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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.