by John Viril—
Egads! The Kansas City Royals bullpen was supposed to be the strongest part of the team. After posting the lowest ERA mark in the A.L. since 1990, and returning the same group that dominated 2013, everyone expected the Royals pen to be good at finishing games. Instead, it has blown two straight games in Detroit to start the season.
First it was Wade Davis giving up a walk-off single in the bottom of the 9th inning on Monday’s 4-3 loss on Opening Day. Next came Wednesday’s 2-1 stinker in which Tim Collins gave up awalk-off home run to Ian Kinsler in the bottom of the 1oth.
Losing two straight battle-of-the-pens against the Tigers is a great way to spike the spring of Eternal Hope with toxic waste. It’s one thing if Detroit’s big bats out-bash the Royals, or their formidable starting pitching dominates games. It’s quite another for Kansas City to lose twice in a row after successfully getting into the Detroit pen—which is supposed to be the Tigers’ Achilles Heel. These tight, late-inning games are where the Royals, who have a strong defense and a great bullpen, are supposed to shine.
I won’t call it the worst possible way the Royals could have opened the season—there are far worse scenarios involving season-ending injuries—but its pretty darn close.
It’s only two games. Two losses in a 162-game marathon. Really, they’re pretty meaningless in the long run. That is, of course, as long as the team does not allow their bad start to get into their heads.
Teams CAN dig holes they can’t escape—even right at the start of the season. In 1988, the Baltimore Orioles began the season with an MLB-record twenty-one straight losses. At that point, the Orioles would have had to play .570 ball the rest of the year to break even. Any realistic hopes of the post-season were lost in the first three weeks.
On Wednesday, Royals manager Ned Yost admitted that bad early events can stick with a player throughout the season. Yost allowed light-hitting Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar, who had the lowest OPS of any starting player in 2013 at .559, to hit with two out in the eighth with a runner on second base and down 1-0. Yost explained his choice to Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star: “Pinch-hitting for guys gets in their dome,” Yost said. “And you don’t want to get in their dome in the second game. When nobody is really swinging the bat good.”
A few more losses like this, and Yost will have a bigger problem on his hands. He will be then trying to figure out how to keep a discouraging opening losing streak from escalating into a season-long disaster.
Two games aren’t really that much. I think the Kansas City Royals bullpen will come around, and I expect the team to still have a winning season. But, the last two games have certainly made every Royals fan just a little bit anxious.
Twenty-nine years without a playoff game can do that you.
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