Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Royals' Roster Expansion Can't Happen Soon Enough

In last night’s loss to the Indians, many things went wrong for the Royals. I could run through the list, but rather than blame a single player or coach, I think the main problem displayed was the team’s lack of quality depth on the major league roster. Several opportunities arose in which a move could be made, but there simply weren’t enough quality alternatives for Ned Yost to choose.

With Josh Willingham out due to a sore back, Yost’s hands were somewhat tied as far as how he could handle pinch hitting situations. Mike Moustakas faced a tough left-handed reliever twice in big spots, and while it is far from a guarantee that a pinch hitter would have been called upon, the only option on the bench was Jayson Nix, who isn’t much of a hitter himself, and inserting him at third base would leave the team in a difficult situation defensively later in the game.

In the 8th inning, Jarrod Dyson pinch ran for Billy Butler, who represented the winning run after reaching on an error. This was absolutely the right call. Moustakas came to bat later in the inning and grounded out to first base, ending the threat. When the Royals didn’t take the lead, Yost was forced to shuffle players around and put Nix at first base, a position he had never played before. Had Yost used Nix as a pinch hitter, the Royals would have needed an outfielder to come in and play first, which is certainly far from ideal. And again, Nix in the batter’s box isn’t generally a desirable situation, so the team may not have scored anyway.

If the Royals had an extra bat or two on the bench, this situation could have been much easier to handle. While I’m not certain Yost would pinch hit for Moose in those circumstances, it is possible he would go that route if he knew the bat would be a clearly better option, and if he knew he wouldn’t have to downgrade the defense so much in the following half-inning.

Once rosters expand, Yost will be able to pinch hit with someone like Christian Colon, Matt Fields, or Justin Maxwell, knowing that he could bring in an actual first baseman. Eric Hosmer should be rejoining the club soon, and he could provide some value when Willingham is not available.

The other situation that displayed a problem for the Royals was in the 11th inning, when Scott Downs entered the game. The three batters due up were a switch hitter, a lefty, and another switch hitter. The lefty was Michael Brantley, who is having a terrific season, and is arguably the most dangerous batter in the Indians’ lineup. Yost wanted to make sure that left-handed bat was neutralized as much as possible, which is why he went with Downs over right-hander Jason Frasor.

Unfortunately, Jose Ramirez led off the inning with a triple to the gap, which led to the Royals infield playing in during Brantley’s plate appearance. Brantley chopped one over the head of the second baseman, and the run scored. Ramirez has been a worse hitter from the right side this season, so I absolutely understand Yost’s decision to go with Downs over Frasor, the latter of whom is not as effective against lefties.

The primary issue wasn’t necessarily that Yost went with Scott Downs. The issue is that Scott Downs was arguably the best option in that scenario.

With Francisley Bueno in the midst of some struggles, and having pitched the night before, Downs was the only lefty available. That’s not a great spot to find yourself in. Beginning tomorrow, the Royals will have a chance to prevent those kinds of situations, thanks to expanded rosters.

Tim Collins may not come up immediately to join the big league roster, but I do expect to see him relatively soon, and while he’s had some trouble in Kansas City this year, he’s definitely a better option than Downs. Also, Collins has the ability to get right-handed batters out, so you don’t need to worry about him facing switch hitters. Another lefty reliever who should be on the roster soon is this year’s first round pick, Brandon Finnegan.

Finnegan has been pitching for Northwest Arkansas, and outside of giving up a few too many hits, he’s been very solid, striking out 13 batters and walking just 2 in 12 innings for the Double-A affiliate. He possesses a wipeout slider that helps him dominate lefties, as evidenced by the .065/.121/.161 line he’s allowed in 33 plate appearances against southpaws this season. From what I understand about the game of baseball, those numbers are quite terrible for a batter.

Either of those lefties would present an upgrade over Downs, but MLB rules dictate that rosters can’t expand until September 1, and last night’s game occurred on August 30. That’s the way the metaphorical cookie crumbles. The Royals can’t replay that game, but once they have more depth on the bench, it will be much easier for Yost to deal with games in which a player is unavailable due to injury, as well as offering him more alternatives to relievers who have not performed all that well this season.

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