Judging the Royals

When should the Royals stop tinkering?

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie walked off the field after being relieved in the third inning during Tuesday’s game against the Seattle Mariners.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie walked off the field after being relieved in the third inning during Tuesday’s game against the Seattle Mariners. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Barring another outbreak of chicken pox, a swine flu epidemic or a rash of clubhouse scooter accidents, the Kansas City Royals should clinch the division sometime this week. They have a 10-game lead over the Minnesota Twins and stand a very good chance of having home-field advantage during the playoffs.

So what’s not to like?

As you probably already know, the Royals are scuffling down the stretch. They lost 11-2 to the Seattle Mariners Tuesday night and the game was even worse than the score indicates; Jeremy Guthrie gave up nine runs in 2  1/3 innings and the Royals played some shoddy defense behind him. The Royals are now 7-13 in the month of September and things have gotten out a bit out of whack.

Having a huge lead in the division race sounds pretty good and I don’t think anybody wishes the Royals lead over the Twins was smaller. But that huge lead has led to giving players days off and those days off have led to some makeshift lineups. Baseball rewards routine like no other sport and lately the Royals have gotten out of their routine.

Besides giving starters days off, the Royals have:

▪ Switched their closer; Greg Holland is out and Wade Davis is in. That means the other roles in the bullpen will also be switched around.

▪ Taken Danny Duffy out of the starting rotation and sent him to the pen.

▪ Taken Jeremy Guthrie out of the bullpen and put him back in the rotation. (After last night I don’t think anyone would be overly surprised to see Guthrie go back to the pen and Chris Young go back into the rotation.)

▪ Taken Kris Medlen out of the pen and put him in the rotation.

▪ Lost their regular second baseman — Omar Infante — and replaced him with Ben Zobrist.

▪ Tried to figure out if Alex Rios is going to be the right fielder or the job will be given to some combination of Jonny Gomes, Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando.

▪ Taken Alcides Escobar out of the leadoff spot and replaced him with Ben Zobrist.

▪ Taken Ben Zobrist out of the leadoff spot and replaced him with Alex Gordon.

▪ Changed the way catcher Salvador Perez sets a target.

I could probably go on, but you get the idea: the Royals’ big lead in the division race has allowed them the luxury of taking their foot off the gas pedal to a certain degree, but the race for home field advantage is much tighter—and home field advantage could be the difference between advancing in the playoffs and going home early.

Both Houston and New York have smaller ballparks, well suited to home run hitters and poorly suited to fly ball pitchers. An extra game at Kauffman Stadium might be the difference.

At some point — and now seems like a pretty good time — the Royals need to stop tinkering, say these are the guys and the lineup we’re going with and start playing the way they hope to play in the postseason.

Or I could be totally wrong

The good thing about me — assuming there is a good thing about me — is I’ve spent enough time being wrong in the past to be totally comfortable with the possibility that I’ll be wrong in the future.

After Tuesday night’s blowout, I stopped by Eric Hosmer’s locker and talked about the postseason. I specifically wanted to know if Eric thought the Royals needed to get on a good roll as they went into the playoffs.

Eric pointed out that whether the Royals were winning or losing as they finished up the regular season, they’d be forced to sit and wait for the Wild Card game to be played. Win the division and you get three days off.

Eric did agree that letting guys get used to the roles they would play in the postseason made sense; figure out how you’re going to do things and then play that way for the last seven or eight days.

Danny Duffy will stay in the pen

During Ned Yost’s postgame news conference he said that despite Jeremy Guthrie’s performance in Tuesday’s game, Danny Duffy would stay in the bullpen. That’s the role they want Danny to play in the postseason, so they want Danny to get used to it.

After Ned’s news conference ended, he and I walked back to the clubhouse together and I asked Ned if Wade Davis was going to close and Kelvin Herrera was now the setup man, was there any chance Duffy would have the seventh inning; would the Royals go from H-D-H to D-H-D?

Ned said they liked what Ryan Madson had done so far, but he was also comfortable with Danny pitching the seventh or the eighth — even the ninth inning if they needed that. I asked if Duffy moving to the pen simplified things for Danny: he could just let it go and not worry about pacing himself or facing a batting order multiple times. Ned thought that was part of it, but I then asked Danny and he wasn’t sure “simplify” was the right term. He did say pitching in relief allowed him to “empty out the tank.”

So interpret that however you like: Danny said he still sees himself as starter down the road, but for now and the rest of this season, if he can help the team coming out of the pen, he’s happy to do it.

Will Alex Rios play right field?

Compared to the other Royals outfielders, Alex Rios does not cover a lot of territory and the territory he does cover is played conservatively; you don’t see Rios spending a lot of time diving for baseballs or running into walls.

So if Alex is going to play right field, he needs to hit and right now he’s doing that. In the last 28 days, Rios has hit .358 and slugged .623. In the last 14 days, it’s .395 and .684. In the last seven days, it’s .412 and .588.

If Rios is being auditioned for a postseason spot in right field, right now he’s passing the audition.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.