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.

Yasmani Grandal signs a four-year, $73 million deal with the White Sox

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The first truly big free agent signing of the offseason has gone down: the Chicago White Sox just announced that they have signed catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal.

Grandal, 31, was the best catcher available in free agency. He is coming off a fine year with the Milwaukee Brewers, with whom he had to settle for a one-year pact in 2019. He hit .246/.380/.468 with 28 homers and 77 driven in. It was his fourth straight season with 20+ homers. While his catching has been criticized due to some high-profile mistakes in the postseason, the two-time All-Star once again proved himself to be one of the best pitch-framers in the game if not the best. Between the bat and the glove he has a claim to being one of the best all-around catchers in baseball.

The signing leaves open the question of what happens to James McCann, who was himself an All-Star this year. It’s not that hard a question, of course, as Grandal is a far superior catcher to McCann in every respect. The Sox could make McCann a backup. Alternatively, they could try to trade him to fill other holes on the roster.

The White Sox finished 72-89 in 2019 but are showing signs of coming out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. This signing pushes them a big step into that direction.