KC has had less rest due to World Series in 2014-15, All-Star appearances
By Hal Bodley
ST. PETERSBURG -- Up 2-0 in the eighth inning against the Rays on Thursday, the Royals loaded the bases with one out. Salvador Perez fanned on three pitches, and then Alex Gordon struck out. End of threat.
In the top of the ninth, now down 3-2, but with runners on second and third and two out, Royals third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert was an easy strikeout victim. End of threat, end of game.
A year ago, en route to their exciting World Series championship, the hungry Royals would have refused to let important scoring opportunities go to waste. Their trademark as they ousted Toronto and ultimately the Mets was putting the baseball in play -- seizing the moment.
Those moments are slipping away this year, and nothing made that more apparent than their two losses to the last-place Rays this week at Tropicana Field.
Wednesday, they were hammered, 12-0. And in Thursday's matinee, after walking a 2-0 tightrope behind a revitalized Ian Kennedy, Kansas City coughed up the lead and lost, 3-2, after Brad Miller blasted a three-run shot off reliever Joakim Soria in the eighth inning.
Nothing defines this disappointing and frustrating 2016 Royals season more than those two games.
The Royals jetted back to Kansas City after the setback to begin a weekend series at Kauffman Stadium against the Blue Jays, arguably the American League East's best team, tied for first place entering play Friday.
Toronto swept Kansas City in three games in early July, outscoring them 18-7. For the Blue Jays, it will be their first visit to Kauffman Stadium since the Royals earned their trip to the World Series, winning the AL crown on Oct. 23.
The Royals began the weekend six games under .500, in fourth place in the AL Central. Back-to-back pennants and their first World Series title in 30 years are in the rearview mirror.
A trip to the postseason this year is unlikely.
No matter how determined the Royals have been to not let history repeat, they've come face-to-face this summer with reality: Repeating as World Series champion seldom happens.
Not since Joe Torre's powerful New York Yankees won three in a row (1998-2000) has a champion repeated the following year. And before that, it was the Blue Jays (1992-93) and the Yankees (1977-78).
Years ago, after the Cincinnati Reds couldn't repeat their 1975 and '76 titles, the late Sparky Anderson, skipper of the Big Red Machine, talked to me about the human element -- that no matter how hard the players try, they often forget what it took to win.
"And then they try to hit five-run homers, try to win more than one game at a time," Anderson said. "It is so difficult to repeat."
When you dissect Kansas City's fall this season, start with injuries.
Closer Wade Davis, who's converted 21 of 23 save opportunities in 35 appearances with a 1.60 ERA, is out with a right flexor strain.
Had Davis been available Thursday, given his track record, he would have been a good bet to protect the 2-0 lead.
Instead, with reliever Luke Hochevar also on the DL, manager Ned Yost had no choice but to bring in Soria, who blew his fourth save as his ERA climbed to 4.50.
A year ago, the Royals' bullpen and the manner in which Yost handled it were the talk of MLB. It was flame-thrower Kelvin Herrera in the seventh inning, dominant Davis in the eighth and closer Greg Holland in the ninth.
Herrera saved the first two games Kansas City won against Tampa Bay this week, has a 1.51 ERA and has made eight consecutive scoreless appearances. He wasn't available Thursday.
Righty Holland, a two-time All-Star who saved 141 games during his past four seasons with the Royals, last pitched on Sept. 18. He underwent Tommy John surgery in October and is now a free agent who won't pitch this season.
"We're just thin down there now," said Yost, referring to his bullpen.
Add to the list of injured players third baseman Mike Moustakas, a cornerstone piece to Kansas City's championship. He's out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on May 22. It stemmed from a collision with left fielder Gordon. The outfielder suffered a broken bone in his right hand and was out for a month.
The popular Moustakas had homered seven times and driven in 13 runs when he went down.
Ask the Royals' longest-tenured manager what has gone wrong this year, and he rubs a hand across a tired-looking face.
"They were hungry last year, and they're hungry again this year," he said of his players. "There's a toll it takes, having very short offseasons. You lose three months in two years [playing in the World Series in 2014 and '15]. I didn't get home until a week before Thanksgiving last year.
"When you look at it, that's recovery time and conditioning time the players have lost," he added. "This is hard to fathom, but last year, we had eight guys on the All-Star team, so they didn't get a break all summer. This year we had Hosmer and Perez [on the AL All-Star team], and they haven't had a break."
During Yost's past offseason, "I was running all winter long. I don't think I was ever home more than four or five days in a row. It definitely takes a toll. ... This time of the year, everybody is tired. It just that they've gone so long without a break, and then there's the injuries."
Soria believes it's the little things that are going wrong.
"I'm not tired," he said. "To Miller, I tried to get a ground ball, a double play. He gets the barrel of the bat on it and hit it out. It wasn't a bad pitch. In my view, it was a good pitch. But he hit it out, so it wasn't a good pitch, and that's the way it has been going."
And Miller, unhappy he's going to be replaced by the newly acquired Matt Duffy at shortstop, had a burning desire to make a difference -- to seize the moment.
And that's something the Royals haven't been able to do in 2016.
Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.