The book has pretty much closed on the Royals contending in the 2017 season. They had some highs and lows, but by the end of July they looked like they had a pretty good shot at a Wild Card spot in a mediocre race. The bottom dropped out after that, and the Royals currently stand 3.5 games back of a playoff spot with just 11 games to go.
Could things have played out differently? Let’s look back at the eight games that might have cost the Royals at one more playoff run.
April 9 vs. the Houston Astros
The Royals got off to a disastrous start, getting destroyed in a sweep in Minnesota, but they continued their road trip by taking the first two games against the Astros in Houston. A win in the series finale would give them a 3-3 road trip, and a big road series sweep against a team expected to be a contender.
The Royals got a nice Sunday start from Nate Karns, and home runs by Salvador Pérez and Mike Moustakas gave the Royals a 3-1 lead going into the seventh. Ned Yost brought in Travis Wood to face non-lefties, which never seems like a good idea. Wood walked Evan Gattis to begin the inning, then got a loooong flyball out from Yuli Gurriel. Marwin Gonzalez then lined a pitch into the short porch known as the “Crawford Boxes” for a two-run shot to tie the game.
Brandon Moss, hit his first home run in a Royals uniform to give the Royals a 5-4 lead in the ninth. The Royals were two outs away from sweeping the series when Kelvin Herrera gave up a solo home run to Jake Marisnick again to the Crawford Boxes, which sadly, would foreshadow the kind of season Herrera would have.
“I just executed a pitch. I feel good throwing it. It’s a fly ball anywhere else.”
The Royals could muster little offense in extra innings against Chris Devenski. Matt Strahm, who had struggled mightily in his first two appearances in Minnesota, continued his awful start. George Springer reached on an infield single muffed by second baseman - yes second baseman - Cheslor Cuthbert. A sacrifice bunt moved Springer to second and Yost elected to intentionally walk Jose Altuve. Strahm got a big out retiring Carlos Correa to move the runners up on a ground out, but Brian McCann walked to load the bases.
Facing Evan Gattis with the bases loaded, Strahm worked a full count before throwing ball four, to force in the winning run.
April 20 vs. the Texas Rangers
Even though mid-April, the Royals were looking to be in good shape, with a 7-7 record. They traveled to Texas and the series opener was a favorable pitching matchup with Danny Duffy taking on Andrew Cashner. Duffy proved to be up to the task, looking brilliant with 7 1⁄3 shutout innings, sprinkling four hits and whiffing five.
But Andrew Cashner looked like Cy Young out there, mowing down the Royals with six shutout innings of his own. He yielded to a Rangers bullpen that was considered to be suspect, but did its job as well, shutting the Royals for seven more frames, retiring 21 of 23 hitters.
The Royals went 13 innings without scoring a single flippin’ run. They had just four hits - three of them singles. Just four runners reached second, and one of them - Mike Moustakas - was picked off. This was in the midst of the Royals epic offensive blackout during the month of April. They hit just .210/.270/.336 as a team, scoring just 2.7 runs per game.
The Rangers mercifully won it in the thirteenth on a walk-off single by Delino Deshields.
"I think what you saw tonight was two struggling offenses facing off with some pretty darn good pitching on both sides,"
April 28 vs. the Minnesota Twins
The Royals would lose the next six games after that Rangers loss, so the home series against the Twins was a chance to right the ship before the season spiraled out of control. Kyle Gibson had always fared well against the Royals, but Kansas City got to him for three runs. A Brandon Moss home run in the seventh off Buddy Boshers extended the lead to 4-2 for the bullpen to convert to a win to snap the losing streak.
The 2015 Royals would have put the game on ice. The 2016 Twins would have haplessly fumbled the game away in ridiculous fashion. This was like Freaky Friday, with the two teams switching bodies. Whit Merrifield muffed a ground ball for an infield single. Joakim Soria walked then-struggling young outfielder Byron Buxton. Max Kepler looped a ball to right field that Jorge Bonifacio just...dropped.
“Unfortunately it didn’t go in my glove, but it’s definitely a play I should make.”
The game was delayed for ten minutes to attend to home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor after he was struck with a foul ball. The time off did not help Soria, who gave up a double to Miguel Sano to tie the game. Joe Mauer followed up with a double to give the Twins the lead. In all, Soria gave up four runs, although he got no favors from his defense, as the Royals fell 6-4.
May 19 vs. the Minnesota Twins
The Twins were a thorn in the side of the Royals all season. Kansas City won 15 of 19 against the young Twins in 2016, but have gone just 8-11 against them this year. Nate Karns turned in another good performance against them in late May, with Matt Strahm and Joakim Soria turning in shutout relief appearances. The Royals carried a 3-1 lead into the ninth for closer Kelvin Herrera.
With one out, Jason Castro singled to bring up hulking pinch-hitter Kennys Vargas. Herrera worked him with an off-speed pitch, and Vargas hit it 438 feet. Tie game.
“I didn’t do my job....there’s no excuses.”
The Royals got two runners on in the tenth, but Jorge Bonifacio lined into a double play. An exhausted Royals bullpen was left with Al Alburquerque, who walked the first two hitters -including a guy named Ehire Adrianza - before yielding to the struggling Travis Wood. Wood walked the bases loaded before giving up a fly ball to Jorge Polanco that was enough to score a run to win the game.
May 29 vs. the Detroit Tigers
Jason Hammel looked good through four innings, but hit a wall in the fifth, a theme that would be all-too common in 2017. The Tigers scored six that inning to take a 6-3 lead. Still, the Royals clawed their way back with two runs in the sixth, then Eric Hosmer launched a drive over the wall for a two-run home run in the seventh to give the Royals a 7-6 lead.
Then it was Soria Time. The eighth was a disaster, with the first six Tigers hitters all reaching base. And I’m not even talking about big boppers Miguel Cabrera or J.D. Martinez. Justin Upton singled. Nick Castellanos walked. Alex Presley singled. A wild pitch. Jose Iglesias singled. Andrew Romine walked.
By the time Miguel Cabrera did step to the plate, the Tigers already led 8-7. He punched home two more runs with an RBI single. The Royals had squandered two leads and lost 10-7.
“It just didn’t work out,”
July 8 vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers
The Royals had a red-hot June, and after sweeping the Mariners in early July, they were 44-40, just a half game back of the first-place Indians, and one game up on the Rays for the final Wild Card spot. The only series that stood between them and the All-Star break was a trip out to L.A. to take on the high-flying Dodgers.
The Royals lost the series opener, and were down 3-2 after six frames of game number two, with Clayton Kershaw looming in game three. Whit Merrifield tied the game with an RBI single, but the Royals left the bases loaded without any more runs, thanks in part to a questionable strike three call on Lorenzo Cain. Salvy led off the eighth with a solo home run to give the Royals the lead. Joakim Soria continued his struggles in high-leverage situations, giving up a home run to sensational rookie Cody Bellinger to tie the game 4-4.
Then came the ninth, when NO ROYALS PITCHER COULD THROW A STRIKE. Scott Alexander worked a full count to Chase Utley, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner, but ended up walking all of them to load the bases. Kelvin Herrera was brought in to face Bellinger, but the result was the same - another 3-2 count resulting in a walk, this one to win the game for the Dodgers.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before. A four-walk walk-off.”
July 29 vs. the Boston Red Sox
The Royals were riding high at this point, having won nine in a row as they began their second game in Boston. The 54-47 Royals were 2.5 up on the Rays for the Wild Card, and had just acquired three pitchers from the Padres the previous week in an attempt to bolster their roster.
One of those pitchers, Trevor Cahill, made his Royals debut that night, but he faltered, giving up four runs in the first four innings. The Royals bailed him out by clobbering Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez to tie the game, but the Red Sox scored two more in the fifth, knocking out Cahill and taking a 6-4 lead.
In the sixth, the Royals sent eight men to the plate, tallying four runs to take an 8-6 lead. The Red Sox would get a run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly - coming after two walks and a passed ball by Salvador Perez. They tied the game in the eighth on another sacrifice fly - after two singles and a wild pitch.
Perez would be exit the game for pinch-runner Terrance Gore, leaving Drew Butera to catch the rest of the game, and Butera had some defensive issues. The Red Sox nearly won the game in the ninth after a wild pitch moved a runner to third, but Mike Minor retired Mitch Moreland.
In the tenth, catcher Sandy Leon doubled, and would move to third on yet another wild pitch. Four hours and 45 minutes into the game, Eduardo Nunez hit a chopper that Alcides Escobar made a great dive for. Escobar whirled and threw home to get Leon, but Butera could not apply the tag in time, and the Red Sox won a wild, sloppy, ugly, stupid game 9-8.
“It was just one of those nights where they just weren’t exceptionally sharp,”
September 7 vs. the Minnesota Twins
The Twins. Not the Twins again. By September, the Royals were clinging to the threads of a Wild Card race, chasing - yes, those Minnesota Twins. The Royals got a rare strong starting pitching performance in September - this one from waiver wire pickup Sam Gaviglio - and led 2-1 going into the ninth.
Kelvin Herrera would probably love to forget the 2017 season, and this game was another reason why. Max Kepler led off the inning with a single, but Herrera rebounded to strike out Eduardo Escobar. Jason Castro lofted a ball down the left field line, a ball pursued by Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon. Gordon hesitated, and it cost the Royals, with the ball falling harmlessly to the ground, putting runners at first and second.
“It was probably a ball I probably should have took. That’s the bottom line.”
Herrera walked the bases loaded and the sad ending seemed terribly imminent. A Brian Dozier sacrifice fly tied the game. Jorge Polanco drove home two to give the Twins a 4-2 lead. The game seemed to be the final nail in the coffin to the Royals’ 2017 season.