Stumble And Fall

Numbers don’t lie. The numbers that describe the Royals current situation are particularly grim.

After dropping three of four to the hotter-than-the-sun Cleveland Indians, the Royals find themselves five games back in the hunt for the final Wild Card. They have 13 games remaining.

On the surface, that doesn’t seem insurmountable. Besides, these Royals are known for having a card or two hidden up their sleeve. They’ve surprised the baseball world enough the last few seasons, there’s no one left to register any kind of disbelief should they find the energy to summon one final charge to glory. One more great escape.

If only it were that simple.

The number to fixate on isn’t the games back in the standings. Rather, at this point it’s the elimination number. The Royals elimination number currently stands at nine, meaning the Royals can afford no more than a combination of nine losses of their own along with wins by the Twins. The math is the math. If the Royals lose four games the rest of the way, but the Twins win five, the Royals are toast. That doesn’t even take into consideration the other teams still jockeying for position.

It’s complicated, but what is certain is the tightrope thins a bit at this point.

With two full weeks remaining, the Royals could find themselves eliminated by the close of baseball business Friday.

The dynamics of the Wild Card race (or if you prefer, the race for the second Wild Card because that’s what we’re actually discussing) has been most bizarre. With a number of teams grouped within striking distance for weeks, it looked like it would come down to the wire. Those of us who root for chaos in their playoff races dared to dream there could be a two or three team tie for the final spot, throwing the October schedule into some kind of manic frenzy. The Royals haven’t controlled their own destiny for some time but have been lurking for most of the second half of the season within reasonable striking distance, giving them a decent chance.

That doesn’t seem likely anymore. Especially after the wild card carnage of the last week.

While five teams have either 74 or 73 wins (including the Royals), all five have stumbled while the Twins have flipped over to cruise control. They don’t seem as intent on running away with the playoff spot as they are just not screwing up everything.

Here’s how the last week played out among the alleged contenders:

Team Record from 9/11-9/17
Twins 4-2
Angels 3-3
Mariners 3-4
Royals 2-5
Rangers 2-5
Orioles 2-5
Rays 2-4

Impressive. You would think with the Twins winning a respectable four out of six games this week there would be at least one out of the six teams giving chase that could hang with them. You would think wrong.

All of the teams listed above have serious flaws that would, in a normal season, preclude them from participating beyond the end of the regular season. It’s almost as if this motley bunch is aware of this and are reticent about actually competing. Does anyone here really want to win the second Wild Card?

There’s still a chance the Twins turn into a baseball pumpkin and one of the teams awash in mediocrity catches a modest amount of fire to turn this in to some sort of race.

This may seem harsh, but the reality is one of the flaws plaguing the Royals is a lack of general good health. The team said on Saturday that they would give their walking wounded (Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez, along with Lorenzo Cain) the day off on Sunday so with the team traveling on Monday, they would have the benefit of a full 48 hours of rest. Then, they would turn them loose for the final two weeks of the season. Moustakas himself admitted he could use “three or four or five days” to help his ailing knee.

Was anyone really surprised when Ned Yost summoned Moustakas for a pinch hit attempt in the eighth inning?

It’s the 2017 Royals in a nutshell. They know they shouldn’t do something. They announce their intentions. The intentions make a ton of sense. Yet, in the end, they just can’t help themselves. Here you have Moustakas, who is playing on a bum knee. He’s literally limping to the finish line. Over his last 22 games (prior to Sunday) he’s hit .194/.275/.264. He hit his 35th home run on August 15. He’s hit one since. That record he looked to obliterate? He may not even own it outright by the time the season is over.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, but who thought Moustakas on a bad knee was a better option than Cheslor Cuthbert who has two fully functional lower limbs? Besides Yost.

This isn’t a Willis Reed moment. Moustakas swinging meekly at a pair of curves – one off the plate away and another in the upper middle part of the zone – isn’t going to inspire a comeback. Especially if that moment comes with two down in the eighth, extinguishing the Royals best, final opportunity for a run.

Squint and you can see the good news. Danny Duffy returned from the disabled list and an unsavory off the field moment to pitch five strong innings, striking out eight. Joakim Soria tossed a scoreless eighth. Brandon Moss is coming through in important situations.

Still, it’s not enough to overcome the AL Central champions.

The season isn’t over yet, but last rites were administered in Cleveland. The real possibility is this team will be officially eliminated from October consideration by the time they return to The K for their final six games of the season. Another season of promise cut prematurely short.

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