KANSAS CITY, Mo. (TNS) — History says this can’t last.
Search Baseball Reference for the lowest batting average with runners in scoring position — since the start of the database in 1908 — and the worst full-season mark is .201 by the 1942 Philadelphia Phillies and 1969 San Diego Padres.
The Royals, going into Sunday’s game, were at .178 — a number that wasn’t difficult to believe if one watched the first seven innings of their 5-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.
The most glaring example of the early-season struggles came in the seventh inning. With the score tied 4-4, the Royals put together three consecutive singles with no outs before its Kryptonite made an appearance.
Cheslor Cuthbert and Jon Jay grounded into force-outs at home. Alex Gordon struck out. And the Royals went to the eighth with the game still tied.
“That’s kind of how it’s been going for us,” Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield said. “It really couldn’t have got much worse for us as runners on, runners at third less than two outs, all that kind of stuff.”
It’s why the next inning proved important — both Sunday and perhaps into the future.
After Alcides Escobar was hit by a pitch and moved to second on a passed ball, Merrifield shot a single up the middle and Escobar was waved home. Before then, Merrifield was 1-for-19 this season with runners in scoring position, which included a double-play ground-out with runners on the corners in the sixth.
“It’s not been a good start for me in that aspect. I really don’t know what was going on,” Merrifield said. “But that at-bat, I was just trying, ‘Screw the results. Just put the barrel on the ball and see what happens.‘ ”
Merrifield, who shook his head in frustration after swinging through a 1-0 Bruce Rondon fastball, turned around a 97 mph heater on the next pitch for his run-scoring hit.
“We had to have that,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “After the seventh inning, we really needed to score. Bases loaded, nobody out. It was a little deflating there.”
With Kelvin Herrera unavailable, Blaine Boyer held off the White Sox in the ninth with only his third scoreless outing in nine appearances. Boyer, who entered with a 16.88 earned-run average, coaxed two ground-outs and a soft liner for his first save, saying his better results were helped by some recent mechanical work with Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred.
“It’s frustrating after 19 years in the game. You feel like you fall off a bicycle then you can’t get back on, and you don’t know how to ride it again,” Boyer said of his early struggles. “But it’s good. I feel great. I’m glad to be back to my normal self, that’s for sure.”
Cuthbert set up Merrifield’s late heroics.
Entering his fourth-inning at-bat on an 0-for-14 skid, Cuthbert powered a Hector Santiago sinker over the wall in left, contributing his first home run since Aug. 20 of last season.
He came through again in the fifth. With two on, Cuthbert muscled a low pitch into the first row of the Sonic Slam seats in left center, giving the Royals their first lead at 4-2.
Cuthbert said he was expecting a first-pitch sinker from reliever Chris Volstad, based on video study he’d done before the game.
“I had a plan for it,” Cuthbert said. “I was ready for the pitch, and he threw it, so I took advantage.”
Royals starter Ian Kennedy was strong early, showing no ill effects after being removed prematurely in his previous start Tuesday after he took a line drive to the right foot. Kennedy struck out the side in the first inning Sunday, which included Jose Abreu swinging through a 90 mph slider before he chucked his bat and helmet toward his team’s dugout in frustration.
Kennedy’s final line: five innings, five hits and two earned runs to go with six strikeouts and two walks. He was encouraged by a running session Saturday when he did sprints without favoring his right foot.
“That’s how you want it to be. You want to get all the treatment in so you don’t have to worry about it,” Kennedy said. “Today I felt really good.”
Escobar left Sunday’s game in the top of the ninth because of a bruised left hand after he was hit by a pitch the previous inning. X-rays showed no fractures, with Yost saying he expects Escobar to be available for the Royals’ game at Boston on Monday.
“He’s going to be fine. Jason Vargas called him, ‘The Shark.’ He’s got no bones, just cartilage,” Yost said of Escobar. “He heals really, really quick.”
The Royals, who improved to 7-20, actually improved their numbers with runners in scoring position — though not by much.
KC, which left 10 runners on base, was 3-for-13 (.231 average) with runners in scoring position Sunday.
“Moving forward, I’ve got to get better. We’ve all got to get better at hitting in situations,” Merrifield said. “That’s how we’re going to start winning some more games.”
For Sunday, though, it was enough for the Royals to celebrate a second straight win.
History is on their side. This current clutch-hitting slump isn’t likely to last an entire season.
“It’s not even May yet. We’ve got a lot of at-bats, a lot of baseball left and a lot of good players on this team,” Merrifield said. “I look forward to seeing some guys turn it around.”