1. Dance with who brung you
The best version of these Royals, the version they fancy themselves to be, is what we saw much of the 19-9 August: It starts with terrific pitching (starting and finishing) and great fielding, but it also was fueled by a knack for manufacturing runs with opportunism and hustle. They need to be true to that formula and stay aggressive without being reckless: No more deflating pickoffs allowed.
2. Glove story
The Royals are regarded as one of the best defensive teams in baseball, making just 76 errors in their first 131 games, but they’ve committed 21 errors in winning just seven of their last 16 games. They have to be exceptional at what they’re exceptional at. They’re 51-24 when they don’t make an error.
3. Reopen Butler’s pantry
Billy Butler was scorching hot for much of August, winning the team’s first player-of-the-week award in two years to help stoke them to their best month of the season. He attributed much of his resurgence to playing first base since he wasn’t left dwelling on at-bats. The Royals may think that’s bunk, but Butler believes it … he is just one of 17 back at designated hitter (and two of his last 29 overall) as he failed to start Saturday night for the seventh time in 12 games. Maybe there’s something else going on behind the scenes here, but the fact is the Royals need the near-.300 career hitter to be a factor now. Maybe it’s worth priming the pump with a start at first base for Butler against a left-hander, even if he isn’t the fielder Eric Hosmer is.
4. Hurry up and wait
Can the Royals please … take … a … few … pitches? And stop taking the bait out of the strike zone so often? The latest evidence of the issue: The Red Sox needed just 53 pitches to retire the last 16 Royals on Friday.
5. Play with a full deck
All reports indicate Danny Duffy is ready to return this week after a scare concerning his left throwing shoulder. James Shields is the Royals’ most crucial starter, but Duffy actually has been their best and most consistent one for the last three months, and the Royals aren’t properly equipped to replace him in the rotation. His health will be vital to the cause.
6. Play angry
At least when it comes to Shields. Manager Ned Yost earlier this week noted that Shields is at his best when he’s mad at something, as he was dealing with a slippery mound in Detroit the other day.
7. Formula of four
If they can just finagle four runs, the Royals almost always win. After Saturday’s 7-1 win, they are 63-10 when they bust through the daunting three-run electric fence and 18-56 when they don’t.
8. Tater trots
If four runs are too much to ask, a mere home run might suffice. Easier said than done, yes; the Royals have hit the fewest (90) in the major leagues. But they’re 46-17 when they muster a home run. It can even be a solo shot, as demonstrated by Raul Ibañez’s homer in a 1-0 win Aug. 1 at Oakland.
9. Break the ice
If four runs or a home run are too much to ask, OK: Just score first. The Royals are 57-19 when they did, 24-47 when they didn’t.
10. Tame the Tigers
The Royals are just 5-11 against Detroit. If they can’t take at least two out of three from the Tigers in their last stand against them next weekend at Kauffman Stadium, well, it’s hard to say they deserved to win the division.
11. Division of labor
Along the same lines, after today’s series finale against Boston, the Royals face nothing but American League Central opponents. They’re 31-31 in the division. If they can’t generate a winning record in the division, then they have no rightful claim.
12. Split the difference
The Royals effectively have a doubleheader on Sept. 22 in Cleveland, first playing out the 10th inning of their suspended Aug. 31 game before their regularly scheduled game. The Royals trail 4-2 in the suspended version, so they’ve got three outs to rally … or at least make the Indians work for it. The odds are slim that they will, but if they don’t and can’t win the nightcap that day could be a backbreaker. Likewise, they may be able to get away with a split of the four games in Cleveland … but nothing less.
13. Stuff the stockings
The Royals are 8-4 against the Chicago White Sox, 68-80, and as of Monday half their remaining games are against them. Whether Chris Sale is pitching or not, winning any fewer than five of those seven is a recipe for being stuck on the outside looking in.
14. Road warriors
The Royals are 42-32 on the road this season. Best keep up the pace on the final swing through Cleveland and Chicago.
15. Crowd control
The Royals are 17-23 in front of audiences of 30,000 or more. Yes, that’s kind of an arbitrary number, and it could be coincidence. But until they prove otherwise, it’s part of what makes people wonder if they can handle the scrutiny and pressure of September.
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.