The Last Time the Royals Scored a Run Was Thursday

The Royals last scored in the bottom of the second inning of their game against the Rockies last Thursday. Brandon Moss hit a home run, and the Royals went ahead 2-0. Since then, the Royals have played the better part of five games, and after the Moss dinger, the Royals as a team have been outscored 35-0. They lost the Rockies game, and of course they lost the subsequent four. The Royals offense has managed 43 straight scoreless innings. Is that bad? Jeffrey Flanagan and Bill Chastain have the facts.

The Royals, who lost their fifth straight, now have been shut out in 43 straight innings, the longest such streak in Major League Baseball since the mound was lowered after 1968. The previous mark was 42 by both the 1983 Phillies and the 1985 Astros. The ’79 Phillies were blanked in 39 innings. The all-time mark is 48 by the 1968 Cubs and the 1906 A’s.

We’re dealing with an active, modern-day baseball record. This is a developing era of offensive rejuvenation, powered by the league-wide resurgence of the home run. Within that context, the Royals haven’t scored in a long-ass time. It’s not even that the record is now 43. It’s that the record will be at least 43. The Royals play again tonight. You wouldn’t think they’d be blanked in a game started by Alex Cobb, but they’ve just been blanked in games started by Ryan Merritt and Austin Pruitt. Sometimes it’s not up to the pitcher.

Five games, this is spanning. If you look closely, you can even see the Royals getting worse. On Thursday, they scored twice, and they had 11 baserunners. On Friday, they didn’t score, and they had nine baserunners. On Saturday, they didn’t score, and they had seven baserunners. On Sunday, the didn’t score, and they had six baserunners. On Monday, they didn’t score, and they had four baserunners. There’s only so much worse it can get. That’s the way it generally is with record-setting inadequacy. There’s a floor down there somewhere. The Royals are trying to find it.

The Royals don’t have a good offense. Their season wRC+ is 89. Their August wRC+ is 86. Their April wRC+ was actually 57, which is impossibly bad. This streak is conspicuous, but April was historic in its own way. And though the offense isn’t good, it’s not this bad; it’s not a disaster. The Royals’ offense has been the same as that of the Blue Jays. There is real talent. The unusual problem has been the regular play of two black holes. Offensively speaking, Alcides Escobar has been 31 runs below average, the worst mark in baseball. Alex Gordon has been 25 runs below average, the second-worst mark in baseball. They can’t hit, but the Royals can’t do anything about it. So, all season long, rallies have been torpedoed.

Yet, a skid like this? A skid like this is about more than two players. The whole team has lately come together to not score runs. But how is a skid like this built? You need bad hitting, first of all. And the Royals have made some lousy contact. But you also need missed opportunities. Opportunities appear from time to time. Even for the worst-hitting teams in the league. Below, you’ll find eight short videos. These show, I think, the closest the Royals have come to putting a run on the board. Take away whatever you will.

Bottom of the fourth, last Thursday. With two on and two out, Drew Butera knocked a sharp grounder to third base. It’s the kind of grounder that could’ve scored the runner from second, but if you have to hit a grounder to anyone at third, you least want to hit a grounder to Nolan Arenado. Arenado made the play on the backhand and then unleashed a strong throw all the way across the diamond. Butera was out and the inning was dead. You can see how the ball could’ve sneaked by. It probably wasn’t going to, though.

Pop flies. The Royals, lately, have hit a lot of pop flies. This one happened in the second inning on Friday. After an Escobar double to right moved two runners into scoring position, Cheslor Cuthbert put a ball in the sky. That’s usually about as good as an automatic out. But, you never know, the ball could do something, or the defender could lose it in the lights or the clouds. There’s a late Jose Ramirez readjustment, but ultimately, there’s a catch and a third out. Rally dead before it could begin.

I checked the Statcast data for the duration of the Royals’ offensive slump. It’s probably not surprising, but the quality of contact has been about as bad as the results of said contact. The Royals haven’t had a ball stay in the yard that probably should’ve gone out. None of those weird Statcast anomalies. No unfortunate sudden gusts of wind. Here, at least, you can see Jorge Bonifacio send Austin Jackson back to the track. Bonifacio nearly hit a home run, which is something. Austin Jackson, incidentally, has a 130 wRC+. That would rank him second on the Royals, right behind Eric Hosmer.

Bonifacio hit his fly Friday, in the seventh. Later in the same inning, Whit Merrifield came up with two down and runners on the corners. He hit one of those quick-sinking opposite-field liners, and when you’re looking for a hit in the outfield, it’s usually a pretty good idea to target Jay Bruce. But, on this play, Bruce got a good jump. Then everyone realized he didn’t need said good jump to make a jogging catch. By this point, the Royals were surely getting frustrated, even if they didn’t realize what they were in the process of doing. History only becomes apparent in retrospect.

We go to Saturday’s fourth inning, with Escobar up with two down and the bases loaded. Not just a run-scoring opportunity — an opportunity for the Royals to take the lead. In a 2-and-2 count, Escobar chased a breaking ball out of the zone, sending a pop-up skyward, behind second base. Jose Ramirez needed to retreat and make a pretty good play over his shoulder. We’ve seen this ball drop dozens of times, and had it happened here, Escobar would’ve drawn compliments for putting the ball in play and making something happen. Of course, he shouldn’t have swung at the pitch in the first place. Escobar, you see, isn’t good.

It’s possible the Royals will never score again. It’s possible it just won’t ever happen, and then, at some point, Rob Manfred will begin to think about contraction. You can’t have a team in the majors that scores zero runs. That team needs to be replaced or eliminated, before it makes a mockery of the sport. In that event, books will be written, and movies will be made. And each of them, each of those projects, will focus on this play in particular. This play will be identified as the play that sealed the Royals’ permanent fate. This play will have destroyed the Royals’ chances of ever scoring a run again. In Saturday’s fifth inning, Lorenzo Cain batted with two outs and Merrifield on first. Merrifield is one of the better runners around, and had this ball reached the grass, a run was a virtual guarantee. But one guy who runs better than Whit Merrifield is Bradley Zimmer. The Royals are responsible for making their own history, here, but Zimmer has made a certain contribution. If not for Bradley Zimmer, the Royals’ recent offense isn’t something we ever would’ve noticed.

To Sunday. To the pointless final three innings of a twelve-run ballgame. There was nothing for anyone to do except play baseball until the baseball would be allowed to stop. Gordon batted with two on in the seventh inning. I’m not sure what Carlos Carrasco’s motivation might’ve been, but perhaps it was just competition for competition’s sake. The pitch was 96 miles per hour. The result was just another pop-up. Perhaps the laziest of all pop-ups. This pop-up was never close to not being caught. But it could’ve, I don’t know, hit a bird. The Royals baserunner on third did step on home plate before the third out was recorded. It didn’t count for anything, but I bet it felt nice.

Monday. Fourth inning. Game’s already out of hand. The Rays had put up a six-run third against Ian Kennedy, and it seemed like it came so easily to them. Nothing was coming easily for the Royals. Had you asked the Royals, they would’ve said the goal was to simply chip away. Deep down, though, they all knew the goal was one lousy run. It’s how you begin the chipping process. The burden was getting heavier as Eric Hosmer batted with two down and a runner on third. Hosmer pulled a sharp grounder, wide of first base. Logan Morrison had to cover some ground, and he’s not known for his agility. Morrison has also rated as a below-average defensive first baseman. It’s easy to see how the ball could’ve gotten through to right, or at least bounced off of Morrison’s glove. Alas, Morrison handled everything like a professional. A below-average defensive major-league first baseman is so, so good at playing first base. Every major-league professional is elite. Even the Royals hitters.

After a given no-hitter or perfect game, analysts go searching for the balls in play that might’ve dropped as hits. There’s always some conversation about the defensive contribution that allowed for the history to be made. As one reflects on the Royals’ recent futility, there’s not actually much of anything there. For the most part, they’ve earned these scoreless innings, with bad approaches and horrible contact. On the rare occasion the Royals have given themselves a chance, well, there was Bradley Zimmer. Or, there was Logan Morrison. It would’ve taken only one of those hits. You could argue the Royals haven’t deserved it.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

This is the best of Jeff Sullivan. You’re like Rany Jazayerli mixed with Xanax.