ROYAL WOES IN K.C.
Somehow the Royals have followed a franchise-worst 104-loss season with an even more embarrassing year. Last week Kansas City stretched its club-record losing streak to 15 games, during which it was outscored 118-53, blew leads in seven games, became the third team ever to allow 11 runs in a ninth inning at home and fell a team-record 36 1/2 games out of first place.
General manager Allard Baird's pleas for patience are wearing thin. In his five years on the job he's traded Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran without a young impact player left to show for the deals, and the Royals have had a .407 winning percentage (350-511). This year Baird held on to Mike Sweeney (left), though he accounts for 30% of the team's $37 million payroll, essentially because Sweeney is a popular career Royal. It's hard to imagine that K.C. would be any less watchable without him.
One game out of first on Aug. 14, 2004, the Indians sank out of contention with an 8-22 free fall. They entered play on the same date this year 4 1/2 games out of the wild card. "It's different this time," said G.M. Mark Shapiro. "We're not relying on just one or two starters to carry us." Free-agent pickup Kevin Millwood (right, 3.09 ERA) and fourth-year lefthander Cliff Lee (12-4) have been pleasant surprises.
The Indians might also benefit from the easiest remaining schedule among the top four AL wild-card contenders. Measured by weighted winning percentage at week's end, which factors in the number of games against each opponent, the Angels have the toughest road remaining (.505), followed by the Athletics (.499), the Yankees (.488) and then the Indians (.477).
?After a 12-2 start the Dodgers went 39-61. Only the '87 and '92 teams have had a worse 100-game stretch since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
? Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen (left) continues to have soreness in his surgically repaired right shoulder, leaving his return to the lineup in question. Asked if he is worried about Rolen's slow recovery, St. Louis G.M. Walt Jocketty said, "Yes, a little bit."
?Strikeouts are down 4% per game from last season's final numbers. Several managers and coaches attributed the drop to stricter steroid testing. Said one AL coach, "We're finding out it's affected pitchers a lot more than people thought. You don't see nearly as many hard throwers, especially out of the bullpen."