The Royals are in capable managerial hands with Ned Yost. This is a young and talented team, with an improved pitching staff. But it is still susceptible to growing pains. And over the past three weeks, those growing pains may have felt more like chronic aches. But it is all part of a process.
The Royals were swept in a four-game series by the Angels this weekend, dropping the finale Sunday, 5-2, at Kauffman Stadium. None of the recent defeats went down easily, but this one was particularly painful.
Designated hitter Billy Butler was ejected after being called out on strikes in the fifth inning. Butler returned to the dugout and from there offered verbal criticism of home-plate umpire Marty Foster. The backdrop for this argument was that in the second game of the series Friday, Foster, umpiring at second, had called the Angels' Mike Trout safe on a steal attempt. Replays showed conclusively that the call was wrong. The call contributed greatly to a three-run inning for the Angels. In Saturday's game, Foster was involved in a controversial call at first base that again went against the Royals.
The Royals were naturally inclined to have a problem with more of Foster's calls on Sunday. But Butler couldn't afford to get tossed. Twice after his ejection, his spot in the lineup came to the plate with two runners on and the game in the balance. But in the DH spot, the Royals had Jeff Francoeur, who finished the game hitting .219. Francoeur popped to second and lined to center and another loss was in the books.
"Sometimes, frustration gets the better of you," Yost said, regarding Butler's ejection. "Being a professional, you can't allow that to happen. But being human, it does happen."
Butler said the pitch he was called out on was clearly inside.
"I'm obviously not the only one who had disagreements with him this weekend," Butler said.
"In the heat of the moment, you don't know how you're going to react. It's unfortunate. Of course, I'm going to try to control my emotions a little better next time. You always want to work on that. I definitely try to. Sometimes, emotions get the better of you. It's just unfortunate that runners were in scoring position later in the game and I should have been up there."
This episode was indicative of the Royals' relative youth. As much reason as he might have had to feel frustrated with the umpiring, Butler couldn't put himself in a position to be ejected, especially with his club struggling to score.
Yost gets to carry around the frustrations of all 25 of his players. But he isn't about to crack under the strain.
The record is clear on Yost's managerial worth. In 2003, he took over a Milwaukee club that had lost 106 games. He gradually, painstakingly, helped to build it into a genuine postseason contender. He is involved in the same kind of project in Kansas City, with a young and developing club that is gradually getting better. There will be bumps in the road, or potholes like the ones that have occurred over the past three weeks.
Yost has picked up considerable knowledge along the way. This is a manager who is doing more reflecting and less venting than he did earlier in his career.
"You learn that it doesn't do anybody any good to vent frustration that we all have," Yost said. "It's better just to keep your mouth shut and keep your thoughts to yourself, and get to where you can rationally think things through.
"[Staying calm] is something you've got to work at. For me, it doesn't come natural. I've always been a pretty intense guy, and as a player I was always the guy who thought he could run through a wall. But after you run into that wall 15 or 20 times, you start to understand that, hey, that's not going to happen. You've got to find a better way of doing it.
"It's a mindset. It's something that you definitely have to work at, because frustration doesn't do anybody any good. It's something you really have to fight, day in and day out to stay within yourself, to do your job. My job is to continue to show confidence, continue to stay patient, continue to work our tails off to get out of this."
The Royals are still a work in progress. Not that long ago they were 17-10 and apparently on their way to much better things. The promise, the potential, the higher expectations -- all of that is still on the board.
"A lot of guys in here are frustrated, but that takes nothing away from what our expectations are," Butler said. "They have not changed."
In the end, the Royals and their manager will be judged not by a poor 20-game stretch. Improvements still need to be made, but both the players and the leadership are in place for the Royals to make those improvements.