KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Five observations following the Royals’ 8-4 loss to the Yankees on Thursday …
BACK TO WORK
How quickly the expectations have changed on this Royals road trip. After the Royals took the first two games from the Yankees, Royals fans no doubt were dreaming of a sweep of the Yankees and possibly winning five or six games on this trip.
But a horrific Wade Davis start on Wednesday resulted in a blowout loss.
Still, when the Royals jumped to a 4-1 lead Thursday with Ervin Santana on the mound, the mood shifted to thinking the Royals could at least take three of four from the Yankees, crawl within a game of .500 and head to Cleveland with all kinds of momentum.
Santana struggled throughout and the Royals fell again, 8-4.
Now the Royals must roll up their sleeves and get back to work with the upcoming three-game series at Cleveland before they hit the All-Star break.
Winning two of three is almost mandatory. A sweep obviously would be fabulous and recreate the upbeat feeling Royals fans had after taking the first two in New York. But taking at least two would mean a winning road trip and also make the Royals feel like they are inching closer to relevancy in the American League Central.
It was bound to happen — a bad start from Ervin “Magic” Santana.
Thursday marked the first time this season Santana did not pitch at least six innings, a 17-start streak that was the longest in the major leagues.
Still, of some concern: After walking only 13 hitters in his first 13 starts this season, Santana now has walked 14 in his last five.
Santana looked tired, physically and mentally, and it would appear the All-Star break is coming at a perfect time for him.
While the Royals obviously are concerned about Davis’ dreadful start Wednesday (eight runs allowed, pushing his ERA to 5.89), they now anxiously wait to see if they get a lift from left-hander Bruce Chen on Friday night.
Chen, after starting the season in the bullpen, takes over for Luis Mendoza in the rotation, and the Royals desperately need some stability behind top three starters James Shields, Santana and Jeremy Guthrie if they are to be a factor in the second half.
Davis probably will have a long leash as the Royals try to determine just what they have with him as a starter after acquiring him from Tampa. Chen will get a decent look again as the fifth starter. But in the case of both Davis and Chen, the Royals can’t afford to endure too many rough starts before they turn elsewhere for answers.
Did it seem as if the ball was not carrying very well Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium?
Johnny Giavotella hit what he seemed to think was a home run to left in the sixth inning — but the ball was caught in front of the wall. Also in the sixth, Alex Gordon pounded a ball to deep center and posed for a minute at the plate as if the ball was gone — and it was caught by Ichiro Suzuki at the 408-foot sign.
And Billy Butler smashed a high drive to deep right-center in the seventh that he posed on for a second — that, too, was caught in front of the wall. In the ninth, Butler again crushed a ball to center field that Suzuki hauled in at the track, leaving Butler with a puzzled look as he headed back to the dugout.
THE ESCOBAR DEBATE
Royals manager Ned Yost continues to insert Alcides Escobar in the No. 2 spot, a debatable move that hasn’t paid off and has many in the Royals’ fan base angered.
Thursday, Escobar did get two hits — just his second multi-hit game since being inserted into the second spot June 23.
Escobar is hitting just .241 in the No. 2 spot with a .279 on-base percentage.
Worse yet, leadoff hitter Alex Gordon has walked 12 times and been intentionally walked three more times during Escobar’s recent stint as the No. 2 hitter. Opponents clearly are pitching around Gordon.
Hitting ninth this year, Escobar has a .298 average, a .327 on-base percentage and a .426 slugging percentage.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at email@example.com.