May 26, 2010
On the Beat
Resurrection Act Redux
Ned Yost, in many respects, is the Saint Jude of baseball. Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost causes, and Yost is the patron manager of lost organizations. Yost's first major-league managing job was with the Brewers in 2003. He took over a team that had gone 56-106 the previous season and a franchise that had not had a winning season in 11 years or a post-season appearance in 21 years. The Brewers got to the postseason six years later by winning the National League wild card in 2008. Yost nearly got them there, but he was fired by owner Mark Attanasio with two weeks left in the regular season.
Yost is getting a second chance to manage, as he took over as the Royals' skipper for the fired Trey Hillman on May 13 after joining the organization in January as a special assistant to general manager Dayton Moore. The Royals' history is as bleak as the Brewers' history was when Yost went to Milwaukee after a long stint as a member of the Braves' coaching staff under Bobby Cox. The Royals were 12-23 when Yost took over after going 65-97 last season. They have had six straight losing seasons and have finished over .500 only once in the last 15 seasons. They have not been to the postseason since 1985. Yet Yost doesn't consider the Royals a lost cause. They have gone 6-5 since he became manager and, for the most part, he feels good about what he has seen.
"I like this team and I think we're a lot better shape than the Brewers were when I took over there," Yost said. "We pretty much had Ben Sheets and that was about it in Milwaukee, and we knew it was going to take a lot of time to stock the farm system and develop those players, sometimes at the major-league level, before we could really think about winning.
"This situation is different. We have good players at the major-league level and we have good players already in the farm system. We're not developing players here nearly as much as we were at the start in Milwaukee. I like what has already been done here and the direction we are headed."
The Royals do have some talented young players to build around in left-hander Zack Greinke, closer Joakim Soria, and first baseman Billy Butler. They also have a number of prospects who they feel could make a difference in the future, including left-hander Mike Montgomery, right-hander Aaron Crow, and third baseman Mike Moustakas at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and first baseman Eric Hosmer at High-A Wilmington and catcher Wil Myers at Low-A Burlington.
Yet the Royals don't possess enough talent to make a playoff push this season, and getting over .500 would be a pretty large upset. They rank in the lower half of the American League in major categories, standing eighth in runs scored (4.33 a game), 13th in runs allowed (5.09), and ninth in defensive efficiency (.687).
While Yost harbors no visions of immediately turning the Royals into a powerhouse, he does believe the talent level is better than their 18-28 record, which leaves them nine games behind the first-place Twins in the AL Central. He believes more than anything the Royals need a jolt of confidence, and that is what he is trying to instill.
"You can tell that our guys are a little beaten down by the way last season ended and this season began," Yost said. "I think, a lot of times, they start having that here-we-go-again feeling as soon as something goes wrong. What we're trying to do is instill a positive mindset. The feeling here had become that we lost a game, so we must be a bad team. Well, there are times when you lose a game just because the other team beat you. You can play well, have good at-bats, do things right, and still lose. I think our guys are starting to understand that and seeing there are more positives about our club than maybe they thought."
Butler feels Yost has already made a difference in his short time as manager.
"Nothing against Trey Hillman because he is a good man, but sometimes things get a little stale and you need to make a change," Butler said. "You can just tell that things are different now. There is a better feeling in the clubhouse and in the dugout. Ned has come in and shown he has a knack for getting the most out of each of us by putting us in the right situations. We're playing with confidence now and when have that then there is always a chance that good things will happen."
Still, it's going to take a while before really good things happen for the Royals, like being a contender and playing important games past Mother's Day. However, it was once that way with the Brewers, and Yost saw the situation evolve to the point where they broke a 26-year postseason drought. In case you are counting, the Royals have gone 24 years without making the playoffs.
"It can happen here, there is no doubt in my mind that it can happen," Yost said of a turnaround. "It's going to take some time and it's going to take some patience, but I have a lot of both."
The Yankees and Phillies, both of last season's league champions, have been struggling. The Yankees went 2-5 last week in a stretch against the Red Sox, Rays, and Mets while the Phillies have scored one run or less in the last six games of their seven-game homestand at usually hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park that ended Sunday. The Phils also lost 8-0 to the Mets on Tuesday night at Citi Field.
"We've had a multitude of problems that have led to some losses, whether it's been starting pitching, bullpen, not hitting in the clutch," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
The Yankees have also been playing shorthanded without catcher Jorge Posada, center fielder Curits Granderson, and designated hitter Nick Johnson on the disabled list. That has led to drop-off in run scoring, and third baseman and cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez admits to team-wide frustration about the decreased offense.
"There's no question there is a lot of frustration, because we know we're capable of doing a lot more, but collectively we're just not getting it done right now," Rodriguez said.
Said right fielder Nick Swisher: "It happens during a long season, the ups and downs, you just to have to make sure those downs are a lot less than your ups. Sometimes you have a bad stretch; what are you going to do? That's how the game goes sometimes. Either way, we're going to come out here and give it everything we've got."
The Phillies also have a key player on the DL in shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but the healthy players haven't been hitting much. A lack of offense always alarms manger Charlie Manuel, a hitting coach at heart.
"Hitting and scoring runs generates electricity, attitude," Manuel said. "When you hit, you have fun, you feel better, you throw better, and you catch better. When you don't score and don't hit, the game is not much fun."
The Phillies were shut out in 19 straight innings by the Red Sox last weekend. They also scored 15 runs in the last six games of the homestand after beating the Pirates 12-2 in the first game. Yet the Phillies say they aren't panicking even after journeyman knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and Raul Valdes blanked them on Tuesday night.
"I really don’t worry about this team offensively much because at any moment it will click," left fielder Raul Ibanez said. "We'll explode, and it will be the same team you have seen for the last few years."
Less than two years after firing Yost, there has been rampant speculation that Attanasio is getting itchy to change managers again. However, Attanasio says the future of Ken Macha lies with general manager Doug Melvin, who has repeatedly said he has no desire to make a change despite the Brewers already falling out of contention with an 18-27 record.
"Doug needs to make those decisions, and Doug's been pretty firm in his support of Ken so I'm going to fall in line," Attanasio said in less than a ringing endorsement for Macha. "I talk to Doug every day. We're in sync on this."
In fairness to Macha, it is Melvin who put the team together and left the Brewers woefully short on pitching. The Brewers are 14th in the National League in runs allowed with an average of 5.84 a game. However, Attanasio says he has no plans of firing Melvin.
"Doug Melvin is very, very secure," Attanasio said. "You're not going to see a GM change. Doug Melvin has built up too much credibility. He's going to have to have a lot more than even a bad season. This is a (heck) of a lot better team than it's playing right now. Do we let it work itself out or do we do something different? We'll address those issues for sure."
Attanasio says the blame ultimately falls on him. He gave Melvin the OK to make such ill-fated offseason as signing left-handed starters Randy Wolf (0.2 SNLVAR) and Doug Davis (-0.5) and reliever LaTroy Hawkins (-0.8 SNLVAR) as free agents.
"We're not doing our job if we don't evaluate it, but it doesn't mean we're making changes," Attanasio said. "Start with me. I think everybody is probably evaluating me. Fans are evaluating me, saying 'what's the owner going to do now?' Instead of saying 'evaluating,' I like to say we're all accountable. And I'm going to start with me. We made a number of personnel decisions in the offseason and I approved every single one. So, accountability starts with me."
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Twins plan to talk to the Astros about trading for Roy Oswalt, but the Rangers, with their stockpile of pitching prospects, would have the best chance of landing the right-hander if they can complete the sale of the franchise and increase their budget. … Once the sale is finalized, the Rangers would also like to renew their attempt to acquire third baseman Mike Lowell from the Red Sox after backing away from a trade for him last December when it was discovered he needed thumb surgery. … The Phillies are looking high and low for bullpen, help but the White Sox don't appear ready to deal closer Bobby Jenks or right-hander J.J. Putz yet. … If he clears waivers, outfielder Darnell McDonald plans to accept an outright assignment to Triple-A Pawtucket after being designated for assignment by the Red Sox.
Three Series to Watch with probable pitchers and their SIERAs (all times Eastern):
Phillies (26-18) at Marlins (24-22), Friday-Sunday May 28-30
Rangers (26-20) at Twins (26-18), Friday-Sunday May 28-30
Nationals (23-22) at Padres (26-18), Friday-Sunday May 28-30