Even great baseball teams lose games. I am not sure the 2015 Royals qualify as ‘great’, but they are certainly very good…and they lost last night. They lost in a game in which Ned Yost quite understandably sent Edinson Volquez out to start the eighth inning, only to see his starter fall victim to an infield hit, a walk, a swinging bunt and not exactly the most ‘ripped’ double of all-time. Did Yost stay with Volquez too long in the eighth? Sure, he did, but it was a weird inning that got away from the Royals’ manager and his team. Weird innings and slow decisions happen to good teams once in a while.
All of that is nothing to get too upset about. My late night scan of Twitter indicated some people did get upset. Although more people seemed to be upset about people being upset than there were actual people upset about the loss. Twitter, maybe the world, was in a weird mood yesterday, with people exceptionally focused on proving how much more rational they were than other people and basically just plain argumentative about everything. It was the kind of day that breeds an eighth inning like the Royals had last night.
Of the piles of douchery that was populating bandwidth last night, however, an interesting question did arise: if the Royals has a one game lead in the division and a healthy Wade Davis, does Volquez come out in the eighth or pitch to as many batters once he ran into trouble? I think most of us agree the answer is no to at least one of those propositions. Therein lies the greater question. How and how much should Ned Yost attempt to rest his team over the last two months of the regular season?
There is a delicate line there in that baseball is a game of repetition. No one expects Alex Gordon to come back in early September and be in top form. This is a sport, after all, that plays THIRTY exhibition games to get ready for a 162 game regular season. One can’t sit Wade Davis for ten days and then expect him to be razor sharp his first time out. There is nothing new to that or a surprise to anyone.
Can you and should you, pull back the reigns to the point that your regulars are resting one or day days every week? Where you best relievers are pitching only when they are perfectly healthy and then only every third day? At one point do you get your team back into post-season mode prior to the actual post-season? And how many games do they need to essentially ‘flip the switch’?
Since 2005, thirteen teams have won their division by 10 games or more and of those thirteen, only one has made it to the World Series (the Texas Rangers). That number mostly points to the narrow margin for error in the playoffs, but does at least offer enough to make one leery of doing too much coasting into the post-season. It will be an interesting test for Ned Yost, who has managed to make young players better and managed the latter half of 2014 like every game was a playoff game, but never been in an admittedly enviable situation like this.
For the record, I don’t mind trying to get through the eighth with Edinson Volquez last night or having Ryan Madson close out a one run game last Sunday. It makes sense to not pitch Wade Davis with a sore back and to hold out Salvador Perez and his sore wrist even if it means letting Drew Butera bat with two on in the bottom of the ninth. It is just one game after winning five straight and being a 99% lock to get to the playoffs.
The funny thing about ‘just one game’ is that sometimes those turn into more than one game and the next thing you know you have gone 13-17 and lost a little (or a lot – ask Oakland last year) of the team that surged to the best record in baseball.
Should Ned Yost rest players, get his regulars healthy and try to give the bullpen some light duty? Without question he should, but he needs to do so with an eye on both keeping his team sharp and maintaining the number one seed in the post-season. If you want to go play a game six or seven at Toronto, you are a more confident human than I!
If you are asking me, I would try to dance through August and the first week of September liberally resting regulars and relievers alike. Come the last three weeks of the season, however, I would advocate locking in my playoff lineup and managing those final twenty or so regular season games as if it was the playoffs. Sure, you don’t pitch HDH three days straight down the stretch or get ‘actual playoff crazy’, but I think you get the drift.
Last night was ‘just one game’ and, for once, that’s fine. The Royals just need to not fill up August and September with a basket full of ‘just one games’.