A blurry lifetime of a week ago, the conquering Royals returned from a 6-3 road trip with a 16-9 record and standing atop all of Major League Baseball.
No one could stop the juggernaut, and surely they were playoff-bound … if not destined for the World Series.
By a mere seven days later on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, they had suffered an eighth straight loss, 9-3 to the Chicago White Sox, to punctuate a hideous 0-7 homestand and careen below .500 for the first time this season.
It’s “embarrassing” not to play the kind of baseball they believe they can, manager Mike Matheny said after the game Sunday, adding, “It doesn’t sit right.”
Their play the last few days was so inept and infuriating, even, that we might as well declare their season over.
Neither overstated scenario, of course, was or is enshrined or inevitable … even if the polar identities are both in this team’s DNA and thus in its range. It’s not as if the brilliant part of this 16-17 start simply can be dismissed as fool’s gold and the recent funk assumed to be the harsh truth.
These Royals are both and all of it and no one thing all at once, conjuring that line from poet Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
Or, if you prefer, let’s summon the words the other day of baseball poet Whit Merrifield (and not just because his name is reminiscent of Whitman) after the fifth straight loss:
“Did you think it was going to be peaches and roses all year? … Let’s see how we can respond. Let’s see what kind of team we’ve got. Let’s see what kind of men we’ve got in there.”
By “how we can respond,” Merrifield was directly referring to the immediate horizon against the White Sox.
The response, alas, was not well: The Royals were outscored 21-4 in the series (and 58-21 over the eight games.)
But Merrifield no doubt also meant the bigger picture of a 162-game season. And that point still reverberates as the Royals take what they can only hope will be a rejuvenating, resetting sort of off day before resuming play on Tuesday in Detroit.
Brutal as this sequence has been, it bears remembering that it’s also a sliver of the season. And while they would do well to gather some peaches and/or roses ASAP, whether this span becomes a telling microcosm is another matter … and one that the Royals are equally free to shrug off or stay mired in.
Still, in the fickle blink of eight days, 4.94 % of the regular season, it’s reasonable to suggest many perceptions have changed radically about what this team is and where it’s going.
And not without ample reason, given the hollow, uninspired performances the last few days in particular. That’s put them on a dismal trajectory … even if it need not be ruinous.
It was a terrible week, Matheny acknowledged, while reminding that terrible weeks tend to be a routine hazard of the game.
Yet with each passing day, the direction becomes more and more of a vortex to be escaped both psychologically and in the standings.
And it’s sure enough to make you wonder at what number does a losing streak become some sort of living, breathing burden that proves catastrophic and inescapable.
The old joke in the news business is that twice is a coincidence and three times makes for a trend story.
Eight times is something quite beyond that. And it indeed reflects distressing issues: from lapses in starting pitching to a recently capricious bullpen, from some porous infield defense to a stupefying offensive drought encapsulated in Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier lagging below .200.
Just the same, we still think eight times also could be ultimately reduced to a blip. Or maybe minimized as a propelling-off-the-bottom pivot point.
Could, we say, because it’s not a stretch to reckon that Soler and Dozier and opening day starter Brad Keller, to name a few, will produce more like their track record says they will.
And it’s logical to figure that the impending return of Adalberto Mondesi (oblique injury), likely by the end of the month, not only will reset and reshape the infield defense but also add a potential catalyst to the lineup.
While Mondesi’s career has been marked by wild swings in performance at the plate, he’s also the most dynamic player with the highest ceiling the current Royals have seen perform at the major-league level.
If nothing else, it’s worth waiting to see the impact of his return before shunning the rest of the season.
It’s true that the Royals have made it an enormous challenge to be patient and level-headed through this sloppy, exasperating time.
But it’s also true that every season has its distinct ebb and flow … and that we remain too early into this one to know where the tide will deposit a team that had the best record in baseball for more than a month and has been as poor as can be for just over the last week.
Most likely, this team is somewhere in between extremes.
Somewhere on a spectrum it’s entirely free to define, with a group as capable of an exhilarating start as it is of a debilitating slump and about 80 % of the story remaining to be created ... hard as that might be to remember just now.