Sunday, May 23, 2010

Yost Can't Hide Team's Flaws Forever

As it turns out, there is one thing new Royals' manager Ned Yost has in common with his predecessor, Trey Hillman. That, of course, is the inability to win with the best pitcher in baseball on the mound.

After putting together easily their best stretch of baseball this season thus far, having won seven of nine, the Royals dropped their last two to the Colorado Rockies over the weekend, including an 11-7 loss on Sunday with Zack Greinke on the mound.

If you knew before the day began the Royals would score seven runs with their ace on the mound, you'd have felt pretty confident in their chances for victory. Instead, Greinke gave up eight runs, seven of them earned, and couldn't get out of the fourth inning. It was just the second time all season he's allowed more than three earned runs in a start.*

The worst part is that Greinke is 1-5 now, and the Royals are 2-8 in his starts this season. Not good.

*Not that it applied today, but the Royals' usual failure to give Greinke run support is staggering. In eight of his ten starts, he's given up three runs or less. If you concede that he deserved to lose the other two games, and that about one in every eight times a pitcher gives up three runs or less he should still lose, then you'd conclude the Royals should be 7-3 in his starts. And the timing of the Royals finally giving him decent run support on the day of his worst outing of the season is impeccable. It's creative losing, sure, but it's losing baseball, nonetheless.

. . .

There wasn't much to speak of in Saturday's game. The Royals were shutout 3-0 in just the second start of the season for Rockies' lefty Jeff Francis.

Francis still proved to be effective even after coming off shoulder surgery that sidelined him for all of last season. He was a big part of the Rockies' improbable run to the World Series in 2007, winning 17 games that year. He's lost some velocity on his pitches, though that may have helped him Saturday. Ever since I can remember, the Royals have always struggled mightily against soft-tossing south paws, and that again reigned true against Francis.*

*Jamie Moyer comes to mind here. He's probably the most famous finesse lefty of our era, or the era before ours - he's 47 - and he seems to always dominate the Royals. He has a 14-9 career record against KC, and three of his ten career complete-game shutouts are against the Royals.

Of course, having two runners picked-off on the base paths doesn't help a lineup already filled with holes, nor does it help the effort to prove to the fans that the team is improving in the post-Hillman era. Sunday's game gave us more to think about, though.

. . .

With the team having the day off on Monday, I was a bit surprised to see Yost sit two of his regular starters Sunday. Mike Aviles and Scott Podsednik were given the day off, with Chris Getz and Willie Bloomquist replacing them, respectively.

Now, theoretically, it didn't hurt the team, with the Royals posting seven runs in the game. I don't see the logic, though. It's getaway day, so if anyone needs a day off, they'll get one tomorrow. There's a chance to win another series. Your best pitcher is on the mound, and you can't seem to ever win when he pitches. Wouldn't you want to be at full strength for this one?

Come to think of it, unless there was something life-threatening going on, if you were manager of the Royals, wouldn't you want your lineup to be at full strength... every day?*

*Before I go on, I want to point out that I don't mean to knock Bloomquist. I like Willie Bloomquist. And as the great Joe Posnanski once said, after stating, 'I like so and so,' what almost always follows are negative statements about so and so.

I do think there is a place for players like Bloomquist on good baseball teams. Therein lies the problem, though. The Royals are not good. Season after season, they fail to field a solid starting group, and are forced to play utility-types like Bloomquist all too often.

Naturally, the fan reaction toward the player is mostly negative, though it's to no fault of the player. Bloomquist was signed to be a guy who can help off the bench in a pinch. That was his role during his time in Seattle. When forced out of that role, his weaknesses are more obvious and exposed.

Because of their misuse of him, Bloomquist has been mostly unpopular so far in Kansas City after being one of the most popular players in Seattle. Anyway, the Royals are 1-10 now when Bloomquist starts, and I don't think that's just a coincidence.

So after two virtually clean innings, Greinke gave up a two-out, three-run home run in the third to former A.L. MVP and steroid user Jason Giambi, which seemed to set the tone. The Rockies were right back at it in the fourth, and after just 65 pitches, Greinke's day was over.

One of the runs did come unearned thanks to Yuniesky Betancourt. The frustration with Betancourt from fans and people within the organization has been well documented. He has limitless potential, and shows us that with flashes of greatness from time to time.

He just refuses to be a consistent team player, though, as he showed us Sunday with his weekly "Why do we love Yuni?" reminder in the fourth inning. On a tailor made double play grounder, instead of tossing the ball to Getz covering second, Betancourt decided to roll the ball to him. No outs were recorded on the play and it was ruled an error. Two more runs scored in the inning, and Greinke was done soon after.

I was somewhat surprised of how short of a leash Yost had on Greinke today. I know he struggled, but Greinke exited after giving up seven runs. The Royals eventually clawed back into the game, scoring seven runs themselves, but the bullpen allowed four more to cross the plate over the next five plus innings, and the Royals comeback fell short.

Yost seemed determined to give his relievers some work with the day off Monday, and I get that. It would have been interesting to see the game play out had Greinke been allowed to pitch his way through the fourth inning, though.

The game certainly had plenty of entertainment value with a couple of rarities occuring. Jose Guillen and Alberto Callaspo led off the bottom of the seventh with back-to-back triples. The question there had to be which is less likely - a team starting an inning with back-to-back triples, or the fact that one of the triples was legged out by Jose Guillen?

Guillen has to be one of the two or three slowest players in baseball. What's more absurd was, judging by the replay, Guillen was trotting to first base because he thought he had a home run. To think, with a little more hustle, we could have been talking about an inside-the-park home run by Guillen. Scary stuff.

Also, on the play, Rockies' center fieler Dexter Fowler lost his glove over the wall trying to catch Guillen's blast. No one on the Royals' ground crew or security staff seemed interested in helping Fowler fetch his glove, so he eventually jumped the fence and got it himself.

When watching the Royals, specifically when they're losing (so most of the time), it's refreshing to have things happen during the game that you don't see every day. The suspense in waiting for Fowler to reappear after he hopped the center field wall was possibly the highlight of the game.

. . .

The Royals have shown us just how easily it is to fall back into the vicious cycle that is bad baseball these last couple of games. In the ninth, new Royals' third base coach Eddie Rodriguez decided to honor the legacy of recently fired third base coach Dave Owen by getting baserunner Mitch Maier thrown out at home in a four-run game.

No matter how you look at it, if the Royals were to come back from the four-run deficit, Maier would have scored, anyway. I could see the value in the risk earlier in the game, where you don't necessarily need all the runs in one inning. But in the ninth, down four runs, with the alternative to sending Maier being having runners at second and third with one out, you have to wonder what Rodriguez was thinking.

It's probably best that these mistakes and deficiencies show their ugly faces now rather than later. Yost has to understand it's impossible to win consistently with guys like Bloomquist, Betancourt, and Getz in the starting lineup. He must demand that ownership give him more talent to work with next season, and refuse to accept a long-term position as manager if it doesn't come.

Any victories in the meantime will just disguise the embarrasing reality of how bad things still remain with the Royals.

*I was saddened by the news this morning of former big league pitcher Jose Lima's passing. I was at Kauffman Stadium for Lima's first game with the Royals in 2003. The Royals started that season 16-3, but hit a slump and fell below .500 coming into that Sunday afternoon game. Lima led the Royals to victory that day over Barry Bonds' Giants, and would go on to string seven consecutive victories together, helping the team build a seven-game lead in the division by the All-Star break. He was a fun player to watch, and apparently was a great teammate. I wish there were more players like him on the diamond today. He was 37.

Thanks to for the image.

1 comment:

  1. Eli--- Great column, once again. Thanks for the post. I missed the game, and I will look fwd to seeing highlights of "The missing outfielder glove" and also,"Guillen's raggedy triple."

    I laughed out loud on the Dave Owen reference. Yeeeesh! When does this team stop committing the careless acts which so often cost them?

    Betancourt has enjoyed (and is still enjoying?) a lax clubhouse atmosphere and a "do as you wish" environment that has plagued this organization for years. I am not a fan.

    Do you remember Jose Lima on the Jim Rome show? Next to DOn King or Mark Grace, he was perhaps the greatest interview time-after-time.... I still remember him chortling: "LIMA TIME!!" repeatedly.

    Great piece, Eli. Keep them coming.