Is it time for Ned Yost to get the axe?

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Expectations can be a drag. It’s not Ned Yost’s fault that a lot of people thought the Royals would be this year’s version of the 2013 Pirates and end a long playoff drought. So if the team is failing to meet those expectations, is it really his fault?

Well, sure. Because in this particular case the expectations weren’t terribly unreasonable. No one predicted a championship or even a division title. But respectability and occasional friskiness is definitely something this Royals team should be living up to given the talent on the roster. Perhaps Yost isn’t doing anything egregiously wrong (just go with me on that for now, Royals fans) but lots of dudes have been fired for managing a talented but underachieving team which appears to be listless and without fire.

Ken Rosenthal — who has never been one to call for managers’ heads all willy-nilly — thinks it’s time for Ned to go:

. . . if ever a team appears in need of a fresh voice, it’s this one. I’m not sure what that voice should sound like, though at this point, screeching probably would be preferable to soothing. The entire organization seems almost too comfortable, waiting for a surge that might never come . . . Considering the Royals’ talent, can anyone say [Yost] is getting the most out of this club?

Nope. Not at all. And that’s before you take into account his crazy in-game decisionmaking, his odd bullpen usage and post-game comments which, intentionally or not, suggest that winning isn’t always the most important thing. Which, to you and me and the kids at the bus stop it shouldn’t be, but to a major league manager it kinda is.

I’m not sure who today’s version of Billy Martin is. The guy who comes in, kicks butts, lights a fire under a team and manages a quick turnaround. Maybe it’s Ozzie Guillen? Maybe someone else? All I know is, it ain’t Ned Yost.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.