The Royals bats turned back the clock over the weekend. To April. Although you could have mistaken their offense for one from the dead ball era.
A team record 34 consecutive inning scoreless streak.
There’s simply no way to sugar coat this. There’s no silver lining here. There’s no way to explain this away.
The Royals bats are once again in cold storage. And now, at this point of the season, so are their hopes for a playoff push.
Shall we point some fingers at the offense? Yes, let’s.
Alcides Escobar is swinging at anything that moves. He saw a total of 35 pitches in this series. He swung at 23 of them. Even based on the known hacktastic methods of Escobar, (he carries a 53 percent swing rate on the season) a 66 percent swing rate in a three game series violates obscenity laws.
Salvador Perez is playing hurt and unless the Royals decide to protect their catcher and his ailing intercostal, will be playing hurt the rest of the year. He collected a single hit in eight plate appearances, struck out four times and appeared to be in serious discomfort on almost every violent hack he took.
Battling his own ailments, Mike Moustakas was finally back in the lineup but could only muster a pair of walks. His understudy, Cheslor Cuthbert (who only needs regular playing time, damnit!) was 1-9.
The top third of the Royals order was a combined 6-36 over the three games. For you batting average perverts, that’s a .167 BA. For the more sabermetrically inclined, that’s a negative bajillion WARP. And for those of you who don’t give a damn about statistics of any kind, that sucks.
Eight hits on Friday. Four hits on Saturday. Six hits on Sunday.
And no runs every day.
Attention was momentarily diverted from the stench of the offense by the pitching performance from Jason Hammel on Saturday. Perfect through five innings, Hammel was setting off alerts on phones around the country. This was good.
Alas, this is Jason Hammel we’re talking about. The wheels tend not to fall off when he’s going well. Rather, they fly off at an enormous rate of speed, stripping the entire vehicle of the apparatus to actually propel the thing in a positive manner. A single and a home run in the sixth was followed by a pair of dingers in the seventh.
Debate Ned Yost’s decision to send his mercurial starter back to the mound for a third trip through the order all you want, but that’s like screaming at your cable provider when your electricity is out. It doesn’t matter who is pitching in what situation if your offense can’t push a single damn run across the plate. Hammel did his job in keeping the Royals largely in the game for six innings. If there was any life at all in the Royals bats, he probably wouldn’t have been sent out for the seventh. Either way, any argument at this point is hopeless revisionism that ignores the larger issue that the offense is a pile of crap at the moment.
We can attempt to explain away the stench by insisting the series in Cleveland wasn’t that important. At least not any more important that a three game set in Detroit or the South Side of Chicago. That’s an acknowledgment the division title was out of reach before the Royals charter landed at the Cleveland airport. You know what? That’s probably the right way to think.
The Royals hit Progressive Field on Friday six games behind the division leaders. With seven games remaining against the Indians at that point, the more optimistic could insist the Central was still within grasp. Optimism can sometimes yield to delusion if you’re not careful. The chance at the division title didn’t evaporate this last weekend in Cleveland. It more than likely slipped away earlier this month when the Royals were swept away by the St. Louis Cardinals. Those four games, followed by a loss at Chicago, saw the Royals fall to five games off the division lead on August 11. They haven’t been able to shave even a half game off that deficit since.
So for all the talk about these games against Cleveland being the most important series of the year, that was just wishful thinking. The Central was lost in an interleague set and a game against the division cellar dwellers.
Of course that’s a simplistic explanation. There have been plenty of missed opportunities and stretches of subpar baseball. As of Monday morning there are 32 games left in the season. The Royals record is 64-65. They have been, at points, seven games over and 10 games below .500. This is who they are. (In fact, after the bloodletting on Sunday, the Royals run differential now stands at -46. They are fortunate they aren’t further below .500.)
Would you like a sliver of good news? The schedule maker gives you the Tampa Bay Rays. The Royals seem to have their number over the last few series. That moment of 10 games below .500 mentioned above came just ahead of a four game set in Tampa in early May. You will recall in that series the Royals won three of four to kickstart their mini resurrection that propelled them through the early part of the summer.
With time running out and facing the Rays once again, it would behoove them to find a similar boost. The Central may be out of reach but the Wild Card remains in play. While the 2017 Royals lack the panache of the 2014 and 2015 vintages, anything is still possible. This same offense that laid an egg in Cleveland is capable of scoring 25 in their next three. Catch the updraft at the right moment and things could get interesting once again.
Yes, it’s crazy. And it’s probably delusional. But that’s the American League this year.