CHICAGO (TNS) — Danny Duffy was average, the bullpen surrendered another majestic blast, a season teetered a little closer to the brink. This was Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field, a 6-3 Royals loss to the Chicago White Sox transforming an August swoon into something closer to a nightmare.
On a cool night on the South Side of Chicago, the Royals (57-58) lost for a 10th time in 12 games, running their latest streak to an ugly: "LLLLL." On the first night of a three-game series, Kansas City tumbled further out of the division race, dropping five games behind first-place Cleveland.
The Chicago White Sox long ago waved the white flag on their 2017 season. They traded away assets last winter, and they continued the selling in the month of July. The Royals, meanwhile, pushed their chips into the middle of the table after a nine-game winning streak in late July.
They were two teams, moving in opposite directions, and on July 30 they consummated a deal to send outfielder Melky Cabrera to the Royals for two minor-league pitchers. In the 12 games since, Cabrera has been a productive force in the middle of the lineup. Everything else has fallen apart.
On Friday night, Duffy was raked for five runs in 61/3 innings, including three in a four-run seventh inning. The offense was limited to two solo shots from Mike Moustakas, who became the first Royals hitter to reach 34 homers since Dean Palmer in 1998. The fatal blow came in the seventh, when Chicago shortstop Tim Anderson clubbed a three-run bomb off reliever Peter Moylan.
The pitching staff had posted a 6.38 ERA across 10 games in August. The frustration and lack of execution persisted for another night in Chicago. A bullpen so dominant in July has turned flammable in August. A once dependable starting rotation has ranged from decent to poor.
The White Sox were coming off a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros, the best team in the American League. On Friday, they would score single runs off Duffy in the first and second innings. Duffy settled down in the middle innings as Moustakas homered twice against White Sox rookie Reynaldo Lopez. But Duffy ran into trouble in the seventh, surrendering a second triple to Chicago center fielder Adam Engel and a safety squeeze to Yolmer Sanchez before Anderson pounced on Moylan.
The Royals dipped under .500 for the first time since July 19. The streakiest team in baseball has skidded into a danger zone.
They remain just a solid weekend from playoff position, by the grace of the American League and its extreme parity. They cannot afford another run like this.
On July 18, they suffered their seventh loss in eight games, falling 9-3 to Detroit. They sat three games behind first-place Cleveland. For the next 10 days, they did nothing but win, pushing their record to 54-47 following a nine-game streak. They gained just one game on Cleveland.
For weeks, the odd trend continued. The Royals will win, and Cleveland will win. The Royals will lose, and Cleveland will lose. There have been exceptions, of course. Nothing in baseball is perfect. Yet on July 30, Royals manager Ned Yost could peer at the standings and see his team seven games over .500 and just two games back. On Friday, they were back to .500. They had lost just two games in the standings.
"I've just been amazed," Yost said. "We lost nine out of 11. We've lost two games in the standings."
The American League wild-card standings offer another puzzle, so many moving parts that one could spend an entire day dissecting the race. For one day, the basics read like this: Seven teams separated by four games, two playoff spots at stake, the Royals a game behind the Seattle Mariners for the second slot heading into Friday's action.
"Everybody is doing the same thing," Yost said. "Nobody can run away."
And with that, another series began. The Royals faced off against Lopez, one of the jewels of Chicago's vaunted minor-league system. A 23-year-old right-hander and one of the top 75 prospects in baseball, Lopez was making his first start for the White Sox after spending the season at Class AAA Charlotte.
In six innings, he yielded just two runs on four hits and three walks. He struck out six and departed after 102 pitches. The only damage came from the bat of Moustakas.