Against all expectations, Ned Yost figured it out

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Credit where credit is due: Ned Yost managed a great series against the Orioles.

By all rights, the Royals should have been dead in the wild card game. Down 7-3 against the A’s after the surprising move to have Yordano Ventura, pitching on one day of rest, relieve James Shields in the sixth, the Royals needed to score four runs in two innings against Jon Lester and one of the best bullpens in baseball. They did that and won it in 12, though between the Ventura call and the four sacrifice bunts (in a 9-8 game), Yost seemed to do more harm than good.

Related: Royals sweep Orioles to advance to first World Series since 1985

The sweep of the Angels? That was a better, easier series for Yost. About the only criticism one could lay down at his feet is that he declined to use his closer in tie games on the road. Of course, it didn’t hurt him one bit. The series included just one sac bunt (by Alcides Escobar in Game 2; it didn’t lead to a run). There weren’t really many tough decisions at all. All three of his starters pitched well, and none needed to be removed mid-inning. The relievers were great, because they’re Royals relievers and it’s required.

Against the Orioles, Yost seemed to learn from everything that had come before. There were two sac bunts in the series, and the first of those was left-handed hitter Mike Moustakas bunting against a left-hander in a tie game in the top of the ninth. No one is arguing against that one. The only starter he seemed to keep in too long was Ventura in Game 2. In Game 3, he patted Jeremy Guthrie on the backside after five innings of one-run ball and went right to the pen. In Game 4, Jason Vargas came out after allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings, even though he was at just 73 pitches.

As for his bullpen decisions… well, he had it pretty easy. His relievers allowed two runs in five innings in Game 1, but pitched 11 scoreless innings the rest of the way. There were no tough calls on when to use Wade Davis and Greg Holland. My only criticism was that he used Jason Frasor in the sixth against the heart of the Orioles order in Game 3, when it would have made more sense to go with Kelvin Herrera then and let Frasor face the bottom of the order in the seventh. But it didn’t matter. Yost went to Herrera during the sixth in both Games 1 and 4. That was the move he didn’t make in the wild card game. The one that nearly knocked his team out of the playoffs before this whole incredible run had a chance to get started.

It certainly helps that Yost has been able to stick to the script. He’s started the same lineup every game of the playoffs. He hasn’t had any pitching meltdowns to throw things off. Every starter has pitched between five and seven innings. Somehow, the Royals have had two pitchers leave with potentially season-ending injuries (Herrera in the ALDS, Ventura in Game 2) and turn out just fine. Yost never worries about pinch-hitting, only pinch-running and having Jarrod Dyson replace Norichika Aoki late in games. His players have made it simple for him, and he’s done absolutely nothing lately to muck it up. Admittedly, that might sound like a backhanded compliment, but as anyone who has watched the National League postseason can attest, not having a manager muck things up is really all there is to it.

Report: Astros’ assistant GM yelled ‘Thank God we got Osuna!’ at female reporters

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Last year, then-closer for the Blue Jays Roberto Osuna was arrested in Toronto on an assault charge. He allegedly assaulted the mother of his then three-year-old son. The charge was eventually withdrawn in exchange for a peace bond, but Major League Baseball still suspended Osuna for 75 games without pay.

Due to the off-the-field ugliness, the Astros were able to acquire Osuna on the relative cheap, sending Ken Giles, David Paulino, and Hector Perez to the Blue Jays. Osuna has been mostly great for the Astros since the trade, finishing the 2018 season with 12 saves, a 1.99 ERA, and a 19/3 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings in his new uniform. This year, Osuna racked up an American League-high 38 saves with a 2.63 ERA and a 73/12 K/BB ratio in 65 innings.

With the Astros holding a 4-2 lead in the top of the ninth in ALCS Game 6 against the Yankees, manager A.J. Hinch called on Osuna to get the final three outs to send his team to the World Series. He ended up allowing a leadoff single to Gio Urshela, then a game-tying two-run home run to DJ LeMahieu. Nevertheless, the Astros won it in the bottom of the ninth thanks to José Altuve’s walk-off two-run homer off of Aroldis Chapman.

In the postgame celebration, Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated reports that Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman yelled towards a group of three female reporters, “Thank god we got Osuna! I’m so … glad we got Osuna!” Taubman repeated the phrase half a dozen times. One of the reporters was wearing a purple domestic violence awareness bracelet.

The Astros declined to comment on the issue and did not make Taubman available for an interview. That shouldn’t come as a shock because the Astros have organizationally failed repeatedly to meaningfully address Osuna’s behavior. GM Jeff Luhnow released a poorly thought out statement last July about Osuna, claiming that the Astros’ due diligence was “unprecedented,” and citing that Osuna is “remorseful” and “willingly complied with all consequences,” despite pleading not guilty and not having had his day in court yet, thus no consequences. The Astros released another statement in August defending their belief that “Roberto deserved a second chance.”

Later that month, Osuna went after his critics, saying, “Everybody is judging me for things they don’t know. I don’t like that.” In the postseason, teammate Ryan Pressly defended Osuna from a heckler, telling the fan, “You can talk all the sh– you want. Just don’t bring that stuff up.”

The Astros also kicked out a fan who protested Osuna’s presence by holding up a sign displaying a domestic violence hotline number. After receiving plenty of criticism for that, the Astros decided to display flyers, featuring the National Domestic Violence Hotline number, in women’s restrooms at Minute Maid Park.

Taubman’s behavior is not the first strike for the Astros on this issue. Acquiring Osuna was strike one. Luhnow’s statement and the club’s subsequent statement were strikes two and three. Osuna’s backlash was strike four, Pressly’s defense of him was strike five, and the whole issue over the DV hotline sign was strike six. The Astros are in danger of having the side strike out on this issue.

It’s also worth mentioning that Luhnow worked for McKinsey and Company, a management consulting firm, before getting into baseball. McKinsey has been consulting for the Astros since 2017, The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported in July. McKinsey has, ahem, a checkered past.

The Astros have clearly and intentionally thrown ethics to the side in order to run a baseball-related business. That they have repeatedly mishandled a very serious domestic violence issue within the sport shouldn’t come as a surprise, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the Astros are hoping the issue goes away with the World Series set to begin on Tuesday.

Update: The Astros released a statement. Via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle:

The story posted by Sports Illustrated is misleading and completely irresponsible. An Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing. Our executive was supporting the player during a difficult time. His comments had everything to do about the game situation that just occurred and nothing else — they were also not directed towards any specific reporters. We are extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.

The Astros had an initial chance to respond to the story before publication and didn’t take Sports Illustrated up on it. They also didn’t deny that Taubman said what was reported. They’re disputing the context and the intended audience, but that doesn’t really make them look that much better. Perhaps an organization with a less spotty history would get the benefit of the doubt, the Astros certainly haven’t earned it.

Furthemore, Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle and Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports both confirmed Apstein’s report. Atkins tweeted, “The Astros called this @stephapstein report misleading. It is not. I was there. Saw it. And I should’ve said something sooner.”