Games » Toronto Blue JaysApr23
The common thread
The Kansas City Star
Baseball teams have won with togetherness — the “We Are Family” Pirates. Teams have won while beating the hell out of each other — the battlin’ Oakland A’s. Teams have won with fiery managers — Billy Martin. Teams have won with calm managers — Joe Torre. Teams have won with big budgets and small budgets, with jerks and nice guys, young guys and veterans — teams have won with just about every imaginable combination of intangibles.
So where’s the common thread?
No team has won without executing the fundamentals better than the opposition. That’s what Doug Sisson said to me today — again. I’m writing about it again because he’s right again. I’ve heard a lot of theories about what the Royals need to do to get back on track, but no theory makes as much sense as Doug’s: forget all that intangibles jazz — this game is about execution on the field. As Doug said, if this game were about intangibles, Tony Robbins would be in Cooperstown.
The fundamentals are throwing low strikes, taking care of the ball on defense, running the bases in an intelligent, yet aggressive manner, getting a good pitch to hit and not over-swinging when you do. And until the Royals start executing the fundamentals better than the opposition, they’ll lose.
(The guy’s totally right and I told him to whack me with a fungo bat any time I start getting touchy feely with my theories about winning and losing.)
Some people, not familiar with the team, claim there’s no accountability in the Royals’ organization. I pointed out that Bob McClure might disagree — but the point was made even better by Doug Sisson. I told him I was there in spring training, I sat and watched drills for two weeks and I know he told these guys the right things to do on the base paths. Doug said that didn’t make any difference. He wasn’t going to put the blame on a player. Even if he told them what to do and they ignored those instructions five pitches later, it’s his fault. He has to make them understand and if they don’t there’s something wrong with the instruction.
The fundamentals: what they did wrong
Bruce Chen gave the team a rare quality start, but walked a leadoff hitter — Kelly Johnson — to get to Jose Bautista. Two-run homer.
Zero-9 with runners in scoring position. They also did not get the ball in play with a runner on third with less than two outs in multiple opportunities.
One of those opportunities was with Chris Getz at the plate. Yost put a safety squeeze on and Getz bunted the ball foul down the first base line. A safety squeeze requires a better bunt than a suicide. The runner waits to see that the bunt is good enough before breaking for home. On a suicide if the ball gets down anywhere the runner will probably be safe. The situation was first and third with one down and Ned may have been trying to avoid yet another double play — although Getz is pretty hard to double up.
Mitch Maier laid down a bunt to move Brayan Pena from second to third. The bunt was too close to the pitcher, Brandon Morrow, and Morrow was able to cut down Pena at third. (Remember Chris Getz’ theory on why that bunt should go to the first base side and not third? Getz had the same situation and successfully executed his bunt by pulling the pitcher away from third base.)
The fundamentals: what they did right
Mitch Maier’s bunt. The hitters can be given several signs with a runner on second and nobody out: drive him in, bunt or move him over any way you can. Mitch had the “move him over” sign. The selfish thing to do is go for a hit at the same time. Mitch tried to do the team thing and the way things are going, doing the right thing backfired.
After the game Yost said they’re monitoring the players closely for any sign of giving up or getting comfortable with losing. Eric Hosmer came to the plate in the 6th inning after hitting an opposite field home run in his first at-bat. Some guys decide to try for a big night and go for another long ball. Hosmer saw third playing back and over toward second in a shift and laid down a bunt instead. Eric slid into first base head first — the throw was wild so he got up, took off for second and slid into that base head first. You can fault a lot of things about this team, but effort is not on the list.
More outstanding effort: Chris Getz flared a hit to right field in the 7th that looked like a single, but then took off for second. Once the outfielder picked up the ball I saw why: it was Jose Bautista, right-hander. The ball was down the line taking Bautista to his left and it required a full spin and a throw with no momentum to get the ball to second base. I was congratulating myself on deciphering Getz’ motivation, but when I saw him in the clubhouse afterwards, he added something I hadn’t thought of: Chris knew he was going to block a direct throw to the bag by Bautista, he’d be in the way.
Alex Gordon played another double into a single, beating J.P. Arencibia’s ball to the left field wall, rounding the ball and coming up with his momentum headed toward second. Arencibia was subsequently forced out at second base.
It’s kind of getting lost in all the bad news, but Mike Moustakas is playing the hell out of third base. (In fact, the entire defense has played well.) That drill he was doing in Surprise — catching balls out of a pitching machine with a tiny glove — is paying off. He snagged two line drives in this game, and afterward he told me the drill made him concentrate on the angle of the glove when the ball arrived. (Hey. There’s not a lot of good news to tell, but it’s something.)
Setting an example
It’s early afternoon and I’m leaning on the dugout rail, staring at an empty baseball field. Ned Yost appears beside me. He’s come out to check the weather and we begin to talk about this losing streak. I wanted to know the worst streak he’d ever been in and what got that team out of it. Ned couldn’t remember the streak, but he said generally a big hit is what ends them. One of those line-outs or double play balls we’ve been seeing finds grass and the pressure is off. Life gets back to normal.
A slump like this has people speaking in clichés like, “That’s baseball,” but clichés survive because there’s some truth in them. Ned says growth requires adversity and this is a chance for these young players to grow — they’ve fallen on their face, something they haven’t experienced at this level — and now they have to figure out how to get back up.
Even though some fans would like to see emotion — helmet throwing, water-cooler smashing — Ned says that doesn’t work, it just makes things worse. “If I get crazy,it gets crazy.” He learned that managing in Milwaukee. It might make him feel better to indulge his frustration, but it won’t make the team better. Part of his job is to project a sense of calm. When the ship’s taking on water, nobody wants to see the captain coming apart at the seams.
Ned Yost needs these kids to figure out how to take a 9th-inning, game-on-the-line-trying-to-end-a-losing-streak at-bat the same way they take a spring training at-bat: find the right level of intensity and stay there.
And Ned Yost needs to lead by example.
And you didn’t think Jason Kendall was funny
He walked by and said, “Look on the bright side, every team goes through a couple losing streaks — we’ve already got one of them out of the way.”
Royals Ned Yost on getting the team through the losing streak
Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost comments, before Monday's 4-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, on how the team needs to learn and respond to the losing streak . 2/23/12