Ned Yost's handling of his players as people has never been in question. It's his handling of them as chess pieces—assigning playing time, handling relievers, strategizing, setting lineups—that once created Internet memes like "#yosted" to describe his most frustrating moves. Dating to September 2014, though, Yost had been savvier, improving his reliever usage last postseason and his lineups in 2015 ... until recently. With a week left in the season Yost went away from his statistically optimal lineup, with Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist in the top two slots, to his favored one, with Alcides Escobar leading off (and Gordon dropped as low as seventh and eighth) to counteract the team's slump. If Yost sticks with this order, it puts pressure on Escobar to do the one thing not in his skill set: Get on base. The 28-year-old shortstop had a .293 OBP this year, which pulled his career mark below .300. He rarely walks (26 in 662 plate appearances this year), and his career average is .262. Among the nine projected Kansas City starters, he's seventh in OBP. Not to mention these aren't last year's Royals: They enter the playoffs with a shaky rotation and a bullpen missing closer Greg Holland (UCL tear in his right arm). The offense will need to step up, which means Escobar will have to be on base for Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales. Just as he was a year ago, the glove-first infielder is now pivotal in the K.C. offense. Last year, Escobar scored just eight runs in 15 postseason games at the top of the order, though the Royals won 11 of 15 games in spite of that performance. A better leadoff man would go a long way toward repeating—or extending—that success.
This is an article from the Oct. 12, 2015 issue