OAKLAND -- By the time the Royals arrive back in Kansas City following Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the A’s at the Oakland Coliseum, their focus will turn to the next game, the next at-bat, the next pitch.
“Baseball,” catcher Salvador Perez said, “is day by day.”
The Royals went 1-6 this week on the West Coast, getting swept by the Angels and losing three of four to Oakland. They’ve lost eight of their last nine, a stretch of games in which they’ve been outscored 51-24 (-27).
As the Royals hope getting back home can help them right the ship, here are three takeaways from this week in California.
The Royals saw three of their top picks from the 2018 Draft -- Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic -- on the mound this weekend in Oakland. Singer gave the Royals a chance to win Friday, allowing three runs in six innings. But Kowar and Bubic both took the losses.
There have been growing pains with the Royals’ young starters this year, like every club. It’s compounded this week with Kowar -- who hasn’t been able to finish the second inning in either of his two starts -- and Bubic, who has allowed seven homers in 8 2/3 innings over the past two starts. Kowar’s issue on Saturday was command, Bubic’s issue on Sunday was location, as he allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings. The A’s took advantage of middle-middle fastballs and changeups. Before this week, Bubic hadn’t allowed a home run on his changeup all season; he’s now allowed six.
After Bubic struck out leadoff hitter Mark Canha in the bottom of the first with elevated fastballs, he couldn’t get back down in the zone the rest of the game.
“For many young pitchers, it’s a hard thing to learn to be able to elevate and get right back down to what your strength is, which is the bottom,” manager Mike Matheny said. “When he’s down, that’s when his fastball’s effective, that’s when his changeup is effective. But there are times with certain hitters in this league that you can maximize the ability to use the top of the zone. It’s just how many pitches is it going to take you to get back down on top with good angle and plane on the ball.”
This is the balance of a team wanting to contend while also letting their young talent go through the struggles that typically come with adjusting to the Major League level. Adjustments have to be made, and the Royals are confident in their young pitchers to do so.
“I thought my preparation was pretty good for the start,” Bubic, who’s from nearby San Jose, Calif., said. “I had a good plan going in, but it’s just hard. I put myself in spots where it’s just hard to succeed. It’s just a matter of getting back to the basics, getting ahead, and going from there.”
The Royals offense showed signs of life Sunday with homers from Andrew Benintendi and Carlos Santana -- who snapped a 64 at-bat drought without a homer -- but the major issue the Royals have faced this week persisted: Situational hitting. They left eight on and were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position Sunday, and they’ve now hit .162 (7-for-43) with runners in scoring position on this road trip.
Leaving runners on can deflate any offense. In the Royals’ case, it’s intensified by two of the biggest bats in the lineup, Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier, hitting .178 and .160, respectively. There’s more consistency in the small ball of the Royals’ lineup.
“It’s obvious we’re going to be in locked-horns mode, and it’s those one-run innings that mean such a big deal,” Matheny said Thursday. “There are teams that are going to sit around and wait for a big inning instead of trying to manufacture one. And that’s a great philosophy if you’ve got the horses who are going to do that. We’ve got the horses, just not necessarily in a good spot to do that, to sit back and wait for a three-run homer. I think you just evaluate what you have at any particular time.”
On Sunday, two big momentum-shifters went the A’s way: Whit Merrifield struck out looking with the bases loaded in the top of the second inning after Nicky Lopez had pushed a run across, and the Royals lost a replay review when Santana was called out at first in the fifth. It looked like Matt Olson’s foot came off the bag, and it would have put two runners on with no outs.
“I was shocked,” Matheny said. “Two guys on to start the inning, nobody out, I like our chances of making something happen there.”
Home sweet home
The good news about the Royals up and down season so far? They can get hot at any time and make a run out of it. They started the season 16-9, but have also seen an 11-game losing streak and the current 1-8 stretch.
They’ll have a chance to turn it back around against the Tigers this week at Kauffman Stadium, where they are 16-15 this year.
“We still have 100 games [left],” Perez said. “Anything can happen. We just need to keep our mentality positive and keep going. We need to forget about what happened today and concentrate on facing Detroit tomorrow.”