For the second time this season, the Kansas City Royals are entering the danger zone.
They had their first swoon near the end of May that carried over into early June as they lost nine of 11. But fears were tempered when they followed that up with 14 wins in 19 games to zoom to a season-high 16 games over .500.
The culprit for the first funk was a flagging offense, as nearly every Kansas City hitter slumped after an incredible six-week start where at least seven regulars were hovering near the .300 mark.
Now the Royals are stumbling again and it’s no surprise that the offense is again to blame.
Kansas City is a pedestrian 5-6 in its last 11 games, but during that meandering stretch it has scored just 33 runs — and just one game with more than five runs.
Had it not been for some terrific pitching in Seattle and Oakland — like Kansas City, both offensively challenged teams at times — the Royals could have been facing another 2-9 stretch.
Manager Ned Yost certainly can see the problem. While he likes his team to be aggressive, Royals hitters have totally lost consciousness with plate discipline. I’m sure advanced scouts who watch the Royals have noticed that more often than not KC hitters get themselves out because they swing at almost everything.
Stunningly with their free-swinging ways, they have struck out the least number of times in baseball by a wide margin, so I guess it's a two-way street. Before last night, they had fanned just 434 times, while everybody else is in the 500s, 600s and even 700s (the Astros and Cubs).
The Royals far and away are statistically the worst team in baseball in drawing walks, averaging just over two a game. Alcides Escobar, a leadoff hitter who is supposed to set the table, finally has reached double figures for the season with 10 walks. Salvador Perez, who probably swings at more bad pitches than anybody in baseball, has five and Omar Infante is the grand prize winner with just three. THREE! It’s no wonder all three have a horrible on-base percentage.
It’s not just that trio. Alex Rios, who is looking more and more like a bust of a free-agent signing, is right there with them. Eric Hosmer is one of the big teases in baseball as it’s hard to imagine somebody that big and strong, and who comes out of his shoes on every swing, can have just eight home runs, most of those coming early. It’s all-or-nothing with Hosmer, who I have a feeling is hard-headed in his approach, something you can’t have from your cleanup hitter.
The Royals have been able to hold on to first place due to their ability to get leads after six innings and then have the bullpen close it out. But even the relievers are starting to wobble, as Kelvin Herrera blew a game the other night and Greg Holland gave up a run last night to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead. Even Wade Davis, who used to come in and blow the side away in 1-2-3 fashion, has had some bumps in the road, though he’s still allowed only one run all year.
This is an important weekend for the Royals. After their feeble effort against the Twins on Thursday, they really need to win at least two of the last three for a split. Minnesota is hanging around and not going away despite what the so-called experts are saying. And I keep saying this, watch out for Cleveland, which has sliced four games off its deficit with four straight wins while the Royals were losing four in a row.