August 19, 2005
Nothing Royal About It
James Click analyzed the Royals' 18-game losing streak yesterday in his column, which is, as most of James' work is, a must-read.
Running at the skein from a slightly different angle, it's worth noting that the Royals have lost in just about every way imaginable during the 18 games. They've been blown out (16-1 and 11-0 by the A's, 11-3 and 11-5 by the Mariners); they've lost squeakers (1-0 to the Tigers, 5-4 to the A's, 4-3 to the Mariners); they've blown early leads (5-0 in the second over the Devil Rays, 5-0 in the third over the Red Sox) and late ones (4-3 over the A's in the eighth, 4-3 over the Sox in the seventh, 2-0 over the Indians in the seventh).
My personal favorite is the first game of Sunday's doubleheader against the Tigers. The Royals bounced back from deficits of 5-1 to tie the game at five, gave up two runs but tied it up again at seven, and went into the bottom of the eighth deadlocked. Angel Berroa led off the bottom of the eighth with a single, but was thrown out at second base trying to stretch the hit. That's a horrible baserunning play, par for the course for Berroa, who may be the worst decision-maker on the bases in the game.
The Royals were still tied in the top of the ninth, with two outs and an 0-2 count on Vance Wilson, who entered the game batting .151/.253/.198, but had already dinged the Royals for a single and a homer. Wilson battled back and poked his third hit of the game--just his 16th of the season--then scored on Omar Infante's (.231/.270/.392 at the time) pinch-hit double. I'm not sure whether it was less likely that Infante would drive in a runner from first or Wilson would score from first on a ball in play, but I figure having the exacta would have paid pretty well.
In 20 minutes, the Royals had displayed nearly every characteristic of a terrible baseball team, all adding up to loss #14.
Losing 18 in a row is enough to make even the most loyal subjects look around for a train out of the kingdom. What's really scary is that the Royals have a very realistic chance to set the modern record for consecutive losses (23, by the '61 Phillies). They travel to Oakland this weekend, where the A's are 38-24 this year, vs. the Royals' 15-44 road record. They will face the A's top two starters, Rich Harden and Barry Zito in the first two games, making it very likely that they'll reach 20 losses in a row. Sunday's matchup of Runelvys Hernandez and Joe Blanton is the Royals' best chance to stop the streak this weekend.
If they don't, they get to go home…but to face the Red Sox, who scored 25 runs against them in games five through seven of the streak. They'd get to face David Wells in the first game, which could be a break: Wells has an ERA of 6.48 this month, and a 5.76 mark away from Fenway Park. If the streak is at 21, Wells against Zack Greinke at home will be as good a matchup as they're going to see in the next 10 days. After that, they get two of the Sox' better starters, then a three-game series against the Yankees in New York.
The Royals' next nine games are against three of the top five teams in the AL, six of them on the road. They're 0-6 against the A's and Sox this year, 3-0 against the Yankees (one of the more random series of the season). Not only is a record losing streak possible, it's probable.
Beyond the issue of the streak, there's the problem of just how the Royals got here. This is barely a major-league roster, with waiver bait and minor-league talent taking 75-80% of the playing time. That's directly attributable to Allard Baird and David Glass, who have failed at their jobs for five years.
Glass made his money running Wal-Mart, where the profits come from driving down the costs of production, especially labor. He's taken that same tack as Royals' owner, worrying less about investing in his product and more about being on the front lines in the industry's labor battles. You cannot win with that mindset in baseball, where the labor is the product, and his inability to shift gears has driven a once-proud franchise into the depths.
We can pick apart Baird's record, but the fact is that until Glass sells the Royals, they're going to be a permanent member--perhaps the only permanent member--of baseball's underclass.