Royals manager Ned Yost likes to point out that the club’s batting order is an organizational decision, with input drawn from coaches, front office staff and members of the club’s analytics department.
Still, Yost has a handful of preferences in his optimal lineup. He likes a left-right-left blend in the middle of the order, a ploy to stop teams from stacking relievers in the late innings. He’s also come to like Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer in the No. 3 and 4 spots.
So in some ways, Yost’s opening day lineup, which he revealed on Wednesday, offered few surprises. He opted for Alex Gordon at the top and Mike Moustakas in the two-spot. The rest of the lineup more or less fell into place. Cain and Hosmer will bat third and fourth, respectively, while the right-handed hitting Salvador Perez will bat fifth behind Hosmer. Designated hitter Brandon Moss will bat sixth, while right fielder Paulo Orlando, thrust into a starting role after an injury to Jorge Soler, will bat seventh. Shortstop Alcides Escobar and second baseman Raul Mondesi, a switch hitter, will bat eighth and ninth, respectively.
“It gives us a nice left-right-left balance,” Yost said.
Gordon emerged as the favorite to lead off after a strong start to camp. Following a disappointing season in 2016, Gordon entered Wednesday batting .364 (20 for 55) with .462 on-base percentage and five extra-base hits.
On a club with no obvious choice to lead off, Gordon has long offered the best combination of on-base skills and production. He has posted a .345 on-base percentage in his career. Before last season’s decline, he had logged an OPS-plus of better than 118 in three of his last four seasons.
For now, the lineup is set. But it could remain fluid, especially after the return of Soler.
“If you need to make adjustments down the road,” Yost said, “you make adjustments.”
The projected opening day lineup:
1. Alex Gordon, LF
2. Mike Moustakas, 3B
3. Lorenzo Cain, CF
4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
5. Salvador Perez, C
6. Brandon Moss, DH
7. Paulo Orlando, RF
8. Alcides Escobar, SS
9. Raul Mondesi, 2B
Yost remains open on bullpen roles
Five days before Opening Day, Yost maintained his stance that the Royals’ bullpen roles will remain loose and undefined during the first weeks of the season. Reliever Kelvin Herrera has settled into the closer role, and Joakim Soria and Matt Strahm will serve as the primary setup men for Herrera. But Yost will opt to play matchups as the season begins, he said.
“The roles haven’t been defined,” Yost said. “If we were going to do it tomorrow, we’d probably use [Soria] in the eighth inning, depending on what the matchups are.”
The Royals could also lean on left-hander Mike Minor and left-hander Travis Wood in high-leverage roles. Minor posted a 0.69 ERA in the Cactus League, allowing one run in 13 innings. Wood posted a 2.95 ERA in 61 innings for the Chicago Cubs in 2016.
“We’re hoping that Minor can be in that mix,” Yost said. “I’m pretty sure Woody will be in that mix. But it’s different this year. In years past, you had Wade [Davis], you had Herrera, you had [Luke Hochevar], you had it lined up. It’s a little bit newer. New names. So the roles will define themselves from their performance.”