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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees could learn from lineup moves of Royals' Ned Yost

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost watches batting

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost watches batting practice before Game 4 of the American League baseball championship series against the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo Photo Credit: AP / Orlin Wagner

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Maybe Ned Yost is just lucky he didn't have a Derek Jeter farewell tour to orchestrate this season.

Otherwise, with an inflexible piece like a 40-year-old, future Hall of Famer lodged in the No. 2 spot, the Royals' manager probably would have continued right off the cliff, as Joe Girardi did for his 84-win Yankees.

But it didn't go that way in Kansas City. For all the critical darts Yost has absorbed -- including many on the national stage this month -- the manager was at least the face of an idea that transformed the Royals into the American League champ.

And it wasn't exactly rocket science.

In one master stroke, midway through September, Yost flipped the lineup, moving his No. 9 hitter, Alcides Escobar, into the leadoff spot, followed by Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain. The bundling of those three players in the top third didn't seem to make much sense by conventional standards.

Escobar didn't get on base enough and Cain didn't have enough power. Hardly the formula to kick-start the slumping Royals for the stretch run. But the day Yost made those adjustments -- Sept. 13 at Kauffman Stadium -- the lineup clicked in a 7-1 victory over the Red Sox.

Those three, along with Alex Gordon at cleanup, combined for seven of the Royals' 12 hits that day and scored six runs. One game out of 162 is the smallest of sample sizes, but why mess with success? Yost has rode that lineup straight to the brink of a world championship, and admitted before Tuesday's Game 1 that he didn't spend a lot of time crunching the numbers for it.

"To be honest with you, we were just grasping at straws at that point," Yost said. "We were struggling offensively. So our thought was put all or most of our speed at the top of the order and see if we can't create some havoc for our run-producers."

The Royals were clinging to a one-game division lead over the Tigers on that date. After the renovation, they went from a 2-5 stretch to a solid 9-6 finish over the last two weeks to get them the top wild-card spot and also trigger a resurgence that doesn't pile up a ton of runs -- but enough to get the job done.

What Yost faced is not unlike what the Yankees will be looking at next season atop the batting order. Girardi had the opportunity to go with a Jacoby Ellsbury-Brett Gardner tandem in those two spots, but with Jeter's presence -- and the myriad injuries to the Yankees -- the manager never could really employ that disruptive duo on a regular basis.

But it's something to look forward to in the Bronx next year as the Royals are showing during these playoffs just how effective that attacking offense can be. They've manufactured runs by stealing bases and putting the ball in play, which in turn has forced opponents into mistakes.

Though it's hard to ever think of the $200-million Yankees as a pesky, small-ball type of club, the combination of advanced age and the resulting physical breakdowns has made them try to do more with less. It hasn't worked, obviously. But the Royals evidently have found a formula that generates a sufficient amount of offense.

Their .690 OPS ranked 10th in the American League and they were last in the majors with 95 home runs. The Royals didn't have a player with 20 homers or 75 RBIs during the regular season, becoming only the third team (in a non-strike shortened year) to do so and advance to the World Series.

That hadn't happened in a while. The other two were the 1965 Dodgers and 1938 Cubs. The Dodgers and Yankees both did it, but in the strike-affected 1981 season.

The Giants had Buster Posey (22 HRs, 89 RBIs), Hunter Pence (20, 74) and Pablo Sandoval (16, 73) as the pillars to their lineup, but neither team is an offensive juggernaut by any stretch. That probably will end up in the Royals attempting to out-NL the Giants. "We're built for the National League, too, with our speed, our ability to manufacture runs and our versatility off the bench," Yost said.

Don't forget the flexibility to make the September lineup change that made this possible.

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