Think things are going bad for the Royals? (A rhetorical query. Of course, they are.) Well, tighten your belt. Memorial Day Monday offered a glimpse of how much worse it might get if their pitching starts to go south.
James Shields stumbled though his worst start of the season in a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals when this year’s I-70 Series commenced at Kauffman Stadium.
“I wasn’t commanding the fastball today,” he said. “When you don’t command the fastball, you’re behind in the count, and you start walking guys like I did today.
“We’ve just got to keep grinding. I didn’t pitch very well today, and I put that game on me.”
When Shields surrendered six runs in six innings, it marked just the second time this season in 11 outings that he failed to deliver a quality start.
And, yes, six runs proved much too steep a hill for the Royals, with their featherweight attack, to scale against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright and closer Edward Mujica.
The Royals collected 13 hits but 12 were singles. David Lough had four of those hits — a career best in raising his average to .320. He also had the only extra-base hit with a double in the first inning.
“I’m trying to show them everything I’ve got,” said Lough, who arrived May 17 from Class AAA Omaha following an injury to Jarrod Dyson. “I’m trying to get into good counts.
“I’m trying to get on base, especially in that leadoff role. I’m just trying to do anything I can to help us get a W but, unfortunately, we didn’t get it today again.”
OK, here we go with the updated grim math: The Royals are 21-27 after suffering their sixth straight loss. They have also lost 17 of 21 over the last 22 days in obliterating what had been an encouraging 17-10 start.
Shields is now 2-6 despite a 2.96 ERA and winless in his last five starts. Wainwright improved to 7-3 after yielding three runs and 12 hits in eight innings. Mujica pitched the ninth for his 15th save.
“We showed some life today,” manager Ned Yost said. “We had some good at-bats. We had Wainwright on the ropes a couple of times. We couldn’t get a big hit, but it was a better day for us offensively.”
Yadier Molina led the Cardinals’ 12-attack with a two-run homer, an RBI double and a sacrifice fly. Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso also had three hits apiece.
“(Shields is) a good pitcher,” Molina said. “I watched him in the last year because my brother (Jose Molina) caught him in Tampa. I watched him a bunch of times on TV, and I have a pretty good idea what he brings to the table. He’s a great pitcher.
“He left a couple of pitches in the middle, a mistake in the middle, so I take advantage.”
St. Louis has the majors’ best record at 33-17.
The western portion of the I-70 Series concludes Tuesday night before the teams shift to Busch Stadium for games Wednesday and Thursday.
From there, the Royals head to Texas, which has the American League’s best record, for three weekend games.
Yeah. This was just the start to a tough week.
“We’re fine,” third baseman Miguel Tejada declared. “Everybody can see that when we take the field every day, we’re playing hard and everybody knows we’re going to win the game.
“What can we do right now? Just play hard and try to make something happen. One day, it’s going to go our way, and we’re going to start to roll.”
It wasn’t Monday.
Shields opened the game by giving up a single to David Carpenter, after jumping ahead 0-2 in the count, before Molina crushed an 0-1 change-up for a 409-foot homer to left-center field.
Two batters in, down 2-0.
The Royals got one run back in their first after Lough led of with a looping double to left. He went to third on Alcides Escobar’s grounder to first before scoring on Alex Gordon’s bad-hop single to right.
Gordon’s grounder struck first and hopped over Matt Adams’s head and into right field. Gordon tried for second and beat Carpenter’s throw — but slid past the base and was tagged out by Descalso.
Molina and the Cardinals struck for two more in the third after Descalso led off with a single. Descalso went to second on Carpenter’s grounder to the mound. Molina then delivered an RBI double into the left-center gap.
Shields walked Carlos Beltran before Craig flicked an RBI single into short right for a 4-1 lead.
The Royals crept back with two outs in their third. Singles by Gordon and Billy Butler put runners on first and third before Wainwright threw a run-scoring wild pitch. Eric Hosmer followed with an RBI single to right.
St. Louis answered in the fourth after Pete Kozma pulled a one-out single into left before Shields issued successive walks to Descalso and Carpenter.
That loaded the bases for Molina, who drove a sacrifice fly to center for a 5-3 lead. St. Louis pushed its lead back to three on Carpenter’s two-out double to right in the sixth.
Descalso was running from first on the play and scored by eluding George Kottaras’ tag after a strong throw from Jeff Francoeur.
“I thought I had him,” Francoeur said.
Close but no. That’s how it’s gone for three weeks now.