Orioles manager Buck Showalter has arrived at the American League Championship Series bathed in the affection of both his team and his public, his managerial acumen seemingly above reproach.
Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost has arrived at the same place at the same time — and, like Showalter, is a candidate for American League Manager of the Year — yet his managerial IQ has been questioned so much during this postseason, you'd think he steered his team into an iceberg.
That's why every ALCS scouting report in every sports section and on every sports website in the country figures to give Showalter the strategic advantage in a series that is expected to have plenty of chess-match moments.
That's probably fair, since Showalter certainly has more experience and a decidedly better won-loss record. He also has built a reputation as one of the sport's preeminent button-pushers and has pushed so many of the right ones during his stay in Baltimore that "In Buck We Trust" has become the mantra of an adoring fan following.
Yost, meanwhile, has presided over a similar baseball renaissance in Kansas City, but he has to be wondering just what else he has to do to get a little national respect.
Sweeping the AL Division Series against the winningest team in baseball was a big step in that direction, and getting to the World Series would certainly change the way he is viewed by the baseball intelligentsia, but he's still living down the controversial decision that almost cost the Royals the chance to advance past the wild-card round.
He yanked pitching ace James Shields with Kansas City leading, 3-2, in the sixth inning against the Oakland Athletics and replaced him with rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura, who had started the final game of the regular season just two days earlier.
Ventura had made just one previous relief appearance this year and Yost brought him in to face left-handed-hitting slugger Brandon Moss, who already had homered off Shields earlier in the game. Everybody knows the rest. Moss hit a three-run homer and the Athletics scored five runs in the inning, only to have the Royals go on a base-stealing rampage and win in extra innings.
Nevertheless, the postgame criticism of Yost was withering, even though he turned his speedy base runners loose with a four-run deficit in the eighth inning to spark a dramatic momentum shift that saved the game and — some even think — his job.
Former pitching great Pedro Martinez blistered Yost on the TBS postgame show and the Twittersphere was peppered with critiques from big-name former players and national baseball analysts.
But you can't ignore the bottom line: Yost and the Royals are one series away from the World Series, even if there are some critics who still think the team is here in spite of Yost and not because of him.
Showalter has not been totally immune to criticism during his time with the Orioles. He has been second-guessed for his share of bold in-game decisions and his stubborn loyalty to some of his struggling players, but he always seems to come out the other side of those situations with some measure of vindication.
Many fans and media observers have spent the last three seasons wondering why Showalter has stuck with former Rule 5 draftee Ryan Flaherty in spite of his .221 career batting average. They know now. Flaherty has been the glue that has held the team's terrific defense together through the loss of Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis at different points this season, and he made several huge plays during the AL Division Series.
Showalter has gotten nothing but bouquets this postseason. He may be remembered most for his ninth-inning decision in Game 3 to have closer Zach Britton intentionally put the potential winning run on first base with one out. If pinch hitter Hernan Perez had doubled instead of bouncing into a game-ending double play, Showalter would have been the guy taking brickbats from the postgame pundits.
That probably never crossed his mind. Remember, he once ordered an intentional walk to Barry Bonds with the bases loaded.
Of course, Showalter's greatest strengths are his pregame preparation and his in-game ability to squeeze the most out of his pitching staff. He and Yost will enter the ALCS with terrific bullpens and the league pennant almost certainly will be decided in the late innings.
No doubt, both managers would bristle at the notion that the ALCS will come down to anything but the performance of the players, but some managers are better than others at putting those players in the best possible position to succeed.
Showalter has built his reputation on that, and he has turned four franchises around over the course of his major league managerial career. Yost doesn't have the same credentials, but a trip to the World Series would certainly quiet his critics.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
Showalter vs. Yost
The Orioles' Buck Showalter has been a major league manager for parts of 16 seasons with four organizations, while Kansas City's Ned Yost has managed 11 years with two teams in the major leagues. Here is a breakdown of their managerial careers, including regular-season record and playoff performance.
Manager; Games; Wins; Losses; Playoff appearances; Playoff record; LCS berths
Buck Showalter; 2,421*; 1,259; 1,161; 4; 9-9; 1
Ned Yost; 1,734; 830; 904; 1; 4-0; 1
* includes one tie in 1995 when Showalter was with the New York Yankees.
Source: Baseball Reference