The KC Royals haven’t occupied a position higher than next-to-last place in the American League Central since April 29. That’s when their 7-11 record was actually good enough for second.
Such a dismal circumstance explains much about why the Royals arrived in Minnesota earlier this week reduced to potential spoilers—before meeting Kansas City in Tuesday night’s series opener, the Twins trailed first place Cleveland by five games and were nine games behind in the Wild Card race and Chicago was three games behind the Guardians. The Royals also have three games left with Seattle, which won’t catch Houston in the AL West but was tied with Toronto for the Wild Card lead entering Tuesday. Kansas City plays six with the Guardians to conclude the season.
But after the last three evenings at Minnesota’s Target Field, and while several players still have shots at good individual marks, the Royals as a team seem wholly unsuited to act as spoilers. Swept by the Twins, Kansas City hardly looks like a threat to anyone, much less contenders.
What happened in Minnesota to cast considerable doubt on Kansas City’s spoiler credentials?
The KC Royals couldn’t muster any significant offense against Minnesota.
A bad series for Kansas City started Tuesday evening when Joe Ryan, who’d beaten the Royals three times already this season, held them hitless and struck out nine through seven innings before Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli, obviously concerned with his starter’s high pitch count (106), chose not to let him finish. Although Kansas City couldn’t touch reliever Jovani Moran in the eighth, they came to life in the ninth and scored three, but lost 6-3.
Sonny Gray’s chance to throttle the Royals came Wednesday night, and throttle them he did. Gray fanned eight and allowed Kansas City only three hits before leaving after the seventh. The Twins’ bullpen held and they won 4-0.
The Royals’ offense sputtered again Thursday—Salvador Perez’s 21st homer and Michael A. Taylor’s RBI single generated their club’s only runs and, despite good pitching from starter Daniel Lynch, who struck out eight, and relievers Collin Snider and Dylan Coleman, Minnesota won 3-2 to complete its sweep and put the Royals 30 games below .500; the Twins’ wins enabled them to gain a full game on the Guardians and 1.5 games in the Wild Card competition.
The KC Royals won’t spoil anyone’s 2022 playoff hopes if they can’t hit.
That the Royals didn’t hit Minnesota well this week isn’t surprising—not a particularly threatening club, they’re 4-12 and scoring an average of 2.8 runs against the Twins this season.
And their numbers against Seattle and Cleveland aren’t great. They’re 0-3 with 12 runs scored against the Mariners, and 5-8 with a 2.9 runs per game average against the Guardians.
To make matters worse, Kansas City is averaging only 2.2 runs per game against all opponents this month. Theirs is not, at least so far, the kind of late season offense that’s likely to derail, head-to-head, any club’s playoff chances.
Simply put, how quiet this team’s bats were in Minnesota is consistent with the offensive ineptitude it’s suffered most of the season.
Where do contenders who’ll play the KC Royals stand heading into the weekend?
As of end of play Thursday night, the Mariners, who Kansas City hosts for three games next weekend, have won six of their last 10 and, despite trailing AL West leader Houston by 13 games, are tied with Toronto in the race for three Wild Cards. They have four games with the Angels and three with the A’s, so should be in the thick of things when the open their series with the Royals a week from today.
Cleveland, winners of eight of their last 10, now lead Chicago by three games and Minnesota by four; the Twins are 7.5 games back in the AL Wild Card race and have three games left with the Royals. (Chicago, who KC won’t face again this year, is 6.5 behind in the Wild Card run).
To make a difference in the playoff picture, Kansas City needs its bats to heat up for the rest of the campaign.
Don’t count on it happening.
Game time for tonight’s series opener at Fenway Park is 6:10 p.m. CDT.