Let's be clear here: there are probably no fewer Royals fans today than there were ten days ago. If there are, then, well, okay. I can understand why. It's not as if they were viciously and voraciously turned away by a team with a track record of success who hit a speed bump at the start of this season. This has been a systemic issue for a team that, for all intents and purposes, has been playing solitaire with an incomplete deck over the last fifteen years.
Royals fans have lived through worse stretches under worse circumstances. Say, in 2005, when the Royals lost nineteen consecutive games. Back then, there was no end in sight. Even when the team mercifully snuffed The Streak To End All Streaks with a 2-1 victory of the A's, the mood wasn't improved, because there was nothing to really cheer about. Chip Ambres led off that game. Paul Phillips and Donnie Murphy completed a lineup that included Emil Brown hitting cleanup.
So, let's be clear: This latest losing streak will do very little to affect the current Royals fan population, if only for the fact that it can't get much lower. It will affect their mood, to be sure. Some of them (as I have) will step away for a few days, focus on other projects, spend some more time with their family; doing those things that are more constructive than following Royals baseball (maybe a new slogan should be "Royals: We suck so hard that everything else looks better by comparison. You're welcome.").
It's getting to that point that we have seen so many times before, where the tragedy becomes so overt and prolonged that it morphs into comedy, and at the center of these farcical proceedings is Ned Yost.
I firmly believe that the Royals would not be sitting at 3-12, off the rails on a ten-game losing streak, if Ned Yost (or a manager similar to him) were not at the helm. This Old World mentality of aggressive, hit-and-run baseball, coupled with a paint-by-numbers bullpen, is a clear sign of the meddlesome nature of Yost, and was a mild irritation in the past. Combined with a prototypical amount of bad luck and a penchant for over-thinking and panic, and the results have been readily apparent.
The Royals this year have used fourteen different lineups. Fourteen. FOURTEEN. The only lineups that have matched were the first two to start the season. And even if you forgive the necessity of varying lineups due to the injury of Lorenzo Cain and the necessity for days off for a catcher, the Royals are setting a dangerous and new precedent in lineup meddling. Throughout the first two weeks of the season, the only people who have seen consistent time in their respective lineup spots are Butler and Hosmer. And even that has come under fire with Yost's latest lineup du jour.
Yost's bullpen usage at times has been, in a word, baffling. In Wednesday's game against the Tigers, Sanchez did what Sanchez does: He threw 97 pitches in five innings, striking out three and walking three while managing to give up only two runs. The Royals were winning 3-2 at the time. Yost went to the 'pen and brought in Kelvin Herrera, who proceeded to mow down the Tigers for the next four outs. He literally looked untouchable, completely fooling the hitters with his fastball and off-speed pitches, striking out two and inducing two groundball outs. The one hit he gave up was a lazy bloop single to left-center by Gerald Laird, after which he came back to strike out Austin Jackson. Playing the matchup, and utterly ignoring the fact that Herrera was shutting the Tigers down, Yost went for the lefty-lefty draw and brought in Jose Mijares to face Brennan Boesch. Mijares induced a flyball out to left. Job well done. Yost, however, decided to leave Mijares in against right-handed Miguel Cabrera, one of the best hitters in the American League. Cabrera promptly singled. A wild pitch eliminated the lead and a single by Fielder gave the Royals the deficit.
This is just one example of Yost's overall managerial strategy when it comes to the bullpen; he is much more inclined to go with what the book tells him the proper order of things is supposed to be as opposed to realizing how the game is dictating the action on the field. Herrera was baffling hitters. Mijares got one out (the only out he should have been asked to get) facing three batters.
The Royals, as a team, are 8 for 15 in stolen base attempts. Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Eric Hosmer have all been caught stealing this year, presumably while someone who can actually drive the ball was standing at the plate. It boggles the mind. Meanwhile...the Royals catchers are 5 for 17 in catching attempted baserunners. That last part doesn't have much to do with Yost; the Royals' catchers are just generally bad at catching base stealers. Teams appear to be aware of that.
And with all this, the litany of woe continues on another Royals season. They will (probably) pull out of this tailspin, and the decent news is that this is happening in 2012, not 2013 or 2014, when it may actually matter. The good news is that, unlike previous seasons containing multiple long losing streaks, there are reasons to be excited about the direction of this team. Danny Duffy has impressed in several starts this season. Outside of one defensive-letdown-induced inning, Luke Hochevar has picked up where he left off last year. Hosmer and Gordon have started slowly, but no one expects them to hit .183 and .190 for the year. Butler is being Butler. Moustakas is meeting expectations. Cain, before his injury, was flashing his range in centerfield. Despite the bat, Gordon is performing exceptionally in left.
And perhaps the best news is that Yost should be gone eventually, whether it is in the next couple of weeks or at the end of the season (his contract is up at the end of the year).