KANSAS CITY — The Royals entered this week’s seven-game homestand against two division opponents knowing it would be a crucial one, but trying not to make any game more important than the others.
But after Thursday’s 4-0 loss to the Indians finalized a four-game sweep at Kauffman Stadium, suddenly this weekend’s three-game set against the White Sox just got a whole lot bigger. The Royals began this week leading the White Sox by one game and the Indians by three games in the American League Central.
They ended it on a five-game losing streak, a half-game back of Chicago and a full game behind first-place Cleveland. It was just the fourth time the Royals were swept in a four-game series by Cleveland in franchise history, and the first at Kauffman Stadium.
“We all want to win,” starter Danny Duffy said. “We’re all feeling the same amount of frustration that we haven’t won in a stretch here. The energy is not lack thereof. It’s just not going our way right now.”
After a difficult loss Wednesday night, Royals manager Mike Matheny called Thursday’s game a test for his club, on how it’s going to handle the adversity that the series had already brought.
Now, that test continues against the White Sox.
“It’s going to continue until we not [only] win, but until you see the kind of play that we need to see,” Matheny said. “And not just one game. On a consistent basis. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for consistency. We’re seeing components of it, it’s just a matter of putting it together.
“This team, from the beginning, was finding ways to win. That’s going to be a trademark of this club, and we’ve got to get back there.”
In the three games prior to Thursday, the Royals took an early lead before the bullpen lost it in the late innings. On Thursday, it was the opposite, as the Indians were the first to jump out to a lead off Duffy while the Royals’ bullpen held them at three runs until the eighth. But the Royals’ offense was silent.
Duffy wasn’t as dominant as he has been to start the season, but his stuff still looked good in 5 2/3 innings. He threw some high-stress pitches, but the Indians only had an average exit velocity of 87.1 mph off the lefty — and he gave his team a chance by limiting Cleveland to just three runs.
The offense couldn’t come through against starter Triston McKenzie and the Indians’ bullpen, which had shut the Royals down earlier in the series and did so again Thursday. Down 3-0 in the sixth, the Royals knocked McKenzie out of the game with two on base — including Andrew Benintendi’s single that extended his hitting streak to 10 games — and no outs. But Salvador Perez grounded into a double play, and with Benintendi on third Jorge Soler hit a weak grounder to shortstop to end the inning. The Royals only had four hits Thursday afternoon.
“We left some guys on base, but there were very few times where we had true momentum to build off of,” Matheny said.
Kansas City put together a rally in the ninth with back-to-back singles, but Hunter Dozier grounded into a double play and Ryan O’Hearn struck out looking on a 100-mph cutter from Emmanuel Clase.
“Well, did you think it was going to be peaches and roses all year?” Whit Merrifield said. “We’re going to go through something like this at some point. You find out a lot about a team, and a lot about the men in there, when you get punched in the mouth. And we got punched in the mouth this series. Let’s see how we can respond, see what kind of team we got, what kind of men we got in there.”
The Royals are far from panicking yet. It’s only early May, giving them plenty of time and chances to overcome the past four games. They’re still over .500, and they’re still near the top of their division. They’re also expecting reinforcements soon, with shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (right oblique strain) and relievers Jesse Hahn (right shoulder impingement) and Kyle Zimmer (left trapezius strain) progressing well in their rehab.
But the Royals know they have to get back to the way they played in April, when they jumped out to a 16-9 record.
Kansas City did not view the first month of the season as a blip — that’s the kind of team it expects to have this year, after four years of sub-.500 teams.
“I said a couple weeks ago, it’s a different feeling this year than previous years,” Merrifield said. “And that’s a great feeling. Go tonight, enjoy the night off and kind of get away. Come back tomorrow refreshed and expect to win. We do.
“We really do expect to win every day.”