Since All-Star Alex Gordon suffered an alarming groin injury on July 8, the end of the world as we know it, the Royals had gone 29-15 entering their game against Baltimore on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium.
They thus nearly tripled their lead in the American League Central, from 41/2 games to 13, with a better winning percentage than they’d enjoyed with Gordon (48-33).
All of which speaks to the resilient and deep state of the Royals these days.
In this span, they’ve gotten key boosts from the platoon of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando, watched Eric Hosmer become one of the hottest hitters in the AL and added ace starter Johnny Cueto and utilityman extraordinaire Ben Zobrist.
In the last three days alone, they’d received further encouragement with a promising start from Kris Medlen and even gotten some juice at the plate from the tepid bats of Alex Rios and Omar Infante.
So you have to squint to find much to fret over right now — at least beyond such unanswerables as how to properly balance playing regulars to keep them sharp but fresh for October.
Then again, one of the surest of seemingly sure things gave pause for concern on Wednesday.
As an encore to what logically seemed like a mere blip of a bad outing at Boston, Cueto was crunched for three home runs — each on cutters gone flat — in five innings and again gave up six earned runs in an 8-5 loss.
In the news business, we figure twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend story.
So we’ll hold off on the panic just yet.
And barring an undisclosed injury, that old trade wisdom is just one of many reasons not to overreact to two of the worst outings of Cueto’s stellar career happening to occur in back-to-back appearances.
This is still about men, not machines.
Pitchers get in slumps, too, by the way.
And not every lamentable performance is an indication someone’s arm is about to fall off or that they are in some career death spiral.
What we do know is this, though:
Cueto isn’t infallible, at least not in starts with his team holding a double-digit divisional lead, and it’s a disconcerting buzz-kill in the wake of his previous two performances in particular.
Against the Tigers and Angels on Aug. 10 and 15, Cueto allowed one run and 12 hits in 17 innings.
That included a four-hit complete-game shutout in his first home start for the Royals, after which it was easy to feel persuaded that’s just how it pretty much always was going to be.
“So this is what a true No. 1 starter looks like” was how we put it here.
“Every time Johnny steps on the mound,” manager Ned Yost said that night, the Royals “know they’ve got an outstanding chance of winning that game.”
They’ll still believe that, of course, because the track record over the long haul says you can:
Cueto had an ERA of 2.70 entering the game Wednesday, and it’s been between 2.25 and 2.82 every season since 2010.
But 12 earned runs and 21 hits (including a career-high 13 at Boston) in 11 innings over two starts aren’t what you want.
Especially from a man who almost certainly won’t be here after October and cost a chunk of the future (pitching prospects Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed) as the Royals sought to set things right at the top of the rotation and recalibrate and bring order to the rest.
Cueto was brought here to fill the Royals’ most glaring need, and the move elevated them from a fine contender to defend their American League championship to the presumptive favorite.
Now he’s a mere 2-3 as a Royal after falling well short of expectations the last two starts — which may or may not be indicative of a pattern.
In Boston, for instance, Cueto’s effort was hurt by uncharacteristic lapses in the field.
His troubles Wednesday were entirely of his own making, though, symbolized by the emphatic trio of two-run homers.
As Yost saw it, there were no particular similarities between what Cueto did in Boston and on Wednesday.
“Just one of those nights,” he said, shrugging it off to getting “burned” by getting poor action on those three cutters.
This isn’t who Cueto has been, of course, and so why should it be that he suddenly is vulnerable now?
Maybe this will become something to agonize over.
But there’s no need to borrow trouble or waste energy on it now — especially considering how the Royals have sustained themselves amid more worrisome challenges.