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Royals’ playoff hopes fading

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Monday, August 19, 2013, at 9:57 p.m.

— With their five-game showdown series in Detroit now in the rearview mirror, the Royals head into the season’s final 39 games, starting Tuesday night, still clinging to the fringe of postseason possibilities.

And, yes, like most of their fans ... they’re scoreboard-watching.

“I myself try not to, but sometimes you can’t help but look at the other scores because they’re always around,” said catcher George Kottaras, who played on postseason clubs the last two years in Milwaukee and Oakland.

“It’s one of those things. Everybody says you don’t want to, and that you can only worry about your own outcome. But at the same time, you’re curious. You’re always wondering what other teams are doing.”

The math is fairly grim.

The Royals trail first-place Detroit by 8 1/2 games in the American League Central Division after settling for two victories in the five weekend games at Comerica Park.

They also entered the week trailing Oakland by six games for the final AL wild-card spot. That’s a lot to make up.

“Right now, we’ve just got to keep winning series,” said pitcher James Shields, a veteran of postseason chases over the last five years at Tampa Bay.

“If we can just stay on course right now, and not get too far behind, that’s when you start winning games in September and watching what other teams are doing.”

The schedule offers the chance for a kick-start. Beginning Tuesday, when the Chicago White Sox arrive for a three-game series, the Royals play 16 of their next 17 games against clubs with losing records.

“There are so many games left,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “We just have to control going out and winning a game each night and take it from there. There’s nothing else we can do.

“There are 39 games left, and we’re right in the thick of it. We just have to take care of our business.”

The Royals are also tied with Oakland, entering Monday, for the highest percentage of remaining games against losing teams. Only Cleveland plays an easier schedule, and the Royals play them six more times.

For all that, the Royals have a lot of ground to make up.

“This (last) weekend, to be in that kind of atmosphere (in Detroit),” left fielder Alex Gordon said, “was as close to a playoff game since I’ve been here. It was nice.”

So is scoreboard-watching.

“After the games,” Gordon agreed, “we sit down and check out if the teams in front of us are winning. You watch it, and it’s fun to see that, but we’ve just got to keep winning games.”

Johnson released — Utilityman Elliot Johnson became a free agent Monday when released by the Royals after clearing waivers.

The club designated Johnson for assignment last Thursday to clear roster space for utilityman Emilio Bonifacio, whom they acquired the previous day from Toronto for cash or a player to be named later.

Johnson, 29, batted .179 in 79 games and was in a zero-for-31 skid when designated for assignment. That move also occurred one day after he made a costly error in a 5-2 loss to Miami.

The Royals previously indicated a desire to keep Johnson in their organization if he would accept an outright assignment to Class AAA Omaha. They remain obligated for the balance of his $520,500 salary.

If Johnson signs elsewhere, his new team will pay a pro-rated portion of his remaining salary. He is a 12-year professional with a .212 average and .267 on-base percentage in 279 career big-league games.

The Royals acquired Johnson from Tampa Bay as a player to be named later in the big Dec. 9, 2012 deal that netted pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis for a four-prospect package that included outfielder Wil Myers.

Accenting the negative — There might be no player in either league whose offensive value gets a greater disservice from batting average than Royals backup catcher Kottaras.

But it’s that number — currently .175 — that is nearly always flashed prominently on the scoreboard when he comes to the plate.

“It doesn’t bug me, per se,” Kottaras said. “It’s not where I would like it to be. But at the same time, the numbers that truly count for me, being a backup player, are on-base and slugging.”

Only Butler, at .382, has a higher on-base percentage than Kottaras at .371 (not counting Justin Maxwell’s .472 in 14 games).

Kottaras also has a .413 slugging percentage based on four doubles and five homers in 80 at-bats. That trails only Butler, Eric Hosmer and David Lough among those players with at least 40 at-bats.

So...does it bug Kottaras that batting average is almost always highlighted?

“If they put my on-base percentage up there,” he admitted, “it would change their eyes a little bit. But it is what it is. I don’t get caught up in what other people think.

“I’m trying to do what we all talk about — if you do one thing to help the team win, you’ve done your job. If I go oh-for-four, and I’ve gotten the guy over four times from second to third on ground balls, I’ll take it.”

Maxwell returning — Outfielder Justin Maxwell is expected to return from bereavement leave prior to Tuesday’s series opener against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.

The likely move is left-handed reliever Will Smith will be optioned back to Class AAA Omaha. He replaced Maxwell prior to the second game of Friday’s doubleheader sweep of the Tigers. Smith pitched 2 2/3 innings Saturday.

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