Royals’ offense is greater than the sum of its low-profile parts
08/28/2014 11:56 PM
08/29/2014 12:45 AM
Scan the few dozen traditionally most relevant American League batting categories, and you’ll be squinting for Royals’ names among the leaders.
Even on a printout featuring those names in bold type.
No Royal appears in the top 10 in batting average, home runs, RBIs, multihit games, runs, hits, total bases, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage …
You get the idea.
“We don’t have that guy who really has out-of-control numbers right now,” said left fielder Alex Gordon, who is as close as it gets.
Moreover, the Royals have managed only an AL-worst 85 home runs.
None of this makes for a recipe — at least not a particularly sensible one — for what’s going on here.
Amid their third straight week atop the American League Central, the Royals had won 26 of 34 games before their 11-5 loss to Minnesota in 10 innings on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium.
Before this game even ended, it rattled and riled an understandably jittery fan base because of the way it unraveled.
For a variety of reasons, including not wanting to burden already overused relievers while burning through others rapid-fire, manager Ned Yost had to trot out degenerating Bruce Chen for the disastrous 10th inning.
But the game was in every way a deviation from the new normal for the Royals, and even if it’s stuck in your craw it shouldn’t detract from the direction this has been going.
The Royals identity, after all, has taken its form.
A crucial part of their success, of course, is the convergent forces of sweet pitching and fence-crashing, dirt-grubbing defense.
The Royals do all that about as well as anybody, and Chen’s implosion notwithstanding, it nearly always gives them a chance.
But you still can’t win if you don’t score.
So the pivot point has been all about something else: The Royals offensively are greater than the sum of their parts because of a lot of unglamorous things like balance, depth and a knack for the seemingly minor but finer elements of the game.
“That’s kind of who we are,” Yost said. “We’re a team that plays with a lot of heart and a lot of energy and a lot of passion.”
Now, that smacks a little bit of stressing the personality of an otherwise disappointing blind date, the kind of thing you say when not everything else is quite what you had hoped.
And there’s a fine line, too, between balance and mere mediocrity.
But it’s hard to dispute how this is all adding up for the Royals.
No other American League team, for instance, has as many 40-RBI men as the Royals’ eight (nine if you count Josh Willingham and his 34 with Minnesota).
Gordon is a microcosm of this as he puts together a season worthy of MVP consideration based not on any one gaudy number but all the different things he does — including a home run to tie it Thursday.
Meanwhile, Royals do show up among league leaders in telling aspects of the game: stolen bases (Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain), sacrifice flies (Billy Butler), sacrifice bunts (Escobar) and hit by pitches (Gordon).
This is the mortar of a winning formula, the nitty-gritty details that move base runners and stoke rallies and win games that leave you looking at the numbers later and thinking it doesn’t all add up.
“There’s no such thing as a little thing in the game of baseball,” designated hitter/first baseman Raul Ibanez said. “You have a couple of smaller looking-things that happen, and then next thing you know …”
You get the Royals’ eighth inning on Wednesday.
It began with a trickle on a tame single by Ibanez and morphed into a threat after Cain stole second in Ibanez’s place and Mike Moustakas lunged head-first for an infield single.
Then came Dyson’s RBI bunt … and Nori Aoki’s go-ahead single to set up the deluge … capped by Salvador Perez’s two-run triple.
Wham, it was 6-1 Royals in a game in which they otherwise mustered two hits.
The extension of this is that on any given night, it might be any two or three or four players who make this happen.
Name a game, and the winning combination will vary.
Name anyone on the roster, really, and they’ve helped tilt a game or three even if their broader numbers might mask their contributions.
“When you come to the game you don’t really know who’s going to be that guy, night in and night out,” said Gordon, whose two-run, walk-off home run on Tuesday perhaps was the highlight of the season. “It seems like every game it’s somebody different.”
To Ibanez, one of just four Royals with postseason experience, just believing that’s who they are carries clout.
“What happens on the field is, really, most of the time a manifestation of what you’re thinking about, anyway,” he said. “What you believe to be true.”
This is what Yost calls a “perfect blend,” in part because of the notion that no one is wired to sit back and expect someone else to do it.
That’s also a reminder, though, that there’s little margin for error without monster numbers to be counted on.
“We need all of our guys,” Yost said. “It’s going to take 25 guys doing their part in order for us to close this thing out.”
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.
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