Baseball is a long, drawn out season. One-hundred and sixty-two games, not including the spring training exhibition, the all-star game for some, and for another group the potential of a post-season run that could allow a team to play an additional nineteen games. That is 181 games that a player must prepare himself before the season starts. Every single day, seven days a week, for six months.
Injuries are going to happen to just about every single player some time during the season, with few exceptions. Depending upon the injury, the player may attempt to play through it. In other instances the disabled list is unavoidable.
The impact of injuries also depends on who is injured. If it is a rarely used utility man, the impact is felt but it is minimal. However, when it is your third starting pitcher in the past month, things tend to get ugly really quick. When a single starting pitcher goes out, a manager has a few options that he can work with. He can spot start with his long inning relief pitchers, find an eager free agent or veteran on the trading block, go with a four-man rotation and/or call up an extra arm from the farm system to help pitch by committee.
With three starters out however, a manager is left with little recourse, but to call up the best the farm has to offer. When this happens however, it usually comes before the organization wants to expose these green pitchers to the big league bats that they will have to face. Some of these players watched these same sluggers on their televisions, read about them in magazines or newspapers, or listened about them on the radio. Trial by fire.
Every young player who comes up to the big leagues will take his lumps. It does not matter what position or how high they are ranked on the most-wanted prospect list. Some of the call-ups, such as Hosmer, have shown they are capable of performing at what is said about them on their rap sheet. Butler is back over .300 after a solid three-hit night on Friday. Francoeur seems to be hitting well again and is filling out the clean up spot rather well. But when only a third of your lineup is hitting consistently, it’s kind of hard on a pitcher when he only has one or two runs for support. Who is going to step up his game a notch? Cabrera? Pena? Escobar? The Royals need to get four of five hot bats going at all times if they want to make a move this season at all in the Central division. And the good thing is, it doesn’t have to be the same four or five guys every single night.
The defense has definitely stepped up a notch, moving up into the top five in the league in fielding percentages and double plays while holding a second place rank in throwing out runners trying to steal. Keep the defense up and the pitchers will fight a little bit harder for you. Errors are going to happen sometime, but the Royals have done a good job recently of minimizing the effect those errors have on the overall result of the game.
I have been a Soria supporter for a few years, even occasionally making minor comparisons to him and Rivera. Well at this point those comparisons will be put on hold indefinitely unless Soria can find his “lights-out” pitching style that earned him multiple All-Star game roster nods in his brief career. I am glad to hear that he realized that he has not been up to snuff, and took one for the team this week by stepping down as the closer. Aaron Crow has been extremely effective in his appearances this season. But Soria has a proven track record of figuring out his mistakes, fixing them and coming back better than he was before.
Who is going to step up? It is a good question to ask for any team, not just the Royals. It cannot just be the same one or two players every day, because those guys eventually will either need or want a day off (or more) for rest. Or, they will put so much pressure on themselves to perform that they won’t perform under less stressful conditions.
If I were Coach Yost, I would ask that question before every single game, “Which one of you wants to step up and go above and beyond to help this team win today?” Who is going to make that clutch hit or that much-needed strikeout? Who is going to stretch their limits and make it look like it was routine? If every player begins to want and believe that it’s going to be them, that is ten players (including the DH) that are stepping up their game on any single day. At this point, I’m not that picky and neither is Yost.