Bullpen arms can’t throw a strike, spit up the lead in distasteful 4-3 loss

While the Royals' bullpen struggled in relief, Jason Vargas made his third straight outstanding start and left Sunday's game with a 3-2 lead.

Brad Rempel

I won’t say this is how bad teams throw away games, but this certainly is how struggling teams give away games.

After a rare and remarkable three-run rally from the Royals’ pitiful offense gave them a 3-2 lead in the eighth ining, the Royals’ struggling bullpen immediately coughed up the lead.

And what has to be frustrating for manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland is the approach of their setup men. Aaron Crow and Wade Davis each came into the game with completely passive approaches.

Crow, just like at the end of last year, simply can’t throw strikes when he needs to. He fell behind the first hitter 3-1 and eventually walked the first two hitters he faced. The rest was predictable — the Twins rallied for two runs after Davis, who relieved Crow, also walked a hitter and then threw away a routine grounder back to the mound for an error that gave the Twins the lead.

That was enough for a distasteful 4-3 loss and a sweep at the hands of the Twins.

3 UP

— Escobar bunting. In 2012 when Alcides Escobar hit .293, he had 11 bunt singles. He had two bunt singles Sunday, the second of which helped the Royals rally for three runs to take the lead. The Royals practically have been begging Esky to bunt more, and maybe he finally is listening.

— Hosmer in the clutch. On the subject of begging, the Royals and their fans have been praying for someone — anyone — to come through in the clutch. And finally that man was Eric Hosmer, who in the eighth inning, with the lead run on second and two outs, blasted an RBI double over the center fielder’s head.

— Vargas continues to deal. Jason Vargas has been everything that general manager Dayton Moore had hoped for when he signed him to a four-year deal. Vargas stymied the Twins through six shutout innings before allowing a two-run homer to Josmil Pinto in the seventh inning. But it was Vargas’ third straight outstanding start and he left with a 3-2 lead.

3 DOWN

— Oh, my, Aaron Crow. Crow, who struggled mightily with his command toward the end of last season and eventually lost his job as a setup man, had a chance to redeem himself Sunday. Yost, still looking for an eighth-inning bridge to closer Greg Holland, gave Crow a crack at it with a 3-2 lead. Crow promptly fell behind the Twins’ worst hitter, Pedro Florimon, 3-1 and eventually walked him. Worse yet, Crow then walked the next hitter, Brian Dozier, before Yost yanked him for Davis. Just a terrible outing and approach from Crow.

Oh, my, Wade Davis. Davis was only slightly better than Crow. Davis made a great pitch to strike out Joe Mauer in the eighth inning, getting him to swing at a high slider with two runners on and none out. But Davis then walked the next hitter — can we please throw strikes? — to load the bases. Then Davis got what he needed — a grounder back to the mound from pinch-hitter Chris Hermann that looked to be a sure 1-2-3 double play. But Davis hurried his throw home and threw wildly for an error, allowing the tying run to score. Davis then also forgot to cover home on the play, allowing another runner to score all the way from second base. Just extremely poor baseball.

— The meat of the order. The Royals’ struggling offense actually starts at the top. When Omar Infante singled in the fifth inning, it snapped a string of 0 for 36 for the Royals’ top four hitters. Here’s another depressing stat — the Royals’ 3-4-5 hitters have already grounded into 10 double plays this season.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.