KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Certainly some drop-off was expected after the Rays raced through April with a majors-best 19-9 record that put them on a pace for 110 wins.
Just not this dramatically.
The Rays flipped the calendar with a flop, getting swept Wednesday in a May Day doubleheader by the worst team in the majors north of Miami, losing to the Royals 3-2 and 8-2 as Blake Snell struggled again.
Sure, it could be shrugged off as one long bad day after a bunch of good ones in a lengthy season. It’s proper to give some credit to the Royals, as manager Kevin Cash made a point to. There’s an easy excuse to be made from the odd setting of playing in a nearly empty and energy-less stadium due to the weather-driven rescheduling and early start.
But there’s some reasons to be concerned, too.
Most prominent was centerfielder and team leader Kevin Kiermaier calling out the Rays’ readiness to play, calling Wednesday’s effort “unacceptable” and saying they need to address it immediately.
“Today was just one of those days unfortunately, nothing to hold your head and sit here and pout about or anything, but at the same time, we need to come ready to play each and every day,’’ Kiermaier said. “I know there wasn’t a whole lot of people here in the crowd and it was kind of a dead atmosphere, but we had no energy throughout the whole day unfortunately.
“We tried, especially in that first game. That was frustrating because we had our chances. The second game got out of hand quickly and we got outplayed, plain and simple.
“It’s unacceptable with how we went out today. We didn’t come to play. I think that’s safe to say.’’
Tommy Pham, another veteran, was not as critical, but echoed Kiermaier’s sense of urgency for a turnaround: “You have games like this this. It happens. We’ve got to win (Thursday.) Must win.’’
Most pronounced was Snell’s second straight rough outing since returning from his broken toe and 10-day injured list stint, as he allowed a career-worst seven runs while failing to get an out in the fourth.
Snell insisted he felt fine, that neither the toe nor the layoff is an issue, that the only thing wrong is his ability to throw the ball where he wants and get the results he expects, outdone by the Royals for a second straight game.
“It’s me. It’s 100 percent me,’’ he said. “I’ve got to be better. They showed up and they played today and they did their thing.”
Snell felt he had a better approach Wednesday then he did last week, when he was upset for relying too much on his fastball and curve. He made a point to mix in his changeup more this time, but nothing seemed to work as he gave up three runs in the first, including Kelvin Gutierrez’s first big-league homer, and lasted only three batters into the fourth, given his second leadoff walk of the day then back to back hits. He threw 75 pitches to get nine outs.
“It was uncharacteristic. He just could never get it right for whatever reason,’’ Cash said. “I think he’ll be fine. … The velo is there, the fastball is there. The command was not there (Wednesday). The other day I can’t say command wasn’t there. It was just he kind of put himself in a bind against them the first outing. This outing he just didn’t have the command of his pitches.’’
In two starts since the injury, Snell is 0-2, 12.79, allowing nine earned runs on 11 hits with five walks and only five strikeouts. Overall he is 2-3 with his ERA rising from 2.54 to 4.31.
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner insisted there is nothing to see here.
“To fans, it’ll be a big deal,’’ he said. “But last year I had three bad games that were just like this. Nobody remembers them, but I remember them so vividly. Against Baltimore, New York. So it’s going to happen. Fans can be all whatever they want, but me, I know what I need to do. I know what I need to do to be better. I’m going to keep pushing that. And I’m not worried about it.”
The Rays were down 5-0 when Snell left, and Wilmer Font quickly made it 8-0. It stayed that way until the ninth, when Ji-Man Choi and Daniel Robertson homered.
“We just flat-out got outplayed, outhustled,’’ Kiermaier said. “They did everything much better than us in all facets of the game.’’
The Rays fell behind early in the opening game also, as opener Ryne Stanek also had a rough day, allowing the first four Royals to reach and giving up three runs, though saying he felt he overall threw “pretty well.’’ It was the first time in eight opener assignments this season he was gave up any runs.
In compiling that 19-9 record, the Rays allowed only four first-inning runs total; Wednesday they gave up six.
The Rays got two right back in the second on a two-run double by Willy Adames to snap an 0-for-14, but that was the last big hit they got, going 0-for-8 after that with runners in scoring position.
There were some troubling mistakes as well. Cash cited “a little bit of a mental lapse” in letting the Royals steal third twice with Stanek on the mound. Avisail Garcia got called out for not re-touching second to take them out of a scoring chance in the fourth, pinch-hitter Mike Zunino failed to put the ball in play to get Kiermaier home from third in the seventh.
“Nothing was going our way,’’ Kiermaier said. “You have those days throughout the course of a season. At the same time, this could be another one of those little wakeup calls that might be needed because once you think you have everything figured out, you don’t.’’
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.