MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Yost's lineup tweaks wreak havoc on foes

Escobar, Zobrist providing spark atop KC's lineup, while bottom third delivering big hits

Yost's lineup tweaks wreak havoc on foes

KANSAS CITY -- In the final days of the regular season, Royals manager Ned Yost had a problem. And he liked it.

It's become a headache for Kansas City's opposition in the postseason, most recently in the Royals' 5-0 win against the Blue Jays in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night.

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First the Astros and now the Blue Jays are finding out there's not much of a chance to catch their breath when the Royals are at the plate.

Game Date Matchup
Gm 1 Oct. 16 KC 5, TOR 0
Gm 2 Oct. 17 KC 6, TOR 3
Gm 3 Oct. 19 TOR 11, KC 8
Gm 4 Oct. 20 KC 14, TOR 2
Gm 5 Oct. 21 TOR 7, KC 1
Gm 6 Oct. 23 KC 4, TOR 3

That's not a 1-through-9 that Yost writes down on the lineup card when the game starts. That's 1-through-6, spread out over nine spots.

That's Alex Gordon, who has hit in the bottom third of the batting order in only 129 of his 1,136 big league games, hitting eighth this postseason. And Alex Rios, primarily a No. 3 or No. 5 hitter, is hitting ninth, backing up Salvador Perez, primarily a middle-of-the-order guy, who is hitting seventh.

There's a spark at the top with the combination of Alcides Escobar and Ben Zobrist at leadoff and at No. 2, left-right balance throughout, and plenty of run production from top to bottom.

Think about it. The Nos. 3-6 hitters in the Royals' lineup -- Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas -- were a combined 3-for-15 in Game 1 of the ALCS. And Kansas City won.

Yes, Edinson Volquez dominated for six innings, and the bullpen did its typical late-inning job, but don't overlook what that "deep depth" in the lineup meant.

After Gordon led off the third with a double to ignite a two-run rally, Perez put the Royals up, 3-0, with his third home run of the postseason in the fourth -- just two shy of the postseason record for a catcher set by Sandy Alomar Jr. with the Indians in 1997.

"It's balanced," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Kansas City's lineup. "They're dangerous and they put the ball in play, so things happen."

Statcast: Perez's 394-foot homer

That's the idea.

Yost came up with the plan in the final week of the season when he decided that the lineup was best served with Escobar at the top. With an early clinching of the AL Central and a desire to make sure everybody was rested for the start of the postseason, the Nos. 7-9 alignment of Perez, Gordon and Rios was used only once -- in a 5-3, 10-inning victory against the White Sox in Chicago on Sept. 30. That was the start of a five-game winning streak to finish the regular season.

Six games into the postseason, however, Gordon and Rios have become as regular in the eighth and ninth spots as cream and sugar in coffee.

Hosmer's RBI double

"I had Gordy up at the top then; when I put Esky back [at leadoff], there was no place I could really put [Gordon]," said Yost. "I didn't want to stack four lefties in the middle of the lineup. I wanted to have some counter-balance, so it was the 8 and 9 spots that were left open."

With the switch-hitting Zobrist hitting second and Morales fifth to break things up, the only time there are right-handed hitters back-to-back are when Rios and leadoff hitter Escobar come up in the same inning. There are no back-to-back left-handed hitters anywhere.

"You look at it and think how deep of a lineup it really is," said Yost. "There's no holes, no dead spots."

There is also no ego, which is why things fit together so well.

"You have to throw your ego aside if you want to be part of something special," said Gordon, the elder statesman of the franchise with nearly eight years of service time. "You look at our lineup and we've got pretty good hitters top to bottom. It's just a matter of being part of it. It doesn't matter where."

Gordon on ALCS Game 1 win

What matters is getting that one more win than the Royals got last year, when San Francisco needed seven games to claim the World Series title against Kansas City, which was making its first postseason appearance in 29 years. This year, the club is looking for its first World Series championship in 30 years.

It is not that the bottom third has overpowered the opposition in the postseason. The three are hitting 14-for-54 (.259) combined in the six games. But they have come up big in times of need.

Perez homered in the second inning in Game 2 of the AL Division Series, and Rios led off the third and doubled, scoring a run to send the Royals on their way to a 5-4 victory over the Astros.

In a 9-6 victory in Game 4 at Houston, Perez delivered a two-run home run in the second, and it was Rios who singled to lead off a five-run eighth that wiped out a 6-2 Astros lead.

Perez on homer, win

And in the deciding Game 5, with the Astros leading, 2-1, it was Perez who was hit by a pitch to lead off the fifth, and Gordon and Rios who followed with doubles in what became a three-run inning that opened the way for a 7-2 win, sending the Royals to the ALCS.

They were in the middle of things in the ALCS opener as well.

"This is the time of year where it's about what's the best possible way to win, and this is our best way," said Rios. "Everybody on this team understands what they have to do."

The results make it pretty obvious.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.