With a regularly demoralizing 7-0 loss to Toronto on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals lost for the 15th time in 18 games, suffered their eighth major league-leading shutout (completed by the worst ERA in the American League) and splatted at 17-37. It made the worst record in MLB and tied for the second most miserable start in franchise history.
Despite any simmering cumulative angst, however, that was yesterday’s news for manager Mike Matheny entering Wednesday with 108 games remaining.
“If I’ve been good at anything, it’s showing up today knowing it’s today,” he said in the dugout before the game. “And getting excited to see these guys doing their thing. And knowing, without a doubt, how much better we are than what we’ve shown. And it is inevitable (they will improve). …
“That’s exactly what I believe, and no one can talk me out of it. I’m grateful for that spirit, and if I could convey anything through this clubhouse, it would be this. Because I hate that there are times when the game steals your joy.
Alas, most of us know that feeling after the Royals right now.
But at least Wednesday was indeed the day of an 8-4 win over Toronto and a reprieve … if not necessarily a reset for a team that has won consecutive games or more only three times all season entering their game Thursday night against Baltimore.
Before anything can become sustainable, after all, it must prove simply repeatable.
The problem is that it’s hard to discern where there’s traction or insurance in what happens over the rest of a season that we think would at least provide a tangible link to a better future. .
Exasperation folded into apathy is the prevailing sentiment among fans, heightened by the fact that many games are both literally and figuratively unreachable for many because of nonsense with Bally Sports.
Especially since it just shouldn’t be like this five years after a rebuild of the now underrated beauty of 2014 and 2015…and hopes of extending that went wrong in 2016 and 2017 for reasons ranging from admirable to unhappy and sick -imagined.
The Royals are stuck between phases of the operation instead of engaging the gears of potential recovery, one that hopes to parallel what Dayton Moore and his team engineered from 2006 to 2015 – a resurgence that relied on a system reconstituted minor league league.
Then as now, the Royals revamped their farming system into one widely considered among the best in the game.
So, as is clearly the case now, it was hard to see what was bubbling while you waited.
Maybe you remember screaming for diet change in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Heck, maybe you were one of those calling for it in 2014…even in the middle of the Wild Card Game vs. Oakland that changed everything.
Perhaps you swore then that you would cherish these two seasons for the rest of your life.
It does not mean what was then will be now.
But that is to say that there are now many reasons for this impasse, and that the architects of this magic should be given the benefit of the doubt to achieve it.
And while the Royals have systems to audit and rewire (why isn’t the young-but-not-so-young pitch showing more consistency now?), not all problems bode well.
Beyond crippling pitching issues, how different would this season be at this point if stars like Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield hadn’t struggled so much early on? Or if Carlos Santana had been productive before his recent outburst, including four hits and a walk on Wednesday
What could have been if Adalberto Mondesi hadn’t been injured again? How much has the COVID-induced 60-game season in 2020 and the lockout of the last offseason distorted the timeline of a team more dependent on development than most?
None of this makes what happened acceptable or acceptable, and we know there is a fine line between reasons and excuses.
This administration has certainly made decisions that were either wrong or counterproductive, and the Royals have a lot to work through if they are to put themselves on the path to a meaningful 2023 and beyond.
This includes the long-term disconnect in pitching development and when the right time will be to maximize trade value for Andrew Benintendi (who will be a free agent at the end of the season) and when, oh when, oh when they feel that prospects Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto and others are set to be called up from Triple-A Omaha.
When the Royals replaced Terry Bradshaw as batting coach a few weeks ago, it was implied the Royals would become more transactional and accountability was paramount. At least from the outside, not much has changed dramatically.
But that also doesn’t mean that nothing is happening in a more granular and subtle way.
It’s not hard to find evidence of hitting performance manager Alex Zumwalt’s impact in his interim role as hitting coach, and the Royals are surely looking to balance pitching development.
They should be able to secure some worthy talent as sellers, at least with Benintendi, before the trade deadline, and we’ll almost certainly see Pasquantino here in a few weeks unless he regresses significantly.
We believe better days are ahead, but only with progress across the board instead of what looks a lot like stagnation. Whoever you want to blame, at some point talented players are meant to come to the surface and perform.
Before they went from bad to worse a few weeks ago, I spoke with Royals chairman John Sherman about several aspects of his franchise and asked him if he should be seen as a patient man .
“Well, patience is a relative term. …he said, laughing. “You have to balance patience with a sense of urgency to get better.”
Even coming from a man who says it’s crucial not to panic, the term “sense of urgency to get better” resonated with me.
It’s unclear how he conveyed what he means by that to Moore, now team president, and general manager JJ Picollo or even Matheny. But keep in mind he promoted Moore and Picollo less than a year ago and extended Matheny’s contract until 2023 in March.
So while everything seems realistic about 2023 at this point, the trick now is to make the rest of this season a core piece of connective tissue instead of hollow garbage.
While this group is much better than what they’ve shown, as Matheny said, there’s still a lot to play for this season…even if it’s in the context of “wait ’til next year.”
While we could all hope that saying “today is the day” will turn out to be true much more often.