On May 3rd, Jeff Francoeur hit a game-winning sacrifice fly in the 10th inning and the Royals beat the Orioles 6-5 at Kauffman Stadium. It was the team’s fourth win in a row and bumped the team’s record up to 16-13.
After having weathered a recent six game losing streak and seeing their record drop below .500 for the first time in the young season, the Royals promptly swept Minnesota and took game one from the Orioles.
Since that day, the Royals have endured losing streaks of 5, 5, 3, 4, and are in the middle of another 6-game losing streak.
I can’t help but feel like this is a potential fork in the road of the 2011 season. It makes me wonder if the team will right the ship and get back on track or if they will allow the six game streak bleed into 7…or 8…or 10 games.
Over the past several years, those streaks have been the ones that sent the Royals to the basement of the AL Central on the express elevator.
In 2009, the boys in blue were nine games under .500 when a ten game losing streak in July dropped them into last place in the division. Emcompassing the 10 game streak were losses in 13 out of 15 games.
In 2008, a 12 game losing streak.
In 2006, 13 games.
In 2005, 19 games.
Yes, these streaks are terrible, but almost more concerning is the lack of the flip-side – the winning streak.
In the time since that four game winning streak back in May the Royals have not won more than two games in a row. During that stretch, the team has endured five losing streaks of three or more games.
Last year, the team never won more than three games in a row. Their longest losing streak was seven games. It seems to be a trend.
In fact, I had to travel back to 2003 to find a season in which the Royals had a longer winning streak(9) than losing streak(4). It’s interesting to point out that they nine of those four game losing streaks. Each time, they found a way to keep it from getting out of hand. Coincidentally, that was the team’s last winning season.
There is a creeping mentality switch that comes with losing consecutive games. Individuals try different things – personal superstitions. They stop shaving, start wearing their pants differently, chew different bubble gum.
Managers start shuffling lineups – as we saw earlier this week.
As a team starts to slip further, more desperate measures come in the form of players-only meetings or curious roster moves. In the clubhouse or during interviews, people do anything to avoid talking about the team’s slump.
I believe the key to avoiding a losing streak of this nature is consistency. In baseball, with such a long season, it means never being too high or too low. 162 games is a haul and a good May does not guarantee you a trip to the playoffs. Recently, we’ve seen this team battle, but lose games late. Games they were winning earlier this season. It’s as fine as an error here, a missed double-play, or a pitch in the wrong location.
Good teams will go on winning streaks but will rarely find themselves in the middle of long losing streaks. This is because of effective leadership, good morale, and solid, consistent, play on the field.
We watched the Minnesota Twins come to life over the past couple of weeks, winning nine games in a row and leap-frogging over the Royals to climb out of last place. Injuries have destroyed them this season, robbing them of their consistent lineup and performance.
So which direction will this team go? The stadium is full this weekend, so it seems to me like it would be a great opportunity to win a couple of games at home before heading back out on the road. It’s time to see what the 2011 Royals want their legacy to be.