KANSAS CITY -- Danny Duffy's last two starts at Kauffman Stadium represent a study in contrasts. On May 17 against Baltimore, when he was perfect through 6 2/3 innings, almost everything went right for Duffy. But on Wednesday against the Astros, almost everything went wrong.
The Royals left-hander, experiencing what manager Ned Yost called "a little dead arm," gave up five runs through the opening three innings and the Astros were off and running toward a 9-3 victory and a sweep of the three-game series.
Two batters deep into the game, Duffy was down by two runs. He induced leadoff hitter Jose Altuve to dribble a grounder to shortstop Alcides Escobar, but first baseman Eric Hosmer couldn't handle the throw and was charged with an error. Then George Springer followed with a two-run homer and, just like that, Houston was on its way.
It never really got better for Duffy, who huffed and puffed to throw his fastball in the 88-92 mph range. Dexter Fowler's two-run single in the second made it 4-0, and it was shades of Monday night, when the Astros also roughed up hard-throwing Yordano Ventura in the early going.
"A very frustrating outing," Duffy said. "It was like trying to throw the ball through the pool. That happens to everyone, and I just have to battle through it."
Duffy was quick to emphasize that he didn't feel the dead-arm issue was the primary reason why he lasted only four innings plus two batters, surrendering seven hits and six runs (five earned) while walking five and striking out only three.
"I made horrible pitches to people who have some pop," Duffy said. "My command today was hogwash. That was one of the worst outings I've had in a long time."
Given the way Kansas City's offense has struggled recently, the early 5-0 deficit seemed akin to climbing Mount Everest.
The Astros arrived on Memorial Day 13 games under .500, but certainly didn't look like cellar dwellers in outscoring the Royals, 21-5, over a three-day span.
"They outplayed us, plain and simple," Yost said.
The Royals (24-28) have dropped four in a row and seven of nine. They left left town late Wednesday contemplating how to turn it around with 12 consecutive games looming against plus-.500 competition.
"We're going to have to get this figured out quick, or we're going to be in trouble," Yost said.
Although Ventura and Duffy struggled in the Houston series, the starting pitching isn't what concerns Yost moving forward. Priority No. 1 is finding a more consistent offense to take some pressure off the starting rotation and the bullpen.
Power discrepancy continues to be a big problem for the Royals as Houston slugged three homers on Wednesday, two of them coming from Chris Carter in the fifth and sixth innings. The Royals got only their 21st homer all season when Brett Hayes -- who snapped an 0-for-27 hitless streak to start the season with a single earlier -- went deep in the seventh. But by then, the Astros were comfortably in command.
"It was just a bad series, and unfortunately it happened at home," said designated hitter Billy Butler. "I don't think it's one thing [with the offense]. It'll eventually work itself out. There's not one guy in the lineup that's hitting the ball well. We're just cold. It's a frustrating thing. We're all battling, but it's just not happening."
Astros starter Jarred Cosart wasn't particularly sharp, falling behind numerous hitters and requiring 95 pitches to get through five innings. The Royals snapped a 15-inning scoreless streak on Escobar's RBI single in the fourth. Carter's solo homer made it 6-1 in the fifth, but the Royals still had hopes of a comeback after Omar Infante's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the frame.
Houston applied the crusher in the sixth, when Louis Coleman surrendered a three-run homer to Carter, who came into the game hitting .192.
"Carter got two pitches out front," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "If he touches them out front, with his strength and bat speed, there aren't many ballparks that can hold him."
The Royals are now 10-16 in May but can take some solace in knowing that they bounced back nicely from an 8-20 record in May last season and competed for a playoff spot until the final week.
"We just snapped out of it," Yost said. "There was nothing that was said, nothing that was done. We came back from the All-Star break and we were a different team. Something clicked. It can happen here again. Screaming and yelling doesn't work. You have to continue to identify the issues and work hard every day to get more consistent at the plate."
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.