Judging the Royals

Royals give a game away; postseason predictions

Royals manager Ned Yost celebrated following Thursday's victory over the Mariners to win the American League Central title on at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals manager Ned Yost celebrated following Thursday's victory over the Mariners to win the American League Central title on at Kauffman Stadium. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

The Royals clinched the Central Division championship Thursday night and partied; the Royals sent out a lineup Friday night that appeared to be pulled out of a hat or made up of the players that were the least hung over.

Friday’s makeshift lineup almost got no-hit by Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco. There was a cheer when Royals right fielder Alex Rios singled in the seventh inning, but before the evening was over the Royals heard scattered boos from unhappy fans. Social media was littered with comments about paying big league prices to see a Triple A team. (Nothing says “what have you done for me lately?” like booing a team that won a division championship the night before.)

Only two regular starters were in the lineup — Alex Rios and Ben Zobrist — and the rest of Friday night’s team was made up of bench players and rookies.

Ned Yost said he didn’t regret giving most of his starting lineup the night off; the night before they’d accomplished something special and he wanted them to go out and celebrate it. No word if Kansas City’s starting pitcher Edinson Volquez — who got tagged with the 6-0 loss — felt the same way.

Ballplayers do get tired

Earlier in the week I had lunch with a friend who scoffed at the idea that baseball players get tired; compared to basketball or soccer, baseball players just don’t run that much during a baseball game.

Spoken like a guy who’s never played 162 games of big league baseball.

It’s not just the games that wear on a player; nobody travels like baseball players. Weird time changes, late hours, lack of sleep, playing and preparing to play almost every day for seven — and if you’re lucky — eight months. Ballplayers work out every day. They take batting practice — inside or outside — every day. They lift weights every day. If they’ve got a nagging injury, they may have it for months; they never rest enough to let it completely heal.

There’s a reason baseball players switch to lighter bats toward the end of the season. There’s a reason managers will cut down on workouts in August. There’s a reason outfields shift more toward the opposite field late in the year; hitters get tired and may not have the bat speed to pull the ball as much as they would in April.

Ballplayers do get tired.

Getting into a routine

Having now defended baseball players in general, let’s get back to Friday night and the Royals lineup.

Ned Yost wanted to give his regulars a night off so they could celebrate, but the Royals are still in a tight race for home field advantage. Kansas City lost a game Friday night while Toronto was winning — the Royals’ lead for home field advantage is now down to one game.

Ned Yost has taken some of the blame for his team’s September swoon (and that’s literally the first time I’ve ever used the word “swoon” — I guess it just hasn’t come up much before.) Ned said his team got out of rhythm when he started resting players and tweaking the lineup, bullpen and pitching rotation. The team got out of its normal routine and started stumbling down the stretch.

On Wednesday night the Royals had a big, emotional, extra-inning comeback win, and about everyone I talked to thought that game could be a turning point. The next night the Royals looked like themselves and won the division. The next night the Royals looked like the Omaha Storm Chasers and almost got no-hit.

Royals fans better hope Friday night was only a blip on the radar screen and the last nine games will be played at full throttle. No matter what they do in the rest of the regular season, the Royals will get three day’s rest between their last regular season game and their first playoff game.

Kansas City fans ought to hope these final games are used to get back into a routine and giving a game away on Friday night doesn’t cost them home-field advantage.

Two predictions

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you know I don’t make predictions. I’ve discovered a disturbing inability to tell the future, and I see no need to spread my erroneous opinions among Kansas City Star readers. Having said that, I will now make two predictions.

Those of us in the media tend to wait until the battle is over, the dust has cleared and the results of that battle are known. Then we create a narrative that explains what we’ve seen. So in the Royals’ case, here’s what’s going to happen:

In this last month of the regular season, Ned Yost has been giving players time off and tinkering with the lineup, starting rotation and bullpen. On Friday night he virtually gave a game away by letting his starters rest.

1.) If the Royals make a deep run in the playoffs (and for a great many Kansas City fans, a deep run means winning the World Series) Ned will be hailed as a calm, mature leader who wisely rested his players when he had the chance.

2.) If the Royals go home early, Ned will be criticized for screwing around with his team’s routine and rhythm and costing them a chance at a World Series ring.

I’ve got no idea which prediction will come true, but I’m completely confident that the media will construct some kind of explanation for the events we witness. The explanation may be total B.S., but we will have some kind of explanation that makes us sound like experts.

So I guess that’s three predictions.

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