KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Five observations on the current state of the Royals:
After the hugely disappointing home series against the Marlins in which the Royals lost two of three, the feeling here was the Royals had to win three of five in Detroit to make a statement, or at least two to stay on the edge of the conversation for a playoff spot.
The Royals did the latter. But, oh, it could have been so much more.
Saturday’s crushing walk-off loss to the Tigers so far is the signature game of the season. The Royals fought back from 3-0, 4-3 and 5-4 deficits and had a chance to bust the game open in the eighth inning but failed to do so. More on that later.
But if the Royals had won Saturday’s game — and they should have — they would have taken the series with Detroit and put some doubt in the Tigers’ minds. Instead, the Royals fall to 8½ games behind Detroit in the Central and six behind Oakland in the wild card.
Losing Saturday’s game was not only disappointing to the fan base, it no doubt deflated the Royals for Sunday’s game against Tigers starter Max Scherzer. Beating Scherzer requires patience at the plate and plenty of energy to battle him. The Royals had neither.
It might have been a different story had the Royals won the night before. They might have had a little more pick-me-up in their step, and certainly a lot more confidence.
Saturday’s loss was still on the minds of Royals players after Sunday’s defeat.
“We had the game (Saturday) night,” designated hitter Billy Butler told The Kansas City Star after Sunday’s loss. “I had plenty of chances. The series could have gone the other way based on that one game.”
Yep. Now the Royals must regroup and go on another improbable tear, starting with this homestand, which features three games each against the White Sox and Nationals, and a makeup game against the Rays.
The Royals certainly could make another move in the standings. After this homestand they have 10 games against the Twins, Blue Jays and Mariners, all of whom are playing for nothing.
What made the loss Saturday night so frustrating — as frustrating as any all season — is that the Royals had a chance to blow the game open in the eighth.
After pulling back even, 5-5, the Royals had runners on second and third and none out for David Lough. This is where many fans and observers probably thought manager Ned Yost might put on a play — a suicide squeeze or at least a safety squeeze directed toward hobbling Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
The Royals had good speed on the bases — Chris Getz on third and Alcides Escobar on second. But the Royals played it straight and it cost them. Lough popped out. After the Tigers intentionally walked Eric Hosmer, Butler fisted a soft liner to third for the second out. And slumping Alex Gordon grounded out.
Actually, it was surprising the Royals didn’t challenge Cabrera at third the whole series. (Radio announcer Ryan Lefebvre mentioned the same thing Sunday.) Cabrera is basically playing on one leg, but the Royals didn’t bunt his way at all during the five-game set.
It also was curious why the Royals didn’t pinch-run for catcher Sal Perez, who led off the ninth with a walk. Tigers catchers did not throw out a single runner in the series (and weren’t even close). The Royals had speedy Jarrod Dyson on the bench, who surely could have stolen second (maybe even third).
Instead, the Royals went the sacrifice bunt route with Jamey Carroll. But Emilio Bonifacio and Getz couldn’t get Perez in.
The Royals also surprisingly pitched to Cabrera in the bottom of the ninth, although, to be fair, the “book” dictates that you never put the winning run on base. Cabrera, though, promptly homered to end the game.
We certainly know where Mike Moustakas’ heart is: Moustakas showed how badly he wants to help the Royals win by managing to play in Saturday’s game despite his strained left calf muscle.
Moose limped his way around the field all night but played solidly at third base and also contributed two hits.
That, my friends, is an old-school gamer. Moose was given Sunday off, and with today’s off-day and with the White Sox starting a left-hander Tuesday, he likely won’t start again until Wednesday.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR DUFFY
Left-hander Danny Duffy, after his season-saving six-inning shutout Friday afternoon, was optioned back to Triple-A Omaha, though he stayed with the team to throw his next bullpen session today.
It appeared from Yost’s comments that Duffy would not be recalled until the September call-ups.
But the guess here is that Royals management is huddling over that very issue right now. Starter Wade Davis (5.43 ERA) was rocked in Detroit and at this point of the Royals’ playoff push, it seems unlikely they can tolerate any more horrific starts from the shakiest spot in their rotation.
I suggested when Lorenzo Cain was put on the disabled list over a week ago with an oblique strain that he likely would be gone until mid-September. And that would appear to be the case. Cain is still having pain when performing simple daily functions, as in breathing.
Expect to see a lot more out of Justin Maxwell, who missed the final three games of the Tigers series to attend his grandmother’s funeral. Maxwell provides the kind of much-needed pop in the lineup the Royals don’t get from Lough or Dyson.
Of course, the Royals hope Maxwell’s defense improves. He whiffed on several plays during the last homestand. And actually, outfield defense has been a major issue lately. Dyson committed a two-base error last week against the Marlins and misplayed a Cabrera short fly in Detroit, and Lough misplayed two fly balls Sunday.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.