Kansas City, Mo. After an embarrassing 106 losses in 2005, this year's Kansas City Royals seem to be worse yet.
They've played only 14 games. But already they have a 10-game losing streak. They've played only five series. They've been swept in four of them.
Their pitchers' earned-run average is the highest, and their hitters' batting average is the lowest in the major leagues. Fans are running out of patience, especially those who agreed on April 4 to a new sales tax that will help pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in stadium improvements.
"I think we should petition the commissioner to let us have an expansion team," deadpanned one caller to a local sports talk radio show. "It's high time Kansas City became a major-league town."
Thursday was a day off, and the Royals badly needed it after getting shut out by the White Sox at the end of an 0-9 road trip.
If things don't turn around, general manager Allard Baird may soon be out of work. In 2003 when the Royals won 83 games and were contenders until September, he was considered one of the brightest young general managers in baseball.
But now, after losing 104 games in 2004 and 106 in 2005, fans are calling for his scalp.
Baird understands that perfectly.
"The bottom line is I'm the general manager of the club. I'm held accountable," Baird said. "The expectation of fans is a good thing. If the club continues to struggle, that rests on my shoulders."
Before this season, the team seemed poised for improvement, with a payroll increased to about $47 million and veteran newcomers such as infielders Mark Grudzielanek and Doug Mientkiewicz. But designated hitter Mike Sweeney, the only steady run-producer of recent years, has started in a deep slump.
"It's a better team than last year," Baird said. "It has better talent and makeup. But when you start out like this, everything is going to be magnified. That's the way it is. We may have been a little snake-bit. But the game doesn't stop, and nobody is going to feel sorry for you."
Help may be on the way, even if it's too late for this season.
Developing in the minor leagues are a number of promising young players such as outfielders Billy Butler and Mitch Maier and first baseman Justin Huber. In a victory at Nashville on Wednesday night, Huber hit his fifth home run and raised his Triple-A average to .359.
Left-hander J.P. Howell is 3-0 with a 2.65 ERA at Omaha. Third baseman Alex Gordon, last year's overall No. 2 pick in the draft, was hitting .353 through Wednesday night for Class-AA Wichita. This year, as a consequence of having the worst record last year, the Royals will get the overall No. 1 pick.
A big problem has been injuries to pitchers. Projected starters Runelvys Hernandez and Denny Bautista are on the disabled list. So is Zack Greinke, the former first-round pick who is being counted on to form the cornerstone of the rotation of the future.
Greinke left spring training on Feb. 25 to go home and work on what the club called "personal issues." After counseling for emotional problems, there was a glimmer of good news this week when the 22-year-old reported to the Royals' complex in Arizona. There is no timetable for his return. But Greinke says he is facing his problems head-on.
"At least I'm trying, that's kind of cool," he said. "If it doesn't get better then I'm going to have problems for a long time."
A robust Greinke working toward his initial promise would do the Royals worlds of good.
"Baseball is baseball. But you have to look at the human element," Baird said. "We want to see Zack do well in life."