KANSAS CITY, Mo. (TNS) — Hoo-boy the Royals stink, and we'll get to that soon because it's approaching historical levels, but first a quick thought:

Someday, we may all laugh about this. No, really. The same way you chuckle at that rathole you had in college, with the leaky windows and moldy carpet and pyramid of beer cans. The same way you laugh at the Royals once losing because they — wait for it — hit the cutoff man, the same way you're now in on the joke about Buddy Bell saying it can always get worse.

Comedy is tragedy plus time, after all, and this is the very beginning of the Royals' new brand of tragedy. In a few years, Brady Singer and Nick Pratto and Khalil Lee and MJ Menendez and whoever the Royals take toward the top of the draft next year — scouts are already spreading across the country evaluating the best prospects — are in the big leagues.

Maybe then we'll see the 2018 Royals like a hilariously bad blind date.

Remember that time the Royals were sooooo bad that Sal Perez got hurt carrying his luggage and then came back as Chief of the Fun Police?

Sigh.

OK.

Ready to talk about just how bad this team is?

Fair warning: don't read the next section on an empty stomach.

The Royals are, technically speaking and by the slimmest of margins, not actually the worst team in baseball. That title belongs to the Orioles, whose 21-52 record and .288 win percentage entering the weekend outpace the Royals at 22-52 and .297.

But we know better here, and not just because the Orioles won two of three in Baltimore last month and not just because so many of the Royals' best players are hurt (Jorge Soler), suspended (Jorge Bonifacio), traded (Kelvin Herrera), likely to soon be traded (Mike Moustakas), or baseball's least effective starting pitcher (Danny Duffy).

The Royals are pacing for 114 losses, which would be the sixth-most going back to 1871, and the most since the 2003 Tigers lost 119.

They are a dead team walking, with only four players signed beyond next season, connections to past glory fading steadily, and a manager who appears to have accepted this team's place.

Look-it: Royals pitchers rank dead-last among all 30 teams in ERA, hits, runs, earned runs, home runs and strikeouts.

Look-it: Royals hitters rank last or next to last among 15 American League teams in runs, home runs, walks, slugging and OPS.

No group of hitters has been so thoroughly outranked by its peers since the 2011 Mariners.

No group of pitchers has been so thoroughly outclassed since, well, since the 1970 White Sox and that's not a typo. Tommy John led that team in innings, five years before his surgery.

The Royals, as a reminder, are doing both. They did not do that in 2006, when Mark Redman made the All-Star team. The did not do it in 2005, when Jose Lima had a 6.99 ERA but was given 32 starts anyway. They did not do it in 2004, when Eduardo Villacis started a game at Yankee Stadium.

Thirty-two American League teams have lost 100 or more games since 1970, and none have been so thoroughly inept with both pitching and hitting.

Please pardon me for not going back further to find the last team to pull this off. There are only so many hours in the day, and I need to hold back at least a couple column ideas.

This is safe to say, though:

Without a marked improvement, a team three years removed from a World Series championship, whose front office had internal projections for 75 wins or so, will be remembered as one of the worst teams in the last 50 years of major-league baseball.

How long before you can laugh?

This doesn't have to be all bad, you know. This could be a necessary-if-painful step, the bill on the 2015 parade and the ante for the next round of winning baseball arriving simultaneously, overwhelming the moment.

But in the Royals' best vision for themselves, no more than six players on the 2018 Opening Day roster — Sal Perez, Danny Duffy, Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield, Brad Keller and Jakob Junis — are central to a potential winner in 2021.

Even ignoring that a few could be traded, and the unlikeliness that any group of six ballplayers perform as expected across three years, that's a lot of time and roster spots to improve.

Internally, club officials believe they can cut the length of this rebuild significantly when compared to what they started in 2006.

They believe their farm system holds a core of athletic, plus-defenders, with the tools to develop offensively. They believe a draft class heavy on college pitching could provide the base of a strong rotation. They believe they can continue to add, particularly with a high pick and another large bonus pool to spend on domestic and international talent next year.

Like anything in baseball, the plan is packed with unknowns. The path is guaranteed to be different than the vision. There was a time the Royals thought Noel Arguelles was essential to their future, and that Alex Gordon was a third baseman. The rotation of the future was to be anchored by Yordano Ventura.

In baseball and life, the future is never what you expect, and in the Royals' specific context, the same can be said of their current state. They did not expect to be this bad. This was not part of the plan, from either the baseball or business side.

Without a championship history, built in the same place with similar challenges, the current disarray would be enough to wonder if any of it had a chance. This is different, though, a championship not so long ago that you can't remember the doubt that came first.

Right now, this is the Royals' worst version of themselves. But there is a case to be made that this had to happen, this year or next, to clear the way for the next wave. The Royals should have done a better job managing and prepping for the transition from a world championship won by stars who are now in other cities to a future tied to prospects now in Class A.

But here they are anyway, and hitting bottom has been used to springboard up before.

Maybe it matters that of the last five teams to lose 100 games, four made the playoffs within three years.

 

Sam Mellinger is a columnist for The Kansas City Star/TNS.