In the past, when the Royals eliminated themselves from playoff contention with an early-season dive, I’d start a column with some variation of “Mayday!”
The problem is, it’s only April 18th.
That the Royals are in the midst of a long losing streak this early in the season is so unremarkable that it’s remarkable. For those of you who missed it on Twitter last night or the discussion on the radio today, here you go:
This is the ninth consecutive season in which the Royals have lost six games in a row by the 14th of May.
Nearly as remarkable is that this is the seventh time in those nine seasons – only 2009 and 2010 are exempt – in which the Royals lost six in a row by the end of April. Which means the losing streak had to begin no later than April 25th.
By comparison, the Royals once went over five years – from April 2003 to June 2008 – without a single six-game winning streak at any point in the season.
And now, they’ve lost seven in a row. Far be it from me to suggest that Dayton Moore and Ned Yost might not live up to the standards set by their mentors John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, but the Atlanta Braves went nearly 16 years – from August 1990 to June 2006 – without a seven-game losing streak.
The Braves lost 10 in a row in 2006, and in 2009 they had a nine-game losing streak in April which dropped their record to 8-14. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Braves recovered that year to finish 91-71 and make the playoffs.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, you’re best off not reading the remarks that Ned Yost made after tonight’s game. The Royals blew a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning, thanks to Jose Mijares allowing two-out singles to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder sandwiched around a wild pitch, plating the tying and winning runs. After the game, Yost admitted that he made a mistake in the inning.
The mistake? After Mijares’ wild pitch tied the game and moved Cabrera to second base, he should have had Mijares intentionally walk Fielder.
Here’s what Yost said about giving up a hit to Fielder after giving up one to Cabrera: “The second time was pure stupidity on my part, plain and simple that’s what it was. After the wild pitch, we had a runner on second. I started to overthink the situation.”
This is where things start to go off the rails, my friends. Jose Mijares is on the roster for one reason: to retire left-handed batters. (Or at least, he should be.) I didn’t get around to commenting on his signing this winter, but I liked the acquisition. We saw a lot of Mijares the last four years when he pitched for the Twins, and he was generally effective as the quintessential left-handed specialist. Pitching from a near three-quarters delivery, his career line against left-handed batters was .212/.278/.331. For $925,000 guaranteed, he was a good gamble that he might bounce back from a disappointing 2011 season and fill that role, freeing Tim Collins up to pitch longer outings against hitters from both sides of the plate.
Coming into the game, Mijares had pitched well, allowing one run in five innings, walking two and striking out five. It’s his job to get left-handed hitters out. Prince Fielder bats left-handed. If you don’t trust Jose Mijares to get Prince Fielder out, why the hell is he on the roster?
What really bothers me about Yost’s comments is that THIS EXACT SAME SITUATION essentially sealed his fate as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. Read this article. Please. On September 14th, 2008, with the Brewers in the thick of the wild-card hunt, with the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Yost brought Brian Shouse – like Mijares a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Left-Handed Specialists – in the game to pitch to left-handers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. After Utley bunted a runner over to second, Yost had Shouse intentionally walk Howard.
THAT Ryan Howard. The Ryan Howard who has maybe the biggest platoon split of any left-handed hitter in the game. When you have the chance to face Howard with a left-handed pitcher in a key situation late in a game, you’re supposed to get on your knees and kiss the ground.
Instead, Yost walked Howard, so that Shouse could face Pat Burrell, a right-handed hitter who crushes left-handers. Burrell singled in the go-ahead run. Shane Victorino, batting from the right side, then hit a three-run homer off Shouse.
On September 15th, 2008, Ned Yost was fired. The Milwaukee Brewers would rebound to win the wild card by a single game.
I wrote about this extensively when the Royals hired Yost, which you can read here. My conclusion then was that while Yost has never shown tactical decision-making to be a strength of his, that we shouldn’t let a single horrific decision overshadow the terrific work he had done in developing young talent.
I stand by that. I think Yost has generally done a good job of bringing the Royals’ young players along, and that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez and Danny Duffy might benefit from his presence the way Fielder and Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy did.
But if he really thinks that the mistake he made tonight was not giving the Tigers a free baserunner, then he’s starting to panic. He’s letting the outcome dictate his decisions. Never mind that pitching to Fielder with Mijares was the best matchup the Royals had at that time – Fielder drove in the winning run, and that’s all that matters.
Which is ridiculous. Look at the real outcome of the at-bat – Fielder hit a hard groundball to the left of second base, about where the shortstop would normally set up. But because the Royals had the shift on against Fielder – which they should – Escobar was to the right of second base and the ball got through for a single.
In the bottom of the ninth, with two on and one out, Escobar hit a ball just inside the third-base line. But because the Tigers were playing their no-doubles defense – as they should – Miguel Cabrera was in position to snag the ball, step on third base, and throw to first to end the game.
As painful as it was, the game was essentially decided by defensive positioning and the vagaries of ground balls. One grounder had eyes, the other didn’t. Mijares was the right matchup against Fielder, and more than that, he did what he was supposed to do: he got a ground ball. No less an authority than Mariano Rivera once said after a blown save – I’m paraphrasing here – “I can only get ground balls – I can’t point them in the direction I want them to go.”
This isn’t quite as bad as what happened in Milwaukee, because Yost did indicate he would have then brought Louis Coleman in to pitch to Delmon Young. But if Yost really regrets letting Mijares pitch to Fielder, then he’s saying that he cares more about the results than he does about the process. And if Yost doesn’t trust the process, why should we trust The Process?
It’s unfortunate and upsetting that the Royals are 3-9. But it’s the job of the fans to overreact to the losing streak, to beat their fists against their chest and wail and gnash their teeth. It’s the job of the manager to stay the course, to trust the process more than the results, to have faith that the team he thought was good enough to compete two weeks ago is still good enough today.
It’s not his job to panic. If Ned Yost is starting to let the losing get to him, we’re going to be in for a long summer. And it’s still early spring.