Ned Yost told you so

Associated Press
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NASHVILLE — Ned Yost is beaming. Heck, he even looks a little smug. Not in some arrogant or unearned way. Just pleased with himself and his accomplishment and, over a month after hoisting the 2015 World Series trophy, he seems to enjoy reminding people that they didn’t think he had what it took to lead the Royals to glory.

You can tell that “I told you so” part is at the forefront of his mind because when he’s asked about something unrelated to the big picture of the Royals success or his role in authoring it he subtly steers things back to his naysayers and how silly they all look now for questioning him and his leadership.

Yost is asked about his newly-acquired relief pitcher, Joakim Soria, and what role he’ll play in the loaded Royals bullpen.

“They are all closer types in my mind,” Yost says. “Soria is a closer. [Hochevar] can close. We obviously know Davis can close. We know that Herrera can close. That’s the strength of our team is our defense and our bullpen, and now our ability to put the ball in play.”

Then Yost pivots. A hint of sarcasm enters his voice, but only a hint.

“Which is funny to me because everybody admires and ogles at the way we can put the ball in play where just a year ago, everybody was wondering what was wrong with our approach; when are we going to change our approach; why are you swinging at so many pitches?”

Yost flashes a satisfied smile as he says this, no doubt remembering how many times he was asked about his seemingly excessive bunting and his odd bullpen choices. Criticisms which rained down even as recently as 2014 when the term “Yosted” was coined by critics and angry Royals fans and turned into a social media hashtag used to channel their frustration at his often baffling strategic decisions. All managers face criticism, of course, but Yost’s detractors were a bit more persistent than others, continuing to lay it on him even as the Royals were in the process of winning the American League pennant that October. The Royals were a flawed team, they assumed, overachieving to some degree. As such the players could not be completely blamed if they failed. But Yost could. Blamed for his seeming stubbornness and for not putting his players in a position to succeed.

A year later that all seems ridiculous. As Kansas City cruised to the 2015 World Series title that “approach” Yost mentioned — batters swinging freely, baserunners running wild, bunts, steals and contact with runners in scoring position crowding out the longball as the plays everyone digs — became the new vanguard in baseball strategy. The “Yosted” hashtag was transformed from one used to mock Yost into one used only ironically, to describe how dumb Yost’s detractors look for doubting him. Or, in the case of press conferences such as this one, to give Yost a virtual high-five for firing off a clever bon mot or offering up unapologetic but totally justified comment about his and his team’s success and, yes, greatness.

None of this seems lost on Yost, who appears to be quite amused at everyone suddenly realizing that he is, shockingly, not some idiot the Royals brought in off the street but, rather, a lifetime baseball man who has spent a lot of time around greatness and contributed to it in significant ways.

Yost is asked about Zack Greinke, who just signed the biggest free agent contract ever given to a pitcher. His answer reminds us all that he knows from greatness: “You listen to radio talk show guys and they say they see a lot of similarities between Zack and Greg Maddux,” Yost says. “I was with Greg Maddux for a long, long time in Atlanta.”

Oh yeah, Yost coached there. He was Bobby Cox’s right-hand man for the Braves’ entire run in the 1990s, more or less. Cox, for all of his success, made more than his fair share of in-game strategic blunders doing those years, but he never got near the grief that Yost got for his own. Even if there was social media back then it’s hard to imagine him getting his own dubious hashtag for it. Cox is a Hall of Famer now and you have to be pretty long in the tooth to remember a time when criticism was leveled at him, let alone stuck to him.

Yost may not yet be a legend, but he’s got the confidence of someone who becomes one eventually. Yost is asked about how he knew, when he said it back in 2011, that the Royals would win a championship in the next couple of years. His answer, tied up in the development of then-disappointing youngsters like Mike Moustakas, hints at a legacy for which one can imagine Yost would one day like to be remembered:

. . . Mike was really struggling at that time and came back and struggled the next year. They were confounded why I would continue to play him. I just always believed that he was going to be an All-Star-type player and a winning-type player . . . when there’s somebody I believe in, I’ve never been wrong yet on that player. I’ve never been wrong on a guy I thought would be a really, really good player or part of a championship team that I was wrong on.

And I don’t know how that is. It’s just something that I see, something that I sense. I don’t have any scientifical formulas that I figure this guy is going to be a great player. I can see heart and desire and competitiveness and I can see skill. It doesn’t always translate into production right away, but I can always project production down the way with these young players.

You didn’t believe in Mike Moustakas and you didn’t believe in Ned Yost for believing in him. But Ned Yost did. As was the case with his strategic approach so is the case with his roster decisions. He didn’t evolve or change, as so many people like to claim he did. He was constant and events have transpired in such a way that he is now vindicated. Yost is amused that it took us this long to realize what he always knew.

It’s possible, of course, to overstate all of this. Yost is human and it’s human nature for one to take a somewhat undue amount of credit for one’s success and to ascribe said success to one’s skill and cunning when there were, admittedly, other factors in play.

For example, while Yost talks up that running, gunning, contact-hitting strategy, it’s likely overstated as a reason for the Royals’ success. Yes, the Royals were a fantastically opportunistic bunch, especially in the postseason, but situational hitting stats tend to fluctuate wildly from year to year and, on the whole, their offense was merely average. The same goes for their highly-touted running game. While we can all point to instances in the postseason where the Royals’ speed made things happen, even winning games, over the course of the 2015 season their performance on the base paths actually cost them more runs than it gained them, at least according to some metrics.

None of which is to take away from the club’s success, of course. The Royals won the gosh darn World Series, after all. It’s merely to say that Yost’s certainty that this success would occur was likely due more to the fact that he was an athlete and is now a leader and athletes and leaders all carry with them the confidence that they will succeed. When they do succeed, they can truly say that it was never in doubt. When the don’t? Well, when they don’t there aren’t a dozen or two reporters surrounding them months later asking them to dwell on it. At least not outside of New York and Boston, I suppose.

For now, though, Yost is more than entitled to his victory lap. He’s entitled to bask in the glory of a world championship and he’s entitled to tell his naysayers that they were wrong. Partially because rings are all that ultimately matter in sports and, next April, he’ll get his ring.

But also because he no doubt remembers how, back in 2012, he famously revealed that, when he went to Starbucks for a coffee in Kansas City, he’d give a fake name to the barista so his critics would not be alerted to his presence when his name was called. Now, though?

“When I go to Kansas City, it’s hard to go out anywhere without getting standing ovations and stuff like that,” Yost says. “I mean, it’s absolutely crazy, going to a restaurant, you just kind of want to sneak in.” Yost then does a one-man impression of a clapping and cheering crowd, the likes of which he frequently encounters these days.

Did the crowds change, or did Yost? Who really evolved here?

 

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Matt Olson knew the Atlanta Braves were too talented to stay in a season-long slump.

That’s why no one panicked when the New York Mets’ division lead swelled to double digits in May. Now the Braves are on the cusp of another NL East title.

“It’s a clubhouse full of guys who want to win,” Olson said. “That’s all it’s been since the moment I walked in. That’s No. 1 on the program.”

Dansby Swanson and Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Braves beat New York 5-3 on Sunday night, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closes out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

“We’ve felt this confidence since the beginning of the year,” d’Arnaud said. “It just didn’t go our way early in the year, but pulling on the same rope, having each others’ backs, not trying to do too much. We’re just trying to play the game of baseball and have fun with it.”

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

“We still have three games left in the regular season, we’re still going to the postseason, that doesn’t change, but there’s a lot of learning points that we can take from this series moving forward,” Mets slugger Pete Alonso said. “I thought we played well, but the Braves played better. They played excellent baseball this entire weekend.”

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

“Everyone knew we were underperforming when we were flirting around that .500 range,” Olson said. “It was one of those things where it was trusting the talent we have and the guys in the clubhouse. Everybody was solid, head down, do your work, it’ll turn around and you wind up winning.”

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).