Which might seem a strange thing to suggest, considering it's early in the week and those clubs have split the first two games of their three-game series. But with both teams fighting for wild-card scraps, both should be disappointed with anything less than a sweep. There's just so little margin for error when you're in a six-team race for two spots. Especially if you're not one of the front-runners.
Tuesday night, the Royals beat the Indians. Luke Hochevar struck out all five Tribesmen he faced, and Greg Holland shut the door in the ninth. The Royals have the best bullpen in the league. Or close enough, anyway. As I've said before, Dayton Moore and Ned Yost both deserve plenty of credit for constructing that sterling relief corps.
Monday night, the Indians beat the Royals. Trailing by just one run in the ninth, the Royals got their first two batters aboard. Both were replaced by speedy pinch-runners. Lorenzo Cain was coming up. He hasn't bunted recently, and Yosted wanted the bunt. So he bumped Cain for David Lough, who sacrificed the runners to second and third.
Due next: Jarrod Dyson. He wouldn't bat, though, and eventually the Royals would lose. Carlos Peña pinch-hit for Dyson and struck out. George Kottaras walked to load the bases, but Alex Gordon flied out to end the game.
Yost's moves in the ninth drew some attention. You know, it's that time of the year and there's the Internet and everything. Tuesday, the Kansas City Star's Vahe Gregorian asked Yost what he was, um, thinking. And Yost gave Gregorian a killer quote: "It was exactly the way I wanted it."
Huh. You don't say. Here's a lot more:
"I want my two most experienced (remaining) hitters in the next two spots: Pena, who’s a 10-year veteran, and George Kottaras," he said. "They both have the ability to give you professional at-bats, alright? So now I sit back and I’m thinking, `Alright, I’ve got this situation exactly that way I want it.’ Exactly, alright? …
"I want experience in those situations. It’s tough on a young hitter, this time of the year, to get up and be successful as a pinch-hitter. You want experience in that situation. … Being a successful pinch-hitter is about the process, not the results."
He considered allowing Dyson, who had been two for three, to stay in the game instead of having Pena hit for him.
"I’m thinking to myself, `OK, if I let Dyson hit, they’re going to bring the infield in, they’re going to bring the outfield in, because Dys hits the ball on the ground and if he does hit it in the air it’s normally shallow, and they’re going to protect for the squeeze," he said. "If I pinch-hit Carlos Pena here, maybe it’s going to scare them to the point where with a base open (they may) walk him."
Basically, none of this makes any sense. Peña's certainly a veteran. But Kottaras hasn't started even 200 games in the majors. So that part doesn't really wash, but is rather immaterial. I don't know which young hitter Yost was talking about theoretically pinch-hitting, since all of his good (or decent) young hitters were already in the game.
Yost wanted a professional at-bat, so he went to his veterans. Yes, Peña's a veteran. But pinch-hitting is really difficult, whether you're a veteran or a rookie. When Yost chose Peña Tuesday night, Peña had collected the grand total of six hits -- four singles, a double, and a home run -- in 40 at-bats as a pinch-hitter in his career. Peña's been a lousy hitter for average for five years running, and he's been a lousy pinch-hitter forever.
In this situation -- runners on second and third, game on the line in 2013 -- there was approximately zero statistical evidence that Carlos Peña was the man for the job.
So why not Jarrod Dyson?
Because Dyson's a pretty awful hitter. But he's a pretty awful left-handed-hitting hitter who's actually not terrible against right-handed pitching. Career-wise, he was hitting .270/.336/.374 against righties. You can ignore that last number, though; with fast guys on second and third, any sort of single would probably plate both runners. Even with the outfield playing shallow and the runner on second having to hold at third, you've tied the game, with one out and two really fast guys still aboard.
Which reminds me of something ... Yost was worried about the infield and the outfield moving in, if Dyson batted. But when all you need is a base hit, don't you want the infield moving in? When I was a kid, it was Conventional Wisdom that when the infield came in, the batter's average went up a hundred points. Now I'm sure that figure was high, and in this case any advantage is balanced at least a little by the outfielders moving in, too. But wouldn't it have to be an advantage for Dyson if the infield came in? Wouldn't that have to push his batting average to around .300, maybe even somewhat higher?
With runners on second and third, the only thing that matters is getting a hit or getting on base. And everything we know tells us Dyson was the better bet to do one of those things. The obvious conclusion is that Yost either didn't understand the situation, or didn't know the numbers, or ignored the numbers because Carlos Peña is a Proven Veteran™.
In the large scheme of things, this was a small thing. Peña might have come through, but didn't. Dyson might not have come through; he probably wouldn't have come through. It's also highly unlikely that one game is going to keep the Royals from making the playoffs.
But this was always going be a close-run thing, at best. In close-run things, you need a fair number of good breaks, and you also need to avoid making obvious mistakes. Almost exactly five years ago, the Brewers fired Ned Yost in the midst of a close-run thing, apparently because he was making too many obvious mistakes. It seems that part of history might be repeating itself. But not the firing part; it seems that Dale Sveum isn't available this time around.
For more about Ned Yost and his contending Kansas Citians, please visit SB Nation's Royals Review.