No matter how today’s game against the Tigers turns out, the KC Royals will head to Houston when it’s over still stuck in the American Central basement.
It didn’t have to be that way. The Royals arrived in Detroit with a chance, albeit small, to escape last place. They had to sweep the Tigers, an improbable task made possible by their hosts’ own season-long struggles: Detroit was just two games ahead of Kansas City at first pitch Friday night. And when the Royals beat their hosts and then took a 3-2 lead to the bottom of the ninth as late-day shadows began overtaking Comerica Park Saturday, a sweep was suddenly realistic.
But two straight one-out Joel Payamps pitches, the first a too-inviting fast ball to Victor Reyes, the second another fast one to rookie Riley Greene, snuffed out any hopes the Royals had of climbing a smidge in the standings. Both left the yard and, just minutes after Payamps had retired Detroit in order in the eighth, he and Kansas City were walked off 4-3.
Now, even if they win today, the Royals will still trail the Tigers by a game.
And that’s not an ideal position in which to be when they arrive in Houston for a July 4th contest followed by games Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
First, though, how did Kansas City managed to boot Saturday’s game?
Saturday’s contest was one the KC Royals came oh so close to winning.
That the Royals lost yesterday is more heartbreaking than it is surprising. After all, Kansas City was 19 games under .500 (28-47) when the day dawned, so losing seemed more likely than winning.
But the Royals uncharacteristically jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning—yes, the first inning—and held it, primarily through certainly passable pitching from starter Kris Bubic and even better (and scoreless) efforts from relievers Jose Cuas, Amir Garrett and newcomer Wyatt Mills, who made his first appearance since arriving via the Carlos Santana trade earlier in the week.
Manager Mike Matheny chose Payamps, just back from a stint on the Injured List, for the eighth inning, presumably because he handled Detroit so easily and closer Scott Barlow had thrown 1.1 innings in saving Friday night’s 3-1 win, then dispatched the usually reliable righty back out for the ninth.
The strategy didn’t work. Payamps struck out Spencer Torkelson but then surrendered the homers to Reyes and Greene. To add insult to injury, Greene’s was his first as a big leaguer.
The loss evened the series at a game apiece and left Kansas City two games behind the Tigers.
Four games with Houston could deepen the hole the KC Royals have dug.
Now 20 games below .500 and for all practical purposes out of postseason hopes, Kansas City heads for tougher territory after today’s game. Those four contests in Houston loom large—the Astros are doing what they so often do, winning most of their games as they threaten to run away with the AL West. Winners of 15 of their last 18 and 23 games above .500 (50-27) entering their tilt today with the Angels, they lead their division by 12.5 games.
Beating a club so much better than itself even once will be a formidable task for Kansas City. The Royals lost two out of three to the Astros earlier this season and, despite showing some recent improvement—they’ve won eight of their last 15—they don’t have the kind of offensive mettle and consistent pitching to make taking a series from Houston likely.
Teams frequently reel for a time from the kind of crushing defeat the Royals suffered Saturday. Losing to Detroit today could make the rest of this road trip even harder than it promised to be.
Today’s game in Detroit begins at 11:05 a.m. CDT. Kansas City’s Brady Singer is slated to face Tarik Skubal.