Royals’ preseason hopes sinking after rugged May

Posted Saturday, Jun. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Top five Cardinals: If only St. Louis has some good young pitching. Rangers: Continue to pace AL despite injuries to key players. Reds: Not as complete a team as St. Louis, but awfully good. Pirates: Better record than Cincy, but much worse track record. Braves: Entered weekend as only NL East team above .500. Bottom five Marlins: Surged into a four-game lead for worst record. Congrats. Astros: Have felt at home playing old NL foes, going 4-3. Brewers: Kyle Lohse (1-6) part of NL’s worst pitching staff. Mets: Kings of New York after sweeping slumping Yankees. Dodgers: Matt Kemp (2 HRs, 60 Ks) on DL could be a good thing.

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The longest day of the Kansas City Royals’ season could rate as the one that saves them this year, though they were likely too groggy a day later to theorize on much of anything.

Royals players woke up Thursday in St. Louis as the owners of an eight-game losing streak. Their manager and general manager were sharing the hottest seat in the majors, their hitting coach was on his way out of town, and the franchise’s greatest player was being called to the rescue.

There was also a game to be played, and it started an hour late because of rain. The Royals were losing at the start of the ninth inning, but rallied to take a 4-2 lead.

Then rain hit and didn’t leave. For more than four hours. They wouldn’t get to their hotel in Texas until after sunrise.

But it was worth it.

“We would have stayed until 7 o’clock to get that win,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said.

Desperate times call for desperate measures in Kansas City, where the Royals have stunk pretty much every season since 1990.

High preseason hopes this year — they were a trendy pick for the postseason on the strength of their City of Surprise championship and a 17-10 record on May 5 — have dissolved into a sinking feeling after a 20-loss May.

George Brett is aboard as interim hitting coach, replacing Jack Maloof and Andre David after the Royals’ offense dropped to 13th in runs scored in the 15-team American League during a 4-19 stretch before the ax fell.

Bringing on a Hall of Famer, respected throughout the clubhouse, couldn’t possibly hurt a last-place team in need of some serious help.

“He doesn’t have to do this. Let’s be honest,” said Francoeur, who hit the game-tying homer in the ninth inning Thursday, before rain settled in over Busch Stadium. “It’s kind of exciting for us. Having him around is just going to be a pick-me-up.”

The Royals haven’t been short on offense the past few seasons, but are sliding toward the bottom half in the league. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, their prized corner infielders, entered the weekend at .261 and .184, respectively, with a combined five homers.

Alex Gordon continues to blossom, and Salvador Perez is one of the best young catchers in the game. Billy Butler, though, was dragging at .261, and Francoeur was scuffling at .222.

As a result, GM Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost are lacking job security. This was a team built to win this year, as evidenced by the trade of top prospect Wil Myers for right-hander James Shields and the free-agent signings of Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana.

Shields, who started Saturday, and Santana have been very good atop the rotation. But a lack of run support had left them a combined 5-11 entering the three-game series at Rangers Ballpark, despite a 3.13 ERA.

Francoeur isn’t blind or deaf. He has seen the pitching, read the stories and heard the rumors, and doesn’t believe Moore or Yost are to blame.

“It’s never fun,” Francoeur said. “They put a good team together, and we showed it in April. We have a good team. We have good pitching, and I think we have decent lineup. We’ve definitely under-exceeded our expectations in May. It’s been a [horrible] May.”

Maybe the memory of seeing the Royals at the Surprise Recreation Campus as they posted a 25-7 record in spring training was on the mind of Rangers manager Ron Washington when he called the Royals a dangerous team.

(Translated from coach-speak to English, dangerous means, “People will be all over me if my team loses to the Royals.”)

But Washington wasn’t simply exaggerating or just being nice. There’s talent in the visitor’s dugout this weekend.

“The averages say that they’re going to start playing better,” Washington said. “They definitely have the personnel that they should be playing better.”

The one thing that Francoeur said the Royals have going for them, aside from a potential Brett bump, is that it’s still early in the season. Of course, they have four teams to pass to get to the top of the AL Central, including perennial contender Detroit and Terry Francona-led Cleveland.

Despite the eight-game slide, they woke up Friday morning only 61/2 games out of first place.

“Hopefully this is our one patch where everything is going wrong that could go wrong,” Francoeur said. “It wasn’t like we were getting blown out of games. You see a lot of good teams that are going to have two- or three-week periods throughout the season where it’s just a tough time. Hopefully we just hit ours early.”

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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