Playoff Odds (ESPN/Fangraphs): Abandon ship!
Playoff Odds (Baseball Prospectus): We’re doomed!
Well, that sucked.
The tone was set in the top of the first inning, when Alex Gordon, who plays defense in left field better than anyone on the Royals does anything, misplayed a Miguel Cabrera line drive terribly, having it somehow go around his glove. This occurred with one out and Ian Kinsler foolishing breaking from second base; if Gordon simply catches the ball, it’s an easy double play and Vargas is out of the inning. Instead it was a run in and a man on second, who would also score, as would another in the inning.
Gordon was bad. Jason Vargas was bad. Everyone was bad, except Nori Aoki of course, who had two more hits, but was pulled from the game anyway because Ned Yost decided giving him some rest was more important than letting him challenge George Brett’s major league record of six straight 3-hit games. (Hey, it would be cool.)
Both Terrence Gore and Lane Adams batted, is what I’m saying. Tim Collins threw an inning, is what I’m saying, and the game was so over at that point that the Tigers let him record three outs in five pitches – it might be the quickest inning Collins has ever pitched.
Meanwhile, the Mariners are beating the Astros, and the A’s are beating the Phillies, meaning this will probably be a worst-case scenario kind of game. The only saving grace – if it is one – is that they won’t have long to stew on it; tomorrow’s game starts in less than 14 hours.
The good news is that James Shields starts tomorrow. The bad news – well, aside from the fact that he faces Max Scherzer – is that there really is no margin for error. Shields has been brilliant of late, and he could be forgiven a hiccup. But the Royals can’t recover from one; if they lose tomorrow, the division is probably out of their reach, and a wild card spot becomes even more tenuous.
It’s another Big Game. Unfortunately, it will come in front of another Big Crowd, which is a problem only in that since 2004, the Royals are now 25-75 when playing at home in front of a crowd of 30,000 or more. I have no explanation for this. I despise psychological mumbo-jumbo like “they can’t handle the pressure” or “they don’t want it enough” from fans who have literally never talked to the players. I can only analyze the facts, and I don’t have any facts that would explain their consistently terrible play in front of packed houses at Kauffman Stadium. And without an explanation, I’m still tempted to call it a massive, stone-cold fluke.
But it would sure be nice if the Royals put an end to that flukiness tomorrow afternoon, or they may not get a chance to do so in October. They’ve got the right guy on the mound. But then the mound hasn’t generally been the source of the Royals’ problems this year.