When the Royals visited Detroit in April and swept the Tigers in four games, they were riding the highest of highs baseball can bring, a club finding ways to win as one of the best in the Majors.
Less than a month later, the Royals leave Detroit having been swept by the Tigers in three games and searching for answers.
Thursday’s 4-3 loss at Comerica Park was the Royals’ 11th in a row, Kansas City's longest losing streak since it lost 12 from April 11-24, 2012. The test does not stop after leaving Detroit: The Royals will play four games in three days against the White Sox this weekend in Chicago, starting with Friday’s doubleheader.
“It’s impossible to deny the way you feel when you have some compounding losses here,” manager Mike Matheny said. “But the expectation -- and the process -- is the same. Let’s go out, give everything we got, doesn’t matter who we're playing, what kind of streak we’re on. Doesn’t matter where we’re playing. Play the game the right way.
“We were missing one piece, which was the big hit. And that’s how it’s been here for a while. One piece is missing and ends up going in the wrong column.”
The Royals have been blown out, suffered comeback losses, seen a heartbreaking walk-off and been shut out during this losing streak. Twice just this week they’ve rallied late in the game only to lose. On Thursday, the offense scored two runs in the ninth and had the tying run on first base only for Jorge Soler to pop up to second and Andrew Benintendi to strike out swinging.
It was the sixth time that they had runners in scoring position Thursday afternoon; they ended the game 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base.
“When teams go through things like this, and guys are struggling, they’ll try to do more than what they should be,” Benintendi, who had three hits Thursday, said. “I’ve done that before. I did it in my last at-bat [today]. I went and tried to do something I know I can do, but it’s not a very high percentage. I got away from my approach.”
In the sixth inning, the Royals had runners on the corners with one out, but Ryan O’Hearn struck out and Hunter Dozier grounded out to second base. In the eighth, the Royals had runners on first and second with one out, but Dozier -- who hasn’t had a hit in his last 30 at-bats -- and Michael A. Taylor struck out swinging.
“Today we had a chance for damage in the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth for big runs,” Matheny said. “And we needed a big hit.”
The Royals were able to make it close in the ninth because reliever Kris Bubic spun five scoreless innings in relief after lefty Daniel Lynch couldn’t make it out of the third inning. Bubic, who was in the conversation to start one of the doubleheader games on Friday, hasn’t allowed a run in his last 11 2/3 innings. Unfortunately, they’ve all come in losses.
Lynch got through a clean first inning, which was a positive progression from his last start, when he couldn’t get out of the first inning against the White Sox.
But the Tigers jumped on Lynch in the second, and the Royals defense didn’t help out. Miguel Cabrera hit a bloop single down the right-field line that Soler couldn’t get to in time. After Lynch struck out Niko Goodrum looking on a perfectly placed slider, Eric Haase lined a hard-hit double that Soler couldn’t make an overhead catch on. Then Willi Castro singled on a ball that ate Carlos Santana up at first base, causing Soler to have to charge in to field it as one run scored.
JaCoby Jones then hit a single into right that Soler booted, putting Jones on second base. The Tigers scored another run, then two more on a sacrifice fly and an RBI single. Three of the four runs were earned.
“The only one that didn’t look quite right was the double to right field,” Matheny said. “I think [Soler] may have froze or had a little bit of a jump in before he went back that ended up turning into a double.”
Of the seven hits Lynch allowed, four came with two strikes and three of them came with two outs.
“That’s frustrating,” Lynch said. “What you’re trying to do is advance the count and get to two strikes, and it’s not a good count for hitters. They seemed to just be on it, so I don’t know. Maybe catching too much of the zone or being predictable.”