Yost’s new-look batting order starting to show results for Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There have been significant turning points to this wacky and crazy Royals season.
The players-only meeting in Chicago in late July certainly can be pointed to — the Royals won 24 of their next 30 games after that meeting.
And now, another key moment should be considered — when manager Ned Yost got out of his comfort zone last Saturday and decided to shake up his batting order.
The move appears to have awoken — ever so slightly — a slumbering offense. The shakeup certainly has made a difference at the top.
Alcides Escobar was moved to leadoff, and he has responded with seven hits, including a home run, in 21 at-bats.
Nori Aoki, moved to the No. 2 spot, has 13 hits in 21 at-bats.
Lorenzo Cain, moved to the 3-hole, has six hits, including a giant three-run homer Wednesday off White Sox ace Chris Sale, in 21 at-bats.
The top three hitters are 26 for 63 (.413) since the shakeup.
Overall, the Royals are averaging five-plus runs a game in that short span.
"We had to try something," Yost explained. "At this point of the season, we had to do something to jump-start this thing."
It seems to be working, even if it is a tiny sample size.
"Whatever the manager decides to do (with the order) we’ve just got to try and do our jobs wherever we hit in the order," Cain said.
The offensive funk the Royals had been in started way back on August 24.
That was the game at Texas when Rangers right-hander Scott Baker, who entered with an ERA ballooning near 6.00, mysteriously stifled the Royals in a 3-1 victory.
The Royals offense immediately fell into the abyss, averaging just 2.6 runs per game over a 19-game span. Predictably, the Royals went just 8-11 during that time.
"We were lucky to have won eight games considering the offense we had," Yost said.
Yost patiently waited for his troops to snap out of it.
"You know they’re capable of hitting and scoring runs," Yost said. "So you try to remain patient. But we’re running out of time."
It hasn’t been just one or two Royals in this funk. Several key hitters simply aren’t carrying their loads.
Catcher Sal Perez is hitting just .214 since Aug. 22, and on Tuesday drew his first walk since Aug. 12. Yost didn’t seem surprised.
"Actually, I thought it was even longer than that, maybe August second," Yost said.
It’s not like Yost and the coaching staff haven’t preached to Perez and others the importance of a solid approach during each trip to the plate.
"We talk about it every at-bat — ‘Hey, get a good pitch, Sal. Get a good at-bat,’" Yost said. "Then (his head) gets spinning. He’s trying to hit the proverbial five-run homer every time up. It doesn’t work.
"He’s anxious. Too anxious. Trying to do too much. Getting in a hurry … everyone is a better hitter when you’re more patient."
Even the veteran Royals hitters haven’t been immune to the funk. Billy Butler is 2 for his last 30 while Alex Gordon is hitting .180 in September with an abysmal .280 slugging percentage.
Yost thinks the excitement of the playoff chase is affecting some of his hitters.
"This time of year, and the guys are going through it for the first time. … It’s exciting for them," Yost said. "They want to do good, and they push and they push, but it takes you out of your game.
"You got to learn to just back off. Let the game come to you instead of trying to rush out and make it happen too quickly."
There’s little Yost can do other than shuffling the batting order. Sitting Perez or Gordon isn’t an option.
"Sal is too important," Yost said. "Right now, with 11 games left … he’s got to go (every night). Gordy is the same way. There are times you want to give him a break, but he’s too valuable on the other side of the ball."
While the new batting order has solved the riddle at the top, Yost is still looking for his big guns to start firing.
"Esky has been better at the top, and Nori has been better, and Lorenzo has been better," Yost said, "so now we just have to get the middle of the order going."