1. With an 86-76 finish a year ago, the Royals enjoyed their best season since 1989. Just to do that, they had to win 14 more games than they had the year before.
Now, propelled by their longest winning streak (10 games) in 20 years, they’re hoisted themselves into first place after May for just the second time since 1993 as they return to Kansas City for a nine-game homestand starting Friday night against Seattle.
This seems like good stuff, and while the trajectory may or may not hold up, in the most simplistic terms there is a pattern here.
The Royals’ record has improved every year since 2009, albeit at a glacial pace through 2012 before a year-plus of notable uptick:
Since June 4 of last season, they are 102-77.
There are many reasons for this substantial trend, and still reasons it could be fleeting.
But at some point, doesn’t manager Ned Yost get some credit here?
In fact, doesn’t he have to be considered a strong early candidate for American League manager of the year?
After all, he makes out the lineup that you can quibble with but has had prolific results the last few weeks since he made the move to promote Dale Sveum to hitting coach.
He pulls the levers in the bullpen that might be rickety in the middle but is the best in the game in the eighth and ninth innings.
And he ultimately is responsible for what is now a thriving clubhouse culture that, in fact, he’s an active part of.
Yet for all that, Yost remains a polarizing figure with fans.
Which, of course, is a way of life for most managers.
A certain percentage of fans seem to blame him any time something goes awry and figures any success is only despite him.
Sometimes, I think there are some who would rather see the Royals fail just to justify their stance.
I had lunch Thursday with a thoughtful friend who doesn’t like Yost, and I think his feeling is fueled by the same perceptions that many cite:
Yost can come off as contentious in sound bites. So when he makes a debatable decision (which he does but hardly has a trademark on) the combination is almost toxic to fans who don’t know him.
I’ve written about this before, but, yes, Yost can be a gruff, old-school baseball guy who has a way of letting you know if he doesn’t like a question.
With almost comical predictability, he tends to reflexively stake out contrary ground before giving his real answer.
Yet he usually does finally give a real answer. And he also has a lot more personality and reasonability and good-natured banter in him than people might realize, especially since it’s easier for him to be that way in smaller groups without TV cameras around than it is in the spotlight.
Not that this makes him Connie Mack, baseball’s all-time winningest manager (3,731 victories … with 3,948 defeats, too). And, sure, you could make a case that a manager’s role is overrated, anyway.
But if you’ve thought he’s been part of the problem with the Royals before, you really can’t say he’s not part of a solution now.
2. That winning streak tied for the third-longest in club history. The 1977 team that won a franchise-record 102 games had streaks of 16 and 10 wins in a row.
The 1994 team that played just 115 games and went 64-51 in the strike-shortened season had a 14-game run that didn’t keep then-manager Hal McRae from losing his job at the end of the season.
3. I never dealt with McRae, but I believe as a manager he might make Yost look like Mr. Rogers.
McRae’s tempestuous tenure was better known for his desk-clearing meltdown the year before, but he had his moments in 1994, too.
After he was booed for pulling right-hander Rusty Meacham for lefty Billy Brewer to face two lefthanded batters in a 10-5 win over Milwaukee, McRae said that if fans were booing his strategy “they are the dumbest fans in the world.”
Then he fumed about the manager’s plight.
“This is what ticks me off about the job: You’re OK till you take the wheel,” he said. “Now you’re nothing. They try to make you feel like nobody. They put you up here to knock you down.”
He added: “It’s wrong for me to say, and it ain’t going to help me, but I’m going to say it, anyway. They can ride me out of this town, and I’ll go out smiling.”
4. I went to see new Mizzou men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson this week in Columbia for an upcoming column. We got talking about him throwing out the first pitch at a Cardinals game a few weeks back, and he was mostly just glad he didn’t fall off the mound or throw it in the dirt even if he wished the pitch hadn’t sailed on him.
“Whoever I was pitching to didn’t have to worry about swinging the bat,” Anderson said, noting that if it had been a righthander “it would have been a brawl.”
So far, the Royals haven’t extended the same invitation.
“They probably saw me throw and said, ‘Hey, we don’t want to put any of our players in danger,’ “ he said, laughing.
5. OK, tech support question: Can anyone explain how to resolve a blank screen I’ve suddenly been getting for Royals’ games on Time Warner (59, 309 and 1309) for almost a month?
I’d be grateful, because every time I’ve called Time Warner I get a different vague answer … and no results.
Even the nice guy who came out on a service call couldn’t explain it, and he said there are pockets of the city where plenty of other people aren’t getting it, either.
I know they’re in the middle of shuffling channels, so maybe it will resolve itself. But I’d rather not wait any longer.
Oh, well, at least it hasn’t been happening when the Royals were, like, in the middle of their longest winning streak in 20 years or anything.