There's plenty to say about the Royals' untimely and unfathomable meltdown to open the home portion of the 2012 season - but, sadly, nothing positive that isn't riddled with tedious, overused sports clichés. It's probably fair to say no one saw this coming.
Kansas City opened the season with high hopes and an attitude that was much more positive and uplifting than in recent years about the makeup of the team and what it could accomplish this year. Many around Major League Baseball considered this to be the season that Royals' fans would start to see some payoff from what General Manager Dayton Moore have been developing and painstakingly working toward the past five and a half seasons.
Baseball has the longest season of any professional sport. Because of that, it generally takes some time before fans - let alone the reporters and pundits who closely follow the sport and the individual teams throughout the long season - begin to lose interest in a particular team and any respect and faith that the team has what it takes to contend for a spot in postseason play.
The Royals began the season on the road, splitting six games with the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland A's. And truth be told, they should have won two games in Oakland instead of one, were it not for beating themselves. In anyone's book, a respectable road performance to open the year. Since then, the Boys in Blue have failed to win a single game. Three season-opening series at Kauffman Stadium against the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays all ended in home losses.
No Royals' team in history has started the season with 10-straight home losses. In fact, the Royals have never endured a 10-game losing streak on their home field, at any point in a season. Their 3-13 record after Monday night's series-sweeping fourth straight loss to Toronto is tied for the second worst opening 16-game stretch in franchise history. Only the 1992 season (1-15) and 2006 season (3-13) were equal or worse.
Kansas City is the worst team in the major leagues at this point in the season. As bad as the Royals have been in recent years, they have never fallen this far this fast. And we're talking about an 11-year period in which the beloved hometown Royals have recorded their four worst seasons of all time and the only four years in which the team has lost 100 or more games.
April has historically been a bad month for the Royals, compared with the warmer months of the season. Even in their glory years in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, Royals' teams experienced difficulty getting out of the gateSo what has happened to this talented young team with such bright prospects that has caused it to literally and figuratively fall off the deep end the past two weeks?
As a team, Kansas City is not hitting particularly badly - their .255 team average ranks seventh in the American League through 16 games - but they're not getting enough timely hits and their run production is the worst in the league. Only one other major-league team (Cincinnati) has scored fewer runs than the Royals, but the Reds are faring better in the early going because of much better pitching.
Everyone knew coming into the 2012 MLB season that Kansas City's pitching, particularly the starting rotation, was highly suspect. Royals' pitchers have a 4.64 ERA, third worst in the league, and the team's WHIP (the ratio of walks plus hits to innings pitched) is also the third worst in the American League.
As a group, Kansas City's five regular starters are averaging just five innings a start, which means manager Ned Yost is having to turn to his bullpen early and often in games, and the Royals' relievers, which everyone felt good about coming into the season before closer Joakim Soria went down with a season-ending elbow injury in spring training, has not gotten the job done shutting down the opposition.
After the first two series at home - with Cleveland, a team Kansas City should be on a reasonable par with, and AL Central favorite Detroit - Yost said it was too early for the team and fans to push the panic button. In interviews on a couple of local sports-talk radio stations, Royal Hall-of-Famer Frank White said he thought the Royals' players were probably pressing too hard trying to overcome the team's slow start and, individually and collectively, trying to do a little more than than they're truly capable of.
Murphy's Law has clearly reared it's ugly head - oops, sorry for another one of those overused clichés - and has seemingly gotten into the Royals' heads. When you look deeper into what is contributing to the Royals' almost inexplicable inability to win games at The K. It certainly seems like everything that can happen to keep the Royals from winning is happening: Producing base runners, but leaving men on base; hitting the ball hard but right at somebody; hitting into triple plays; base-running mistakes; missing the cut-off man on outfield putouts; bullpen blowups. And that's just for starters.
"We can come up with all the excuses in the world," Yost said. "The bottom line is, we're not executing."
"This stuff happens to every team," the Kansas City manager said. "It just becomes magnified when you lose." That may be true, but when stuff like this happens when you're playing at home, where you should be the most comfortable and confident in your on-field performance, it is something that bears concern and should not necessarily be casually dismissed.
Now the Royals are headed back out town, where they have performed better so far this season, to Cleveland followed by Minnesota, two place and teams that have given Kansas City fits over the years, and divisional opponents, to boot. It's true, what they say, that you can't get caught up in 10 or 11 games over the course of a 162-game season, but the next week will be a critical test that could very easily define what the rest of the season will hold for third-year manager Yost and the Royals.
More prophetic words of wisdom from the Royals manager: "It doesn't matter whether you're the best team in the world or the worst team in the world. What matters is how you deal with it," Yost said.
Right now, I'd say the Royals' players aren't dealing with it too well. Contrary to what Yost is saying, what matters now is leadership by management and accountability by the players. I don't see either of those two things happening at present.
I get the feeling that, if they could, the Royals would set aside the "Our Time" promotional tagline for a better time, one in which perception is more closely aligned with reality. Or perhaps the team's marketing and communications department might want to consider the slight adjustment in the message to: "Our Time: Coming Soon."
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