Ned Yost getting smarter with better players


JUNE 2015 – David Smale, a superb writer and a contributor to this magazine, arrived at the Kauffman Stadium press box about an hour before the May 24 game and asked jokingly if it was too early to apply for Kansas City Royals postseason media credentials.

At the time, the Royals were 28-14, the best start after 42 games in franchise history. The Royals were on pace to win 108 games at the quarter pole. They looked like they would run away with the division, like Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president.

The Royals owned a three-game lead in the American League Central. They were the only team in the majors with their longest losing streak two games. Every other club had at least a three-game skid.

In late May, the starting pitchers threw 27 scoreless innings, one shy of the club record set in 1974. The offense was clutch with runners in scoring position. The defense was airtight. The bullpen was impeccable. All cylinders were clicking.

This promised to be a stress-free fun-filled summer, a Royals’ lovefest before adoring fans.

But that was before Sports Illustrated put Eric Hosmer and the Royals on its June 1 edition cover, which hit the newsstands in late May. That, my friend, is known as the kiss of death. Might as well pucker up and lip lock with a cobra.

One does not have to be Nostradamus to know what would happen next.

Then a not-so-funny thing occurred. The Royals promptly went on a four-game losing streak. They lost the final game of the series to the St. Louis Cardinals and were swept three games at Yankee Stadium, a longtime house of horrors for the Royals. Then they split two in Wrigley Field (while one was rained out). That’s five losses in six games.

In that span, the Royals dropped from the best record in the American League into second place in their division. They entered June a half-game behind the Minnesota Twins. The perennial division champion Detroit Tigers were three games in arrears of the Royals, certainly within striking range.

Alright, I’m not worried about the Twins remaining in the race until Labor Day. I don’t believe the Tigers are nearly as formidable as they have been in recent seasons, especially without Justin Verlander being a key rotation component.

And while the Royals, who have the most talent in the division, may yet win the AL Central by a half dozen or more games, be prepared for some potholes, detours and rough patches. Don’t jump off the bandwagon when those occur. Or scream, “The sky is falling.” Few teams lead from start to finish. It is a 162-game season and pratfalls and pitfalls should be anticipated.

This is not a flawless club by any means, but solid enough that if the Royals failed to return to the playoffs it would be a major disappointment to Kansas City.

“They’re going the way they’re going for a reason,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of the Royals’ record. “We have a really good team. With the experience and the confidence we gained last year, (which) makes my job three times easier than it ever has been in the past.”

Even after winning the American League championship last year and taking the San Francisco Giants to the seventh game of the World Series, many so-called experts thought it was a fluke. The projected the Royals would be a sub-.500 club this year, that 72 to 78 victories was more their 2015 range.

Yost knew otherwise.

“You write the lineup up, you know they are prepared,” Yost said. “You know they are focused. You know they are going to go out with a bit of a chip of their shoulder every single day. I have not seen one single day where the energy is dropped, where the focus is dropped.

“So you write out the lineup and you sit back. Normally I would be right there at the top of the rail and now I can sit on the bench and watch them go. When I need to make a change, I’ll make a change.”

It is more comfortable to write a daily lineup starting with a staple six of Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Cain, who have been together for the most part the past three years.

Second baseman Omar Infante joined the lineup last year, while right fielder Alex Rios, who just returned from a six-week span on the disabled list with a fractured left hand, and designated hitter Kendrys Morales, were additions this season, and that provides Yost with a set lineup.

“Dealing with all the stuff you had to deal with in the past is gone. It’s just a lot easier,” Yost said.

Yost’s IQ has skyrocketed, approaching an Einstein level since October.

“I’m so much smarter now,” Yost said. “It’s funny how that works. I’ve got really good players and all of a sudden you get so much smarter.”

Brilliant as Yost has become, he insists he does not know the Royals’ record.

“I’m a day-to-day guy,” Yost said. “I know we’re going good, but I can’t tell you what our record is.”

When told the record, Yost replied, “That’s pretty good.”

“I don’t sit there and dwell on that,” he said. “I just stay focused on today.”

Article by Alan Eskew

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