KANSAS CITY -- The Royals began this season knowing they would need to play better in their division if they want to reach their goals in 2021, and this week’s homestand displayed the work they’ll have to do to get there.
Sunday’s 9-3 loss to the White Sox finished off a seven-game homestand at Kauffman Stadium in which the Royals didn’t win once. They were swept in four games by the Indians and swept this weekend by the White Sox, who are considered the team to beat in the American League Central even after injuries to outfielders Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert.
The Royals, meanwhile, fell to below .500 (16-17) for the first time this season after losing all seven games of the homestand.
“We’re not happy, and it’s embarrassing when we don’t play the kind of baseball that we know we can play,” manager Mike Matheny said. “There should be a lot of quiet right now. Because this is something that stings. We take a lot of pride in how we go about our business, and when it doesn’t look like we want it to look, it doesn’t sit right.”
The Royals are now 2-13 against the White Sox in the last year and have lost four of their last five series in that stretch against Chicago, with one split in April. And Kansas City has now lost 10 consecutive games against Chicago at Kauffman Stadium since their last win on July 18, 2019.
Entering Sunday, the Royals had been outscored 49-18 over the past seven games, scoring just 2.6 runs per game while allowing opponents to score seven runs per game. When Whit Merrifield led off the bottom of the first inning with a double and later scored on Salvador Perez’s double play, the Royals had their first lead since the seventh inning Wednesday against the Indians.
That’s the only lead the Royals got on Sunday, and the White Sox made sure they weren’t ahead for long, taking the lead in the top of the second when lefty Mike Minor hit José Abreu, gave up a triple and then walked Andrew Vaughn before a sacrifice fly by Leury García scored the go-ahead run. Minor gave up five runs on four hits in five innings, with seven strikeouts and two walks -- both of which hurt him.
“When you’re struggling overall as a club, those shutdown innings are really important,” Matheny said. “And we come out and score one early, it’s really important for us to be able to put up a zero.”
The losses this week have not been for lack of effort. The Royals have been hitting balls hard all over the place; on Sunday, they had 12 hard-hit balls (95 mph and above, according to Statcast), with only three landing for a hit. One was on Nicky Lopez’s triple in the seventh, which snapped an 0-for-17 skid.
But staring down an eight-game losing streak, it can be difficult to balance the positive talk of hard exit velocity and seeing another out on the scoreboard. The Royals want to win -- and need to win.
“You try not to let it affect how you play or the pressure you put on yourself,” third baseman Hunter Dozier said. “But it’s hard not to. If those hits fall, you can take a deep breath and build off that. When you’re lining out, it’s hard not to let it get to you.
“You just got to continue to trust the process. Continue to have good at-bats, hit the ball hard, things are going to turn around.”
An off-day Monday away from the park can help hit the reset button before going to Detroit, where the Royals swept the Tigers in a four-game set earlier this season. The Royals were one of the best teams in baseball when they last visited Detroit. Their confidence in themselves hasn’t waned since then, and now they have a chance to prove it on this road trip.
“I think in past years, you would see a lot more panic in the clubhouse,” Dozier said. “We don’t see that one bit. We have some really good veteran guys that are helping us through this. We have a good manager and coaching staff that keep pushing us and telling us that we have a really talented team.
“We haven’t even played really good baseball, and it’s coming. And when we do, it’s going to be fun.”