How do you get out of a slump?

Maybe it’s because I was a Cubs fan for years, but losing streaks and struggling players fascinate me. Don’t get me wrong – I hate these past two weeks and the way the Cardinals have underachieved, especially the sweep by Astros. Despite my own advice on Tuesday, I’ve sent plenty of frustrated tweets since then and contemplated turning off games. Yet I am mesmerized by the two who are in the biggest slumps right now, Brendan Ryan and Kyle Lohse. The more difficult things get, the more intriguing they become.

Brendan Ryan
It’s well known that Brendan is a huge favorite among the three of us here. We love his personality, his fielding, his high socks, his videos with Joe Mather – and we loved how he hit last year. When he started slowly this season, we figured it was only a matter of time until he turned it around. After all, he was just coming back from wrist surgery but he’d been working with Mark McGwire even before thatand had noticed his swing was “definitely better” then.

As the early games went by, his batting average dipped below .100 but began to climb when he went 2 for 6 in the 20-inning game. His average was as high as .208 only 10 days ago but has now fallen to .173. We all reasoned it was OK, since his defense was far more valuable. That point was proven on May 6 against the Phillies, when Tyler Greene made two errors filling in at shortstop. Then came this week.

On Sunday, Brendan misplayed a grounder that should have been the game’s final out. Tuesday night, it was a fielding error in the 3rd inning and a tough throwing error in an ugly 7th. His frustration was visible, and we exchanged many tweets on it. Tony La Russa said Brendan would start Wednesday. Things had to go better a day later, right? Instead it was déjà vu: a fielding error in the 4th that led to 4 unearned runs, plus another throwing error. His last hit was Sunday.

After the game, he said: “I get frustrated, of course. Everyone does. But there’s no room for me to take that to the field.” He also said, “I still believe in myself. I’ve just never had a season start out like this. I don’t know if I’ve ever struggled like this.”

Kyle Lohse
The first post on this blog told Erika’s opinion well: “Lay Off Kyle Lohse Already …” That was three weeks ago, following his rough game against the Diamondbacks. Since then, he pitched extremely well against the Reds (and deserved a still-elusive first win) and progressively worse: 5 runs allowed against the Phillies in 4 innings pitched last week and 9 total runs Wednesday night (even though only 4 were earned due to Brendan’s error) in 5 innings. The frustrating thing is that most of those runs came with two outs. “It’s been a problem. He’s probably trying too hard,” Tony La Russa said.

Actually, the answer could be much simpler and one La Russa isn’t even aware of. Perhaps Kyle is just this year’s “Guaranteed Loss Night” pitcher. That’s a term coined by my friend Michael, back when Jason Marquis seemed to lose every time he started. Every season since there’s been someone to fill the guaranteed loss spot: Mark Mulder, Kip Wells, Anthony Reyes, Todd Wellemeyer. Just reading their names likely reminds you of the aggravation you felt watching each of them pitch, right? And do you feel the same way watching Kyle pitch these past couple weeks? I wish I could say no.

He knows that he’s not pitching well, of course, and said so after Wednesday’s game. “I just wasn’t very good. All around.” He also said, “I have expectations for myself that I’m not meeting … I have to do my best to get back to that spot where things are going positive.”

Now what?
So what will Brendan and Kyle do from here? That’s the most intriguing part for me – getting back on track when things have kept spiraling downward. It’s easy for us as fans to say they just need to work harder, quit whining and do the job they’re both getting paid extremely well to do. But if it was that easy, wouldn’t they both have already done it? Their struggles also are magnified since the team is going through a terrible stretch of losing 7 of 9 games at the moment. They’ve both expressed their frustrations, but how do they overcome them?

We’ve noticed Brendan’s attempts at slump-busting with avoiding the high socks for a few games. And the “man thong” was quite the topic on Twitter the night Jim Hayes mentioned it during a broadcast. (I still shudder to type those words, though I think it’s mostly because it was Hayes disclosing its existence.) And just writing off Kyle as the latest guaranteed loss pitcher doesn’t solve anything either. So gimmicks must not be the answer.

I won’t pretend to have any – I have a degree in journalism, not psychology. Both Brendan and Kyle obviously are talented players, and we know based on past performances that both can excel. And logic says that of course they will break through very soon and find success. But that’s the thing about baseball – it can be as much a mental game as it is physical. Logic doesn’t always work.

Maybe we all should start praying to the baseball gods instead.

Photos – Brendan Ryan: AP/Jeff Roberson; Kyle Lohse: both UPI/Bill Greenblatt

0 thoughts on “How do you get out of a slump?

  1. >The answer is simple and maddeningly complex: Stop thinking about failure. One of the reasons players like John Smoltz succeeded on the big stage for such a long time was because of repeated visits to a sports psychologist, who advised him to perceive striking out a hitter, getting out of a tough situation with a key ground ball. Basically, to banish the thoughts of "what if I fail?"I have some idea of what it must be like to be a major-league ballplayer and deal with the pressure of performing on a big stage — some idea, on a small scale. I used to be a television and radio broadcaster. Every time, just before the red light went on or I flipped the mike live, I would say to myself, "Time to impress some people." That gave me just enough confidence to be able to do the job. I didn't think — "oh, what will I do if I screw up?" Because then, with that thought planted in my head, I surely would. Likewise, with the thought in my head that I'm going to go out and impress some people, I would get through a solid broadcast.Perhaps before the red light blinks on the FS Midwest cameras, Kyle Lohse and Brendan Ryan should whisper to themselves, "Time to impress some people."Because nobody's favorite faux promotion is "Guaranteed Loss Night."

  2. >Please explain "man thong". Rarely get to see pregame shows because I'm trying to get chores done before the game.AARRRGGGHHH!!!is all I can say about being swept by worst in NL Houston As*@$es. The only way I can explain the Bud Norris phenomenon is that it's all in their heads. There is absolutely no reason for them to hit so badly against them! Everyone else in the league can! So now, we must clear our heads, move on from that, and play some winning baseball! GO CARDS!!!

  3. >Susan, not much was really said about the man thong — just that it was something Brendan was … um, wearing to try to break the slump. Which, obviously, was unsuccessful at the time. Only heard a mention of it that once. (For that I am thankful.)Totally agree about Bud Norris — he is absolutely in their heads and it's just getting worse with each time out. Although at least he does now have an ERA against the Cards. Progress? Here's to winning baseball!

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