Royals try to stay positive as losses pile up

CHICAGO — Maybe it’s baby steps.

But the Royals felt they finally looked a little more like themselves in yet another loss, this time 3-1 to Chris Sale and the White Sox. Make that four straight for the Royals and seven out of eight.

But this one felt different, they insisted.

"I thought we showed more effort and had way better at-bats against Sale tonight," manager Ned Yost said.

Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie agreed.

"I thought we battled," Guthrie said. "A much better effort tonight against a very tough pitcher. We were right in it."

Still, the losses stockpile. And as first place in the Central and the wild-card spot slip farther from view, the Royals have a new issue: Avoiding last place.

The Royals now are just a game ahead of the White Sox and could fall into fourth if they are swept by Chicago. Worse yet, the Royals are just three games ahead of the last-place Twins.

3 UP

— Guthrie bounces back. After some rough outings, Guthrie rebounded with a quality start and kept his team close.

Guthrie did a great job working out of some messes he created in the first two innings. After already giving up two runs in the first, he induced a double-play ball from Dayan Viciedo. Then, with runners on first and third, he got Alejandro De Aza to ground out. Guthrie again got in trouble in the second and had runners on second and third with one out. He promptly struck out Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu.

In all, Guthrie grinded out six innings, giving up five hits and three runs. His command wasn’t sharp — 101 pitches, 54 strikes — but his willpower was.

"I thought I threw some quality pitches," he said. "Had some bad starts in a row and a bad start tonight, but came back after that. We had a chance."

— Esky, Cain snapping out of funk? Alcides Escobar is having a July to forget — he was hitting .204 with just a .204 on-base percentage this month. But he got two hits Sunday and he ripped a double down the left-field line off Sale. Lorenzo Cain snapped a 0-for-23 skid with a hard double to left.

When the Royals were winning, those two were valuable complementary players. Esky, though, did strike out with two on and two out in the fateful sixth. And then after Mike Moustakas singled with one out in the ninth, Esky rolled into a game-ending double play.

— Hey, gotta try something. Fans were grumbling on Twitter when third-base coach Mike Jirschele sent Danny Valencia home after Esky’s double in the fourth. Valencia was out fairly easily. But hey, when your offense is this dreadful, you have to try to manufacture runs any way you can, and the White Sox have been known to make an errant throw or two. This time, both relay throws were perfect.

"If Danny is just a half-step faster there …" Yost said. "You’re just trying to make something happen."

Valencia looked like he ran out of gas heading toward home plate, but he said after the game, "I just stumbled around second base a little. That was enough."


— The game-changing at-bat. This game turned in the sixth when it looked like the Royals might finally stage a big rally. Sal Perez singled and, with one out, Billy Butler walked. Sale might have been teetering.

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Up came Valencia, who had singled in the Royals’ only run in the fourth. This time, though, Sale consistently threw changeups out of the zone. Valencia saw six pitches, and by conservative counting, five were balls well out of the zone. Valencia swung at three of them, striking out. And the 3-2 pitch was nearly over Valencia’s head. He swung and missed anyway.

"He had been pitching down and he had my eyesight down," Valencia said. "Then he went up and, naturally, you don’t want to swing at that."

Yost would have preferred he didn’t, either. "Of course, not," Yost said. "That’s a pitch way up there and if he walks, we have the bases loaded."

— Once again, missing the clutch hit. At least Valencia came through once with a big two-out RBI hit. Omar Infante, who consistently has been the Royals’ most clutch hitter, had a runner on second with two outs in the third. He flied out. Infante also came up with a runner on second in the fifth with two out. He grounded out. When the Royals sink into these deep slumps, it seems they simply can’t get anyone to come through with the big, big hit.

— A home run? What is that? Hey, anyone out there old enough to remember the Royals’ last home run? Yost couldn’t, either, when I asked him before the game. It actually came eight games ago in the first game of the Detroit series (a 16-4 loss) on July 10. Eric Hosmer homered in the seventh inning. Ah, yes, memories.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at