to catch up with.
After a strong spring in 2017, he was anointed the opening day second baseman … only to be exposed as unready for prime time when he hit .095 in 15 games before being sent back to Class AAA Omaha.
Even while he appeared slightly more comfortable as a September call-up, the fact he was injury prone unsettled Royals officials in the offseason.
Uncomfortable with force-feeding him into the everyday shortstop role this spring, they re-signed Alcides Escobar at a bargain one-year rate ($2.5 million).
But when they recalled Mondesi on June 17, the changing of the guard was at hand.
Although Mondesi played several games at second base, his arrival made inevitable his full audition at shortstop.
Mondesi made his eighth start at short on Sunday — coinciding with the day that Escobar’s club-record string of 421 games started came to an end after stints at third base and in center field had kept it alive.
The development served to reiterate that this is Mondesi’s time to try to seize the job for the near future and perhaps the foreseeable one — something the Royals will reinforce by letting him play through growing pains now.
“He’s such a talented kid; it’s just a matter of time before he puts it together,” said manager Ned Yost, noting how diligently Mondesi is working on his two-strike approach and overall preparation for opposing pitchers. “For the first time, he’s starting to get the feel for it.”
Which is no guarantee of stardom ahead for Mondesi, who says he is gaining confidence down in the count as he learns to compact his swing and just put the ball in play.
But fits and starts are links in the chain of most any player’s development, which is why Mondesi should be the regular shortstop the rest of the season.
“You’ve got to figure out how to get out yourself out of trouble; you’ve got to figure out how to get yourself into a position where you can be productive,” said Yost, who figures those experiences “pay off dividends in the end.”
Only time will tell how much so.
But at least it’s a drama worth following as little else of consequence or intrigue is taking place around this team.