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The Losing Continues

Well the last five games certainly have not been quite as much for Royals fans as the first 19 games, but that’s to be expected over the course of a long season. Even good teams sometimes lose five in a row, though we’re getting to the point in the losing streak where good teams don’t lose more than that, so tonight is going to be a pretty big test for the Royals. Teams go through slumps. It happens. Look at the Red Sox. They were predicted to be the best team in baseball this year, or at least close to it, and they started 0-6 and 2-10. They’re working their way out of the hole they dug and now sit at 10-13. The Tampa Bay Rays are an even better example. They, too, started 0-6 and now sit at 12-11 and in second place. Obviously you don’t want those stretches, but they happen to even the best of teams.

We all know the issues that the Royals have. Their starting pitching has the potential to be atrocious. Their offense has a few good performers and then Just as many black holes. Their defense is pretty good, but in order to make it that way, it comes at the expense of the offense. And the weakness that I least expected is the bullpen. I think that will stabilize throughout the course of the season as rookies tend to fluctuate in their performance, but they’re walking way more batters than I expected. It’s getting to me to question Ned Yost’s bullpen usage, which is something that was talked about often in Milwaukee as one of his biggest weaknesses.

It seems that Yost gets into a pattern and doesn’t know a way to get out of it. He likes defined roles, and so do I for the most part. There is one role I wish would be a little less defined, and that is the role of the “fireman.” I’m not going to get into too much detail of the merits of the fireman role in a bullpen, but when a manager gets so set in his ways of one person filling this role and another filling that role, I think it often gets lost in the shuffle that sometimes the biggest outs in a game can come in the sixth inning and not the eighth or ninth. That’s where I think Ned Yost needs to be a little less rigid because the Royals have a pitcher who is perfect for that role in Aaron Crow. Many believe that he’s a future closer if he never gets into the starting rotation, but until that point, why not get him out there in the top of the sixth of a one run game with two on and one out? The beauty of a guy like Crow is that he can get you through the eighth from there, too, and not burn the bullpen.

I’m not going to begin second guessing the things that Yost does, though he has been known to make some curious decisions. Last night’s decision to play Gordon at first could accurately be described as just that. I love the fact that he wanted to get Dyson and his speed in the lineup, and I’m pretty okay with shifting Melky Cabrera to left to make it happen, but I’m not a fan of putting Gordon at another position while he’s still learning left field and excelling at it. I love having a roster that is versatile enough to play multiple positions, and I love even more when that versatile roster isn’t made up exclusively of guys like Willie Bloomquist. Back in 2007-2009 I was pretty excited about the potential versatility of a lineup that included Mark Teahen. It would have made for a way to get him in the lineup every day and get people days off all the time to keep the roster fresh. Of course, Teahen couldn’t really hit, though he was better than Bloomquist.

My problem with Gordon playing first isn’t in this one game because it’s just one game, and for a guy who has never played outfield before, playing first base might be almost like getting a half day off. Nobody would have had a problem with Gordon if had gotten a real half day off as a designated hitter. I just hope that him playing at first base doesn’t become a regular trend because that is not his position moving forward and he needs to get more comfortable in the outfield. I don’t care how good he has looked. There is still work to do. Maybe Gordon is the type of player now who will hit no matter where he’s playing and it won’t bother him, but he’d be one of the few players who does well moving around the field. There’s a reason Mark DeRosa has always been in demand. What he does is very difficult.

I didn’t realize this would turn into a post about Ned Yost, but I guess it’s heading that direction, so let’s push forward. The thing I like about Yost as a manager for this young team is that he’s a positive voice. I know there’s way more to being a manager than being a cheerleader for his team, and bullpen management is probably the one place where a manager has a true impact on the game, but I like the fact that he’s so upbeat about his team’s chances day in and day out. I have no doubt that Yost is keeping the players positive through this losing stretch, and they’ll be better for it when they come out of it. Obviously I’d much rather have won the last five games and been in control of the Central division, but they’ve lost the games, so I’m looking for the positive behind it. Perhaps my favorite thing about Ned Yost is the fact that he sticks by his players. I think I’ve mentioned this in the past, but that’s a great attribute to have with a young team.

The question is what would he do if the Royals were expected to compete this season? What would happen if it’s mid August and the Royals are three games out of first place but Kila Ka’aihue is in a 2-25 slump with no extra base hits and 11 strikeouts? I hope the philosophy there would change and that Kila would sit while Betemit took his at bats or even Eric Hosmer came up to man first base for the rest of the season. Whatever the solution, I hope the Royals and Ned Yost would choose to do something rather than sit on a struggling player when a division title was within reach. It’d sure be a nice problem to find out about.

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