This clinches it: Ned Yost has no idea what he’s doing

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Setting the scene: Indians up 4-3 on the Royals in the top of the ninth. Cleveland closer Chris Perez gives up a single to Salvador Perez and a walk to Mike Moustakas to begin the inning, setting things up very nicely.

Very nicely indeed, for Ned Yost to trample all over what was left of the Royals’ postseason hopes.

After back-to-back hitters reached, Yost, already having pinch-run for both Perez and Moustakas, sent in David Lough to pinch-hit for Lorenzo Cain and lay down a sacrifice bunt. It was successful, giving the Royals runners on second and third with one out.

And that is a defensible decision. It’s not the one I would have made, but it put the Royals in a position to take the lead with a single. It’s what happened next that’s truly remarkable.

Needing a single — again, the whole point of the bunt was to set things up for a two-run single — Yost had Carlos Pena pinch-hit for Jarrod Dyson. The very same Carlos Pena who has hit .197 and .208 the last two years. Pena’s entire game is walks and homers. The only active major leaguer with 1,000 plate appearances and a lesser rate of hitting singles is Adam Dunn. Pena hits singles in 10.3 percent of plate appearances.

So, Pena did what he does best: he struck out looking.

Yost wasn’t done, though. He called on another pinch-hitter for Alcides Escobar. This time, it was George Kottaras. Kottaras doesn’t qualify for that list above. But if you lower that cutoff to 800 plate appearances, there’s absolutely no one in the majors who hits singles less frequently than Kottaras (lower it to 500 and you get five pitchers who do). Kottaras has singled in 9.2 percent of his plate appearances.

Kottaras walked. Which is fine. The Royals were probably happy about that, since it brought up Alex Gordon. Gordon, though, popped up to end the game.

Frankly, I’d fire Yost for the whole sequence. To give up the first out and then call on those two hitters to drive in the runs shows a painful lack of sense. If the bases were loaded and a walk or a sac fly would have won the game, then Pena and/or Kottaras would have been worth a try. But Yost needed a single and he took out two guys who were better bets to get one for him in Dyson and Escobar. Not only that, but the player on the bench most likely to single, Lough, was the guy called on to lay down the bunt. It was a brutal case of overmanaging, and it quite possibly cost the Royals the game and further dimmed their long shot hopes for the postseason.

Just get rid of him, seriously.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.