Weary Royals now must focus on staying over .500


KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
Five observations on the current state of the Royals.
 
CHANGING GOALS

Royals skipper Ned Yost was as down as we’ve seen him following the 4-3, extra-inning loss to the White Sox on Thursday night.
 
That completed a sweep for the White Sox and gave the Royals their fifth straight loss, so it’s no wonder Yost was in a deflated mood. The rest of the team is pretty spent, too.
 
The realization is sinking in fast that the playoffs really aren’t an option anymore. The Royals are 9½ games back in the AL Central, and seven out of the wild card, with three teams to leapfrog before they could even set their sights on Oakland.
 
Royals players are saying all the right things this week — they can still go on a hot streak and get back in it, there’s plenty of time left, etc., etc., etc. But deep down, they know the math, too. There are only 36 games left, and realistically, the Royals would have to get to at least 90 wins to win that second wild card.
 
That means the Royals would have to go 26-10 the rest of the way. Yikes. Now, we know they’re capable of going 19-5 — they just did that, so nothing is impossible.
 
But the more realistic goal for this group is to focus on staying above .500 for the first time in 10 years. And hey, if they get sizzling hot again, then we can resume discussion of the playoffs.
 
GROWN MEN

Yost, looking frustrated and exhausted, was asked after Thursday’s loss how his troops could pull themselves out of this 2-8 funk.
 
Yost responded by saying, “Well, they’re grown men. They have to pull themselves out.”
 
Clearly, Yost is tired of trying to coddle his players, who have been unable to reach deep enough to will themselves to some wins, even against lowly competition such as the White Sox. And that’s what is gnawing at Yost the most — that he doesn’t have a player or two or three (except for Eric Hosmer) who can step up and carry the team through hard times.
 
NO CLUTCH HITTING

Perhaps the most amazing, and distressing, statistic of the season has propped itself up in the last 10 games: The Royals have come up with runners in scoring position 85 times during this stretch, and yet have only 11 hits in those situations — eleven.
 
That comes to a staggering .129 average with RISP.
 
“That’s been our problem all season,” Yost said earlier in the day. “When we go in slumps, it’s not just one or two or three guys. It’s the whole team. You don’t see that very often.”
 
TIRED GROUP?

My theory earlier in the season was that the number of low-scoring, high-stress, high-leverage games was eventually going to take its toll on the Royals mentally.
 
That seems to be coming true. The Royals’ hitters look tired and out of gas. They’re not pressing — they’re just simply out of energy.
 
You can see that from their abandoned discipline at the plate. In the last 10 days, they are hacking away at first pitches, flinging wildly at pitches in the dirt and swatting at pitches over their heads. As a result, they are constantly letting opposing pitchers off the hook.
 
Thursday night, White Sox lefty David Purcey walked Jamey Carroll to start the bottom of the 11th inning. Purcey then hit Alex Gordon in the shoulder, pushing the winning run to second.
 
Clearly, Purcey had no command and he now likely was feeling the pressure of losing the game simply by walking two more hitters. But incredibly, the next hitter, Hosmer, went after the first pitch, a slider low and away and nearly in the dirt. Hosmer flied weakly to short left and didn’t even advance the runners.
 
Sal Perez followed with a weak swing on another low slider and hit a routine grounder to shortstop for a double play.
 
The lack of discipline often comes from lack of energy. The Royals simply have had too many high-stress games because of the lack of offense.
 
They have been involved in 44 one-run games and have scored four runs or less an amazing 86 times. When you score less than five runs that many times, and you have a staff that has given up the fewest runs in the league, the result is a whole lot of low-scoring, high-stress games.
 
GREAT BULLPEN WORK

It’s easy to tag Thursday’s loss on the bullpen and Luke Hochevar, who gave up the winning home run in the 12th to Conor Gillaspie. But that would be totally unfair.
 
Hochevar was mostly overpowering, striking out four of the seven hitters he faced. He simply made one mistake — a curveball that caught too much of the plate that Danks nailed, though the ball barely cleared the right-field wall.
 
Before Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera threw a nine-pitch (all strikes), 1-2-3 eighth inning. Greg Holland fired a scoreless ninth, and Aaron Crow turned in a scoreless 10th.
 
As has been the case all season, the Royals have leaned heavily on the bullpen, just waiting for anyone on the offensive side to step up and win games.
 
It just hasn’t happened enough.
 
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.