Royals struggle to generate offense as lead in Central dwindles
On fire for almost the entire month of August, the Royals now find themselves trending in the wrong direction after a 6-1 loss to the Indians on Friday night.
Josh Willingham and the Royals are only a half game up on the Tigers in the AL Central.
Charlie Riedel / AP
By Jeffrey Flanagan
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The dreaded cold spell that was bound to be set on the Royals seems to have arrived.
The Royals, after a torrid streak in late July and most of August that catapulted them into first place in the American League Central, now have dropped four of six this week after a 6-1 loss to the dangerous Cleveland Indians on Friday.
The Royals' lead in the Central dropped to a half game over Detroit -- and their lead over third-place Cleveland was shortened to 4 1/2 games.
An enthusiastic crowd of 31,341 fans provided plenty of energy in an attempt to jump-start the Kansas City offense -- exactly what manager Ned Yost pleaded for earlier this week.
But the Royals' offense simply didn't respond, at least not until the ninth when three straight hits pushed across the only run.
"It was a great crowd," Yost said. "They had a lot of energy. The problem was that we didn't give them anything to cheer about."
Jason Vargas started for the Royals and didn't pitch horribly, but he could not escape a strange third inning in which the Indians capitalized on a bunt, an error, an infield single and a soft flare to right field to push across three decisive runs. Vargas went six innings and gave up 10 hits and four runs.
Alex Gordon, the walk-off homer hero earlier this week, came up twice with two on and two out and the crowd frenzied for a rally in the fifth and seventh innings. But each time Gordon grounded out to second, right into the teeth of the shift.
Then in the ninth, when the Royals started to stir a little, Gordon struck out with two on and one out.
-- Esky in the two spot. Normally, Alcides Escobar is a dreadful hitter in the No. 2 spot. But Esky swung the bat extremely well Friday. He lined out his first time up, then had four straight singles but was stranded each time. "Esky had a great game," Yost said.
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-- Cain swings well. Lorenzo Cain also took some good hacks. Cain grounded a hard single to left his first time up, then lined out to deep center, and then hit a rocket right at the third baseman.
-- Moose flashes the leather. Third baseman Mike Moustakas showed off why he's still the Royals' best option at third base when he made two incredible defensive plays in the fifth. On a slow roller from Cleveland's Jose Ramirez, Moose came charging hard, snared the ball with his bare hand and rifled a throw just in time to get the speedy Ramirez. Three batters later, Jason Kipnis bounced a grounder off Vargas' glove and it ricocheted over to Moose, who again had to make a barehanded grab and throw. He got Kipnis at first by inches.
-- Bad no call. Not that long ago, Escobar got called out on what would have been a bunt single when he was ruled to have gone inside the baseline at first base. Well, Cleveland's Tyler Holt did the same thing Friday on his bunt to start the third inning, and when Vargas' throw went in the dirt near the baseline, first baseman Billy Butler couldn't scoop it. If Butler had tried, he would have gotten run over. The ball scooted down the right-field line and Holt took second. The play is not reviewable, but it was surprising that Yost didn't give the umpires an earful. That play led to a three-run inning that turned the game for good. Yost thought, too, that Holt was in the baseline, noting that the call against Escobar weeks ago "wasn't even that close. But there's nothing we can do. Not reviewable." Butler added, "Judgment call, I guess. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don't."
-- Soft runs. The Royals hit five lineouts in the first six innings. The Tribe didn't really hit a ball hard in that third inning, yet plated three runs. The Tribe got a controversial bunt single, a throwing error, a single to left, an infield dribbler that went for a hit and a lob shot by Carlos Santana to right-center that stopped still in the grass. The third run of the inning came home on an RBI groundout.
-- Billy's misplay. It didn't hurt in the big scheme of things, but Butler made a bit of a boo-boo in the fourth with a runner on first and one out. Lonnie Chisenhall hit a soft grounder to Butler, who was about eight feet from the bag. Butler looked toward second and then nonchalantly started to step toward first. But Chisenhall beat him easily to the bag, and it was obvious Butler was embarrassed by the slowness to which he reacted to the whole play. "I shouldn't have even looked at second," Butler said.