Every team goes through slumps during the course of the season. It is inevitable. A team can be white hot for a couple of weeks, then become the coldest team in baseball right after. With such a long season, there are bound to be plenty of highs and lows, turning the season into a roller coaster of sorts. Unfortunately for the Royals, one of those cold stretches happens to be occurring in the midst of their playoff push.
Owners of a 2.5 game lead after Sunday’s games had wrapped up, the Royals have now dropped to second, a half game behind the Detroit Tigers. In a week where the Royals could have extended their lead, they have instead gone 1-4 heading into tonight’s action, going 1-2 against the Tigers and losing both games to the Boston Red Sox. Yes, the very same Red Sox that are essentially playing a AAA roster have defeated the Royals in all five games they have played this year.
The question needs to be asked as to whether or not this is an unfortunate slump, or is this a matter of the Royals tightening up now that the finish line is in sight. While the Royals do have veteran players who have been through the playoff chase before in Raul Ibanez, James Shields and Omar Infante, the vast majority of this team has not. The Royals are still a young team that is trying to learn how to win.
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The case could easily be made that the Royals inexperience in such situations is rearing it’s ugly head. The Royals defense, which has been one of the best in baseball throughout much of the season, has imploded over the past week, having four games with two or more errors in the past five days. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have each made three errors themselves in that time.
Meanwhile, the Royals hitters have been giving away at bats, chasing pitches and generally getting themselves out. While the Royals are not a team that are synonymous with patience at the plate, they have kept from striking out. Yet, over these past five games, the Royals have struck out 33 times against only twelve walks. That ratio is truly skewed if Tuesday’s results, when the Royals walked five times against eight strikeouts, are removed.
Which is this for the Royals? Is this the unfortunate slump, which can happen given their contact and speed based offense? Is this just a matter of the Royals succumbing to the pressure of a playoff race, given their general unfamiliarity with such things? Given their struggles during any nationally televised games over the past few weeks, it may well be the latter.
The Kansas City Royals have the finish line in sight, where they could end their 28 year run of misery. Instead, the Royals may be setting up an epic collapse, the kind of which would be utterly devastating given the promise of much of the season. Of course, if the Royals can go on a winning streak and take two of three from the Tigers in their next meeting, then this week will just be another chapter in the future Disney movie of the 2014 Royals season.
The Royals need to prove that this moment, and the playoff chase, is not too big for them at this juncture in their development. The next two weeks of baseball are going to be very interesting.