It is always nice to see your team battle back from a big early deficit as the Royals did yesterday, but let’s face it: Sunday’s 10 inning loss to the Cardinals was just plain brutal.
Thirteen walks, a hit batter, two errors, two ejections and another base-running blunder – just awful. Home-plate umpire Angel Campos did the Royals no favors, but he is hardly the first umpire to have a ridiculous strike zone and an apparent ax to grind and teams manage to get through a game without giving their opposition SIXTEEN free base runners.
The truly awful thing about Sunday’s loss, which capped a 2-5 homestand, was that this seems to be more than just one loss. To begin with, it knocks Kansas City to two games below .500 for the second time this season and does so as the team is about to embark on six game road trip to Baltimore and Texas. One could envision a Royals team coming off a come from behind series win over St. Louis going on the road and winning three of six, holding firm at the .500 mark and still, however marginally, in the conversation when it comes to contending in the AL Central.
After losing yesterday, it seems far more likely that the Royals, 5-11 on the road thus far in 2011, might well flail their way to something like a 1-5 road trip and entrench themselves in the lower half of the division for the rest of the year. Certainly this may be an overreaction on my part and perhaps yesterday really is just one game out of 162, but it had the feel of one of those ‘tipping point’ games.
Now, a number of writers and commenters throughout the Internet whom I respect have long held true to the line that the Royals would not contend in 2011 and, even when they were near or at the top of the standings, that the Royals were really not contenders. Those opinions would seem to be closer to getting validated as the month of May begins to wind down, but those opinions don’t really matter.
All that matters, is that the Royals thought they were contenders. Yes, they can spin the ‘Eric Hosmer was ready and we would have made the move no matter what the standings said’ line all they want and use the same logic with the Danny Duffy promotion, but the truth is the organization was going for it in 2011.
Without question, Eric Hosmer was ready for a promotion and there is validity in the idea that you can keep a player at one level for too long, but the only reason to promote Hosmer when the Royals did (as opposed to waiting three weeks to avoid Super Two status) was that Dayton Moore believed this team had a chance to compete. I think it was worth the risk and am not criticizing the move at all. In fact, in some rough plotting of future Royals’ payrolls, you have to go out a long ways before Hosmer’s salary, no matter how outrageous an award he may receive in arbitration, actually begins to be a hindrance to the organization making additional moves. The only problem with the plan was that someone forgot to clue Ned Yost into the updated situation.
I do believe it is possible to ‘build’ and ‘compete’ simultaneously, but sometimes you have to sacrifice a little of one to do the other. Case in point: Alcides Escobar hitting with two outs in the bottom of the 1oth yesterday with the tying run on base.
While we all know that Yost had been ejected earlier in the game, we also all know that the ejected manager usually goes exactly one step beyond visual range in the dugout tunnel. Certainly, if Ned had wanted to pinch-hit for Escobar in this situation, he could have made his thoughts known to bench coach John Gibbons. That he did not, forces us to rely on Yost’s stated position of a week or so ago that ‘Escobar needs to learn how to hit in those situation’. Well, of course he does, but Escobar doesn’t necessarily need to learn how to hit in every one of those situations.
I say that, knowing that Escobar has been hitting better lately (5 for his last 17 at-bats), that he was 2 for 4 on the day, and that the pinch-hitting option was Melky Cabrera (5 for 39 in his career as a pinch hitter and, after all, Melky Cabrera), but I like Cabrera better than Escobar in this situation. For all his faults, there was certainly a much better chance that Melky catches a ball flush and drives it than there was for Escobar to do the same.
If the Royals were 24-21 entering Sunday afternoon (or 19-26 for that matter), than by all means let the kid hit and try to figure it out, but yesterday was a big game and I don’t know that you can spin it as anything but a big game. You make the move for Cabrera and hope he ties or maybe even wins it with one swing. If it is a tie and you have to play the 11th with your defensive whiz shortstop on the bench, then so be it: at least you are playing the 11th instead of taking a shower.
The entire plan is a bit of mystery to me as Yost, in other situations, has clearly focused on the now. He moved Hosmer into the three spot in the order, opting to bolster the offense over protecting the rookie, and Yost has squarely put Aaron Crow into the ‘8th inning setup man’ role to the exclusion of any other development in order to win games. Those are moves made to win now that run counter to things like not pinch-hitting for Escobar and continuing to rotate Wilson Betemit with the Aviles/Getz mess in order to get both of the second baseman at-bats.
Pick a course of action and go with it. If you are determined to bat Escobar in critical late-inning situations, then it would seem reasonable to try to stretch Aaron Crow out now and then. Again, it is very possible to devise a plan under which you try to win in 2011 and develop your team for 2012 and beyond, but I am not sure I can envision any plan that has Alcides Escobar batting in the 10th inning yesterday.