Late on Friday afternoon, Ned Yost sat against the back wall of the Royals dugout, assessing the first 40 games of a baseball season.
We need to hit better, Yost said.
In five words, Yost had encapsulated six weeks of .500 baseball and offered a rather cutting prophecy for the night ahead. Another quiet performance at Kauffman Stadium. Another offensive no-show in a 4-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
The Royals dipped to 20-21 on the season while falling to 2-19 in games in which they score three runs or less. That last number is rather damning, of course, and Yost admitted as much on Friday.
You look at our record when we score three runs or less, Yost said, that stuff cant happen.
It happened again on a chilly May night in Kansas City. This time, it was Orioles starter Chris Tillman who kept the Royals offense in neutral, allowing just five hits while throwing 117 pitches.
It was his first career shutout.
The Royals put just two runners in scoring position. They failed to get a man to third base all night. After a leadoff double from Nori Aoki in the bottom of the first, they rarely made Tillman grind.
Plate discipline is not helping us right now, Yost said. I dont think we centered anything up off of Tillman. He did a great job of keeping the ball down, pitching ahead in the count. (He) had enough movement on his fastball and his slider, so we couldnt center anything up.
Now some ugly numbers: The Royals stood pat on their league-low 18 homers. Theyve scored just one run in 18 innings in consecutive losses to Baltimore. The clubs offensive output slipped to an American League-low 3.8 runs per game.
If you get shut out, theres not much good signs there, said designated hitter Billy Butler, who went zero for four and dropped his season average to .226.
Earlier in the day, Yost had pondered the first 40 games and proceeded to list what had gone to plan during the seasons first quarter: The defense, of course. The starting pitching. The bullpen. If the Royals could hit this poorly through 40 games and still be at .500 Yost reasoned that this would bode well for the rest of the summer.
One year ago, the Royals also started 20-20 in their first 40 games. Then they promptly lost nine of their next 10 during a May face plant. If they could avoid such a catastrophic month, Yost speculated, maybe they could make another summer run.
If we could have stayed at .500 through this stretch (last season), Yost said, we would have been in the playoffs. Because this team is going to get hot like it did last year.
But for another night, the script was similar. The offensive woes were too crippling to overcome a bounce-back effort from starter Jeremy Guthrie, who allowed four runs and eight hits in eight innings. Guthrie, who threw 116 pitches, threw a lifeline to an overtaxed bullpen.
The Orioles first two runs came in the fourth, after a throwing error by Guthrie and a borderline 3-2 pitch to Chris Davis aided a patchwork rally. The near miss came on a two-seam fastball on the inside corner to Davis with a man on third and one out.
Davis took the walk, and Nelson Cruz followed by chopping a single over a pulled-in Eric Hosmer at first base.
On replay, I cant really tell, Guthrie said. That little box that drops out of the sky, out of the heavens, (it) says it was a strike. But unfortunately, they dont have those boxes hanging on the field. It was a pitchers pitch.
The two-run burst had begun on a bunt single from Manny Machado, who sprinted to second base when Guthrie threw wide of the first-base bag. Baltimore would manufacture another run in the sixth. And Davis finished off the Royals by rocketing a solo homer into the right-field bullpen in the top of the eighth, pushing the lead to 4-0.
Its definitely frustrating, Yost said. But you try not to get frustrated with it.
Right-handed reliever Casey Coleman, called up earlier in the day, pitched a scoreless ninth in his Royals debut. But by late Friday night, that was just a footnote to more offensive questions marks.
Offenses, they cool off, they heat up, Yost said. And when they heat up, its because you got three, four or five guys that were really hot at the time. When you cool down, you got one or two. And right now, we dont have anybody that I sit back and say, Boy, hes really swinging the bat well right now.