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Road woes hurt Royals’ postseason chances

The Kansas City Royals went 44-37 last year on the road, one win behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in the American League. They were 4-4 in the postseason outside Kauffman Stadium, including wins in the final two games of the World Series in New York’s Citi Field. In 2014, they were an AL-best 47-34 on the road and 5-2 in the postseason.

So what in the world is up with the defending world champions this year?

They entered the weekend with a sickly 16-30 road record, the most losses in the big leagues. Yes, more than even the woebegone Braves and Twins. And that will wreck your 28-11 home record and put you down in the neighborhood of fourth place in the AL Central. 

The Royals’ home road-split stats are as astonishing as the difference in the won-lost record. Check out these comparisons entering the weekend:

Batting average: .293 at home/.255 on the road.

Runs per game: 4.8/3.2

Slugging: .443/.382

On-Base Plus Slugging: .785/.682

Strikeouts by batters: 251/367

Walks by pitchers: 112/157

Home runs allowed: 44/69

ERA: 3.90/4.43

Now, injuries have certainly been a huge factor. In the middle of a three-game sweep endured last week in Toronto, the Royals put closer Wade Davis on the disabled list with a forearm strain and said they hoped he would be out only about two weeks. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain (hamstring) should also be able to return shortly after the All-Star break.

The team has already endured Mike Moustakas’ season-ending knee injury and the broken bone in the hand of left fielder Alex Gordon that sidelined the franchise’s core player for a month, and a week without All-Star catcher Salvador Perez (quad).

But there’s a lot more to it than just that. The Royals are built for spacious Kauffman on both sides of the ball. They’re not a huge home run team, instead putting their lineup full of gap-to-gap hitters and having fleet outfielders who can cover the ballpark’s vast expanse and save the pitchers runs.

But things change when the team hits the road and opponents can take advantage of more cozy confines. In addition, the Royals put notorious flyball pitchers Chris Young and Ian Kennedy into their rotation this year and the road has not been kind. 

KC entered the weekend having allowed 69 home runs away from home, 10 more than any other AL club. Young gave up four Tuesday in Toronto and has been pulled from the rotation after pushing his total to an MLB-worst 26.

Manager Ned Yost has predictably grown weary of the home-road talk and said he’s not feeling any panic mode setting in as his team struggles for a third straight trip to the postseason and World Series.

“I don’t know how many times I have to go over this,” an exasperated Yost said when the team returned home Thursday. “I don’t feel extra urgency. The reason for that is that we feel urgency every day. We don’t treat these situations with more urgency than any other situation. In a major league season, every game is important. Your mindset has to be that this is the most important game of the year. Tomorrow, that’s going to be your mindset.”

The worst road team to make the playoffs was the 1987 Twins, who were just 29-52 outside the Metrodome but then won a seven-game World Series against the Cardinals by going 4-0 under the Teflon roof. The Astros were just 33-48 last year. 

The Royals are on pace to go just 28-53. If that doesn’t change, they’ll be spending most of this October on the golf course.

Road is taken by Herd

The Bisons, meanwhile, have had the opposite problem of the Royals and it’s gone to historic levels.

When the Bisons posted their 8-2 victory Tuesday in Rochester, it was their ninth straight win on the road - tying the franchise’s modern-era record set in their first year back in Triple-A. In a stretch that spanned from April 17-May 11, 1985, the Bisons won three games in Indianapolis, three more in Louisville and three in Omaha for a nine-game run. 

All of those victories, by the way, came in stadiums no longer in use. Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium has been partially demolished, Indy’s Bush Stadium has been converted into apartments and Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium has also been demolished and replaced by a new facility for the College World Series.

It’s a bizarre year overall for the Herd, as it entered the weekend nine games over .500 and with the fourth-best record in the IL – but also fourth in its own division because it was under .500 at home. 

The somewhat unbalanced North Division schedule does the Bisons no favors either, as they meet first-place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 21 times this season while playing last-place Syracuse just 17 times. The Bisons are just 5-8 thus far against the RailRiders while they are 6-4 against the Chiefs.

JoeyBats to Buffalo?

Keep an eye on what the Toronto Blue Jays do with rehab assignments in the next couple of weeks. Chris Colabello’s PED suspension expires on July 23 and he can start rehab work in the minor leagues on Thursday. Meanwhile, Sportsnet reported Friday that Jose Bautista took swings off a hitting tee Friday at the Blue Jays’ spring complex in Dunedin, Fla.

Bautista, whose foot has been in a boot due to a toe problem, has not played since June 16 and would likely need some minor-league at-bats before he could return to the lineup. After this weekend, the Bisons aren’t home again until July 18 but they play seven straight home games against Norfolk and Gwinnett that week. 

It will be interesting to see if Bautista is in their lineup at some point on that homestand - and to see if he brings the uptick of ticket sales you figure he would.

Long before Bautista became one of the game’s biggest sluggers, he was an unheralded prospect in the Pittsburgh chain. As a 24-year-old in 2005, he was in the lineup as the Indianapolis Indians wiped out a 2-0 deficit and won three straight games at Coca-Cola Field to derail the Bisons’ hopes of back-to-back Governors’ Cup championships. The Herd has not been in the postseason since.

A Po’Boy or a Baby Cake

The PCL’s New Orleans Zephyrs were supposed to issue their new nickname for 2017 on Friday, but extended the contest for a week due to overwhelming fan response. The Bisons’ former American Association rivals, who beat the Herd in the 1998 Triple-A World Series in Las Vegas, are going for a more locally-themed name after keeping the Zephyrs moniker they had in Denver upon their move to the Bayou in 1993.

The finalists are the New Orleans Night Owls, Red Eyes, Tailgators, Crawfish, Baby Cakes, King Cakes and Po’Boys. The vote here would easily be Po’Boys, since I consumed more than my share during a couple trips to the Big Easy with the Bisons in the late ‘90s and at the 2003 NCAA Final Four.

Around the horn

• After getting named as an All-Star replacement Friday by Mets manager and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Collins, Bartolo Colon told New York reporters that his plans are to play just one more season in the big leagues. Colon will turn 44 in the 2017 campaign, which will mark the 20th anniversary of his no-hitter for the Bisons in then-North AmeriCare Park. It’s still the only no-no in the ballpark’s 29 seasons.

• It’s always cool to see reunions of players going back to their old parks. I was at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park during the Stanley Cup final when Mets second baseman Neil Walker got roaring ovations as he came to the plate in both ends of a doubleheader, which stretched on because Bucs catcher Francisco Cervelli dawdled in front of the mound to let the crowd keep going. It was more of the same last week in St. Louis, when 2011 postseason hero David Freese returned with the Pirates to play in his hometown.

• Speaking of the Pirates, they went 9-19 in June and then responded by opening July 6-0. They erased deficits in every game, their longest streak of comeback victories since June 11-16, 1983.

• Something to watch as the summer moves along is the field conditions in Fenway Park. There are 10 concerts scheduled from July 15 to Sept. 9, the most the Sox have staged in a season. And they’re big ones too like Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam and Billy Joel. 

Groundskeepers at Wrigley Field and Citi Field, among others, have had to work hard to maintain their fields after concerts and Fenway will be under particular strain if there’s any rain surrounding these shows. Driving revenue is one thing but this seems quite excessive for a ballpark that is full every night at some of the highest prices in the big leagues.