The Royals have lost four in a row: basically taking the Labor Day weekend off just like you and me. They have been outscored 31-9 in those four games. They have lost six of their last eight. It may be the end of times…or probably not.
The last time Kansas City dropped four in a row, they proceeded to win three of the next four games with walk-offs on their way to winning nine of the next eleven. They still have an ELEVEN game lead in the division and a four game lead for the best record in the American League. You don’t care about having the best record? You’re not paying attention. That said, remain calm. (Insert Kevin Bacon picture from Animal House here because I’m too lazy to do so this morning).
You can easily compile a list of all the teams that have lost four games in a row by simply writing down pretty much every team in baseball. These things happen, especially when your starting rotation goes into a collective funk (which happens pretty often as well, by the way) and especially when you are a team with huge lead resting, well, everyone.
Since September 1st, the Royals have not started the same nine position players in consecutive games. Paulo Orlando, who likely won’t even be on the post-season roster has started five of the last seven games. Jonny Gomes, who might not be allowed to bring his glove to the ballpark in the post-season, has started four games in rightfield. Ben Zobrist has started at three different positions (meaning Omar Infante got three September starts and no, his defense is STILL not good enough to justify that bat) and Alex Gordon has only played three games in the field. That is not exactly a prescription to be an offensive juggernaut.
Nor is any of the above a criticism. I wrote some time ago that the tricky thing for Ned Yost for the rest of the season was to decide how much to rest his team and when to stop. Some talking heads have stated that none of September matters, but I would not go that far.
While I have beat this horse enough already, the Royals do not want to give up the best record in the AL and have to travel to Toronto to play Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS. They should want no part of Rogers Centre with the World Series on the line. Additionally, I do put some stock into the ‘dome’ aspect of the game of baseball. It exists because humans, however highly paid, are the test subjects. How much? That is an unsolvable debate for another day, but I do know that a couple of good Johnny Cueto starts at the end of September would be nice to have in the back pocket come Game One of the ALDS.
Therein lies the trick: you want to be rested and healthy going into the playoffs, but you do not want to be rusty or (gasp!) plagued by a little mental doubt. Sure, the Royals could play around with the lineup the entire month and score eight runs in the first two innings of Game One. That said, I would feel better (and it IS all about me) if the Royals had a good week or two of decent production from their playoff lineup heading into the post-season. I would feel better if the bullpen was back in their roles and back in sync well prior to calling on HDH with a 3-2 lead in the top of seventh. I would feel better if Johnny Cueto had gone seven innings his last two starts of the year while allowing just a run or two and if Yordano Ventura had struck out ten…..and not walked five in his last start.
No matter one’s belief in the mental side of the game, you are going to have a hard time convincing me that Kansas City can flounder through September and just flip the switch come the post-season. Flounder away for the next ten days, I say, but then let’s lock in the lineup and batting order and the bullpen and play like it matters.
To his credit, I will give Ned Yost the benefit of the doubt on this one. He has already (or at last, maybe) come around to the idea of batting Zobrist and Gordon one-two in the order. He has essentially benched Omar Infante. He may well be anticipating a plan of action along the same lines. We may very shortly see a set lineup three or four days in a row, followed by a couple of days of ’40 man stuff’ and then back to the set lineup for another string of games. As the season winds down, I expect to see more HDH, plus Madson and Morales, and less Alexander, Chamberlain and Almonte.
Your cautionary tale, however, is last year’s Angels. Who won ten in a row in early September to go up 11 games in the AL West and then lost nine of their last fourteen (including the last three) and then were swept by your Kansas City Royals in the ALDS. The circumstances are not exactly the same as the Angels did not have the luxury of having the first half of the month (or all of August for that matter) to rest regulars.
There probably are instances of teams just ‘flipping the switch’ and the Royals could quite possibly be one of them. I, for one, would not mind allowing a couple of weeks to not only flip the switch, but to change a bulb or two after doing so.