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Death, taxes, and early season Royals incompetence

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The three constants in this world

Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Kansas City Royals misses a fly ball at the wall during the 1st inning of the game against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 07, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Andrew Benintendi #16 of the Kansas City Royals misses a fly ball at the wall during the 1st inning of the game against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 07, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Shortly before the month of February ended, I put my one Kansas City Royals wish out into the universe: All I wanted was for the Royals to not stink right out of the gate. I noted that, for the last four seasons, the Royals averaged a .333 winning percentage during their first 30 games, despite an average final winning percentage of .412. A good start can encourage interest in the team, unlike recently, when an almost immediate crash and burn never allowed the seeds of hope to even plant into the ground. In the final paragraph, I noted:

Baseball is certainly great for its own sake, but losing five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten games in a row before Memorial Day—sometimes more than once—is significantly less fun than making a good early run and providing higher quality entertainment.

This year’s edition of the Royals partially granted my wish. Through 25 games, the Royals went 16-9 and were in first place in the American League Central. But yesterday, the Royals lost their eighth game in a row, and, well, there’s not much else to say but:

Ah shit, here we go again meme

With one shoe firmly planted in the ground, in the back of many Royals fans’ minds loomed another shoe suspended in air like a precariously balancing piano being slowly hoisted into a high-rise apartment, poised to crash onto the Kansas City streets with a sadly familiar cacophony. That’s because Royals fans have been here, a lot, because the Royals have been here, a lot; death, taxes, and early season Royals incompetence are the only constants in this world.

Don’t believe me? In the past 15 years, the Dayton Moore-era Royals have now lost six or more games before the end of May (or September, in the case of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season) on 16 different occasions.

Royals losing streaks of 6 or more games before end of May since 2007

Year Loss Streak Time Period
Year Loss Streak Time Period
2007 6 April 11 - April 17
2007 7 May 24 - May 30
2008 8 April 17 - April 24
2008 12 May 19 - May 30
2009 6 May 8 - May 14
2009 8 May 27 - June 5
2010 7 May 5 - May 12
2011 6 April 22 - April 28
2012 12 April 11 - April 24
2013 8 May 22 - May 29
2017 9 April 20 - April 30
2018 9 April 10 - April 20
2019 10 March 31 - April 11
2020 6 July 31 - August 5*
2020 7 September 1 - September 7*
2021 8+ May 2 - ?

*both Royals losing streaks in 2020 happened in the first 42 games, corresponding to mid-May in a normal year

Additionally, this does not include other notable series of losses or stretches, including but not limited to: the eight-game losing streak in 2009 that began at the end of May and stretched into June, the two separate five-game losing streaks that the 2011 Royals also squeezed in, the three separate three-game losing streaks Kansas City accomplished in a two-week period in 2013, and the two five-game losing streaks in 2018 that the team also somehow managed to pull before Memorial Day.

You can be an optimist if you like (though as a Royals fan that’s generally a bad plan). The Royals have 129 games to play, are only one game below .500, and are only 1.5 games out from a playoff spot. Kansas City has lots of games to play, and their hot start gave them enough of a buffer that an eight-game losing streak does not put them in an insurmountable hole.

But losing streaks like this are a sort of canary in a coal mine, especially if they happen early in the season. Sure, we’re only 30-something games into the year, but teams with winning records when the dust settles—and certainly playoff teams—almost always avoid big losing streaks. The teams that have eight-game losing streaks are...not the teams that end up with 85, 90 wins. The 2014 and 2015 Royals never lost six in a row, for instance, and both squads combined for a single five-game losing streak. They lost three or four in a row and then stopped the bleeding.

Look: after such a brutal stretch where the Royals have been so thoroughly dominated by a collection of teams, it’s going to be nearly impossible for them to convince me they’re truly a good team moving forward. They have been outscored by 28 runs in their last 10 games going back to April 30, with one win, and have played a full series against three different opponents.

Regardless, step one for a team that’s interested in competing this year is not to go on an eight-game losing streak—against divisional rivals no less. And yet, what this year’s Royals team is doing in the early months is what last year’s Royals team did, and the year before that one, and the year before that one, etc. They’re consistent, if nothing else.