The KC Royals lost their 33rd game of the season Saturday afternoon, allowing Oakland to trample them 11-2 in a game as dismal as the 2021 season could soon become.
The loss was the Royals’ seventh in eight games—only Friday night’s win that snapped a five-game losing streak prevents the club from approaching the 11-game skid it ended in mid-May.
That the Royals lost Saturday isn’t surprising. The A’s are simply a better team—they’ve led the American League West for all but one day since April 20—and played like it. And Kansas City performed like the unsettled team it became after those 11 straight losses cost them first place in the AL Central.
This is, after all, a club with an inconsistent and unreliable rotation whose best two starters are a veteran (Mike Minor) sure to attract July trade deadline suitors, and another (Danny Duffy) who hasn’t pitched in weeks. The offense is too often deafeningly quiet and boasts only two regulars (Andrew Benintendi and Salvador Perez) hitting at least .280. And it was starting pitching and soft bats that made the difference Saturday.
In fact, this game was lost after only two innings. Making his second big league start, Jackson Kowar pitched much like he did in his first—control and command evaded him, he left too many pitches in the middle, and he departed early. Unlike Monday, when he justifiably didn’t let Kowar finish the first inning, Manager Mike Matheny allowed the rookie to finish another shaky first before pulling him after he gave up his fourth run (one more than the A’s needed) with one out in the second.
A too-familiar lack of offense had much to do with the KC Royals’ loss.
Those four runs certainly weren’t insurmountable—four scored so early usually aren’t—but the Royals made them so by leaving the bases loaded in the third and fourth frames, and not scoring at all until Kelvin Gutierrez hit a two-run homer in the eighth. They managed only five hits, none of which came with runners in scoring position. Kansas City’s first four hitters—Whit Merrifield, Carlos Santana, Andrew Benintendi and Salvador Perez—went a combined 1-for-16 (Santana had a single).
Was Oakland starter James Kaprielian, who held KC to two hits and struck out seven in six shutout innings, that good? He pitched well but not brilliantly, giving up four walks, a number not typically associated with brilliance. The Royals’ inability to damage Kaprielian was too much like the offensive ineptitude they’ve displayed against lesser hurlers to give him full credit. They swung at bad pitches, too many pressed at the plate, and several seemed to prefer home run swings to simply making contact.
And although it made no difference in the outcome, Wade Davis’ performance reflected the kind of day it was for the KC Royals. Handed a clean eighth inning by Matheny, Davis gave up five straight hits (including two home runs) and a walk before retiring the last three hitters. Davis made an already strong case against retaining him even stronger—his ERA is now 8.34.
With Saturday’s loss, the KC Royals are closing in on dangerous territory.
Kansas City started this week-long road trip a game over .500, six games behind first place Chicago in the AL Central, and three games out of the early Wild Card race. But they arrived in Oakland needing wins after dropping three straight to the Angels and, after a Thursday win and losses Friday and Saturday, are now 30-33, trail the White Sox by 9.5 games, and have dropped 5.5 behind in the Wild Card.
That puts the Royals close to dangerous territory—that gradually growing land inhabited by teams with fading postseason hopes. A KC loss and Chicago win today will put them 10.5 games out of the Division lead—it may be just mid-June, but 10.5 games are extremely difficult to make up, especially for an unsteady club facing Detroit, always a test for KC, and Boston next week before going on the road to play three games each against the Yankees, Texas, and Red Sox.
The longer they wait to stabilize and go on a winning streak or two, the harder the season will get for the Royals. They need a breakout now.
The Royals and Athletics conclude their four-game series this afternoon with Kris Bubic (1-1) going against Chris Bassitt (6-2). First pitch is slated for 3:07 p.m. CDT.