There was a point during the American League Wild Card Game that Ned Yost was crowned King Bonehead of Manager Earth, with his punishment being eternal mockery.
But then his Kansas City Royals stormed back to beat the Oakland A's. Then they swept the 98-win Los Angeles Angels in the division series. Now they hold a 2-0 lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the championship series that puts them just two wins away from the World Series.
The way things are going, it feels like the only thing separating Yost's Royals from a 3-0 lead in the ALCS is Monday night's rainout of Game 3. With a 6-0 postseason record to his name, Yost can do no wrong.
Or so it seems based on appearances, anyway. But in reality? Eh...Maybe not.
As much it might seem like he has, Yost hasn't quit making the kind of decisions that invite #Yosted to appear on Twitter. He made them against the A's, he made them against the Angels, and he's now making them against the Orioles.
So how are Yost's Royals still standing? It's complicated, but here's one reason: The Kansas City skipper's #Yosted low point has already come and gone.
That came in the AL Wild Card Game. Between a doomed double steal and four sacrifice bunts, Yost gifted the A's five outs. In asking young starting pitcher Yordano Ventura to do a reliever's work, he also gifted them three runs. Though the Royals won 9-8, Yost did everything in his power to make them lose.
In referring specifically to the Ventura move, pitching god-turned TBS analyst Pedro Martinez had the right idea about what would have become of Yost if the Royals had lost:
Not just the goat. The ugly goat. That's a whole 'nother level of goat.
That the Royals survived and saved Yost from that fate was the bright side. The not-so-bright side was that they weren't going to last much longer if he continued to push his luck to such an absurd degree.
Fortunately, there's the reason why Yost's #Yosted low point is in the past: Comparatively speaking, his luck pushing has actually toned down quite a bit.
And because it has, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that every button he's pushed since the AL Wild Card Game has felt like the right one. Or, at the least, not the wrong one.
ALDS Games 1, 2 and 3
It almost says it all that Yost called for only one sac bunt in Kansas City's three-game sweep of the Angels in the ALDS. Outside of that, he only made a couple of iffy pitching decisions.
One was choosing to let Jason Vargas face Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick for a third time in a pressure-packed sixth inning in Game 1. Thanks to Norichika Aoki's circus catch, a questionable decision was made to look like the right decision.
Then there was the Greg Holland conundrum. Yost had chances to bring his hard-throwing closer into tie games late in Games 1 and 2, thereby prioritizing the lead the Royals didn't have over the lead they might have. By trusting lesser relievers to keep the Angels from walking off, he was rolling the dice.
Inevitably, he rolled true both times. Thanks to solid relief work and clutch dingers from Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, twice preserving Holland for the save worked out fine.
That set the stage for a drama-less Game 3. A three-run double by Alex Gordon and dingers by Hosmer and Moustakas led the charge to a series-clinching 8-3 win, in which Yost was saved from having to make any controversial decisions.
As such, he had extras in his pocket for the ALCS. And while he's used a couple of them, the ones he has made fall under the same umbrella as the ones he made in the ALDS: not too bad and ultimately harmless.
ALCS Game 1
Yost's first real spot of bother in the ALCS came in the fifth inning of Game 1 when the Orioles started getting to staff ace James Shields.
With two outs, the bases loaded and the Royals clinging to a 5-2 lead, something of a Vargas situation confronted Yost when the lefty-swinging Ryan Flaherty strode to the plate. Yost could have called in the lefty-throwing Brandon Finnegan to exploit Flaherty's platoon split for the third out.
Instead, he struck with Shields and watched a two-run single turn a 5-2 lead into a 5-4 lead.
That could have been a regrettable decision. Same goes for the bunts Yost called for in the ninth inning with the score tied 5-5. In asking first Jarrod Dyson and then Lorenzo Cain to bunt against a clearly wild Zach Britton, Yost twice tried to give a pitcher who couldn't find the plate a free out.
Thanks to Gordon and Moustakas, however, none of this ended up mattering.
Their dingers in the 10th turned a 5-5 tie into an 8-5 lead and, ultimately, an 8-6 win that gave the Royals a 1-0 series lead and further boosted Yost's postseason profile heading into Game 2.
And in Game 2...
ALCS Game 2
In keeping with a general theme, Yost played with fire in Game 2 when he chose to stick with a struggling starter longer than he should have. This time, it was Ventura's turn.
Lifting Ventura, whose command was off from the start, in the fifth inning could have prevented the Orioles from erasing a 4-3 Royals lead. Lifting him then might also have prevented him from developing the shoulder tightness that forced him from the game in the sixth.
Fortunately, the word on Ventura is that tightness is water under the bridge. And in the end, it was thanks to a bunt that him giving up the lead also became an afterthought.
In the top of the ninth inning, the score was 4-4 with Britton on the mound, Omar Infante at first base and Moustakas at the plate. Yost called for him to lay one down, thereby taking the bat out of the Royals' leading postseason home run hitter's hands.
Or course, it worked out. Moustakas' bunt got the speedy Terrance Gore to second base, and Alcides Escobar's double brought him home for a 5-4 lead. After another run was tacked on, Holland came in to wrap up a 6-4 win.
All of this leaves us standing on a precipice from which to compare what could have happened under Yost's watch to what did happen under his watch.
The list of things that fall under the former category includes Yost's bungling of the AL Wild Card Game barring the Royals from proper October baseball. Elsewhere, it includes decisions in four other games that could have meant L's for the Royals instead of W's.
What did happen, of course, was that the Royals pulled off an improbable win against the A's and have gone on to win every game since, putting Yost in a position to be regarded as a mad genius.
Which begs the question: Is Yost smarter than he gets credit for, or is he just lucky?
The answer is the same one that applies to pretty much all managers who win in October: a little bit of both.
It has indeed taken some good fortune to build Yost's 6-0 postseason record. That the Royals haven't been beaten by any of his iffy decisions is part of it, but the bigger part of it has to do with him benefiting from the Royals' unexpected new toy: power.
After hitting only 95 home runs in the regular season, the Royals have hit eight in six postseason games. And so far, they've won only one game in which they didn't homer: that crazy Wild Card Game.
|Royals Power: Regular Season vs. Postseason|
|Split||HR/G||% Runs from HR||Isolated Power|
More than anything, this power is why Yost was absolutely right when he said (via HardballTalk) after Game 2: "They're playing their best baseball of the year right now, and it's sure the best time to play it."
This is not to say that Yost has done nothing to help. It's a lot easier to notice and nitpick his questionable decisions, but he's made some good ones too.
Compared to the first three postseason games, Yost's bullpen management in Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS has been quite good. Particularly his aggressive use of Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis in Game 1.
Also, the one bunt Yost has called for in the ALCS was perfectly defensible. In the words of Grantland's Ben Lindbergh:
One good bunt doesn't absolve Yost of so many bad bunts. Likewise, a couple good pitching maneuvers doesn't absolve him of so many risky ones.
But after watching him try to sabotage his own team in the AL Wild Card Game, Yost is beginning to look less and less like an ugly goat. He's gone from being a stick in the Royals' gears to being a much steadier guiding hand at the wheel of a Cinderella team, one that's been tons of fun to watch.
So let's end this thing with a blatant Simpsons rip-off: A Toast to the Yost Who Can Boast the Most.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted/linked.
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