Anything Tuesday figured to be an improvement for the Royals over Monday’s debacle. Held to any higher standard, this 7-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians was numbingly forgettable.
It lacked the humiliation that surfaced in Monday’s 19-1 beatdown, but the positives pretty much stop there. The Indians scored three times in the first inning and, well, that was about it.
The Royals have now lost four in a row since those two rousing victories last week at Yankee Stadium. They also fell to 20-21 and trail first-place Cleveland by seven games in the American League Central Division.
“This series and the series in Detroit, we’ve gotten outplayed,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “We’re better than that. We just need to come in (today) and have a fresh start. Forget about past two series. We’re a better team than we’ve demonstrated.”
The Indians, 26-13, sure look like the real thing. They lead second-place Detroit by five games and have seven victories in nine games against the Royals.
“We all know how baseball is,” Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. “The fact we scored three runs right away in the first inning really helped our psyche. And probably they were, ‘Hey, here it comes again. They can’t do anything wrong.’ ”
What the Royals needed, after Monday’s system crash, was a strong start by Sean O’Sullivan. Instead, he struggled through his worst outing since entering the rotation in mid-April.
“Obviously, that’s not what I wanted to do,” he said. “I just wasn’t real sharp with any of my pitches tonight.”
O’Sullivan, 2-3, gave up those three runs in the first inning, when a hit batsman and a walk helped load the bases. Travis Hafner unloaded them with a chip-shot double. The Indians scored again in the fourth and got two more in the fifth.
“You give up three when you’re struggling to score runs,” manager Ned Yost said, “you can survive that. But the tack-on runs kill you.”
Newcomer Everett Teaford replaced O’Sullivan to start the sixth and fashioned a six-pitch inning in his debut. Teaford’s second inning wasn’t as smooth, but Louis Coleman limited the damage to one run thanks to a slick double play.
OK, that was a highlight.
Second baseman Mike Aviles made a diving stop to his left on Orlando Cabrera’s grounder with one out and runners at first and third. Aviles gathered himself and threw to second for the force before shortstop Alcides Escobar cranked his arm into another gear for the double play.
“I figure if I’m not hitting,” Aviles said, “then nobody is going to hit.”
Aviles has one hit in his last 16 at-bats. And he’s not alone. The Royals have scored just five runs in their four-game skid.
“We’ve hit a little bit of a wall,” Yost conceded. “Offensively, things go in cycles. Before the Detroit (series), we scored 11 runs (against the Yankees) and then go in and face two good pitchers (Justin Verlander and Brad Penny).
“But that’s no excuse. You’ve got to find ways to beat good pitchers, too.”
Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco, 2-2, wasn’t particularly efficient — he threw 97 pitches in 5 1/3 innings — but he avoided major problems after getting the early lead. He allowed two runs and five hits before the bullpen took over.
Rafael Perez permitted an inherited runner to score in the sixth. Joe Smith started the seventh with successive walks but retired Aviles on a pop before Tony Sipp closed out the inning with no damage – thanks in part to Matt Treanor getting picked off second.
Chris Perez allowed one run in the ninth before closing out the victory in a non-save situation. Cleveland finished with 10 hits, including two doubles from Hafner.
Eric Hosmer and Melky Cabrera each had two of the Royals’ seven hits.
“They outplayed us in every phase of the game of the whole series,” Yost said. “They out-hit us; they out-pitched us; they out-defensed us. They just outplayed us.
“We just need to play better baseball. That’s the name of the game every night: You’ve got to be better than your opposition. For the last four nights, we haven’t been.”