KANSAS CITY, Mo. _ There are many reasons the Royals, a team just 22 months removed from a World Series championship, sit one game under .500 after an 11-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Their offense ranks 12th in the American League in runs scored, weighed down by a feeble bottom of the lineup. Their starting pitching has been shredded by injuries and fatigue; their bullpen gutted by an offseason trade that has yet to bear fruit.
And yet, there were two moments in the sixth inning Monday night at Kauffman Stadium, two plays that illustrated a .500 team playing to form.
First, there was third baseman Mike Moustakas, hobbled by a nagging knee injury, who could not plant his right leg on a throw and airmailed a baseball to first base. And then there was center fielder Lorenzo Cain, battling a sore quad, who could not complete a simple double play, botching a throw back to the infield after Chicago's Avisail Garcia found himself more than 100 feet off first base.
The miscues gifted the White Sox two extra outs. Moments later, Chicago's Adam Engel cranked a three-run homer off reliever Brandon Maurer into the fountains in left-center, a capstone on a six-run inning.
The two mistakes were not the only factors in another rout, of course. Starting pitcher Jason Hammel was hounded for five runs in 3 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since April 30. The Kansas City offense managed just three runs against rookie starter Reynaldo Lopez, a 23-year-old who entered with a 4.84 ERA.
But perhaps the sixth inning signaled why a spirited charge this month seems so unlikely, why the Royals (71-72) feel more removed from the playoffs than the three games that separate them from Minnesota in the American League wild-card race.
Moustakas is ostensibly playing on one good leg. He is still sitting on 36 homers after clubbing just one in his last 22 games. On Monday, the pain appeared to surface on two errant throws to first. The first came on a potential double play in the fourth in which Moustakas stepped on third base and spiked a throw to first. The other came after the White Sox had struck for a run in the sixth on a single by Yoan Moncada and a triple by Jose Abreu.
Left fielder Nicky Delmonico hit a routine grounder to third. Moustakas flubbed the throw, appearing tentative on his right leg. Garcia followed with an RBI single before Omar Narvaez lined out to center on a hit-and-run. Garcia did not pick up the baseball in the air and rounded second on the play. But Cain could not garner much authority on the throw, heaving an off-line toss that shortstop Alcides Escobar failed to cut off. Garcia scampered back to the bag. The situation would only deteriorate more.
The Royals lost just a half-game to Minnesota, which was off on Monday. They will seek to even the series with Chicago on Tuesday in a rare 12:15 p.m. start. (Thank you, U2 concert at Arrowhead Stadium.) Rookie Sam Gaviglio will make his second start following a solid effort against the Twins last week. Kansas City cannot afford many more outings like the one on Monday.
Hammel, who had gone at least six innings in seven of his last eight starts, was pillaged for two runs in the first inning and another in the second. He lasted just 3 1/3 innings, yielding 10 hits and two walks.
The offense, meanwhile, was mostly quiet. First baseman Eric Hosmer recorded a single in the second inning, extending his streak of nine hits in nine straight at-bats. It would end in the bottom of the fourth, just one hit shy of tying Joe Randa's franchise record.
Brandon Moss clubbed a solo homer to right in the bottom of the fifth, giving the Royals four players with 20 homers for the third time in franchise history. By the end, the feat did not mean much.