Prior to Game Two of the World Series, Zachary Levine wrote a superb preview for Baseball Prospectus. Its chief premise: this will be a bullpen game. It couldn’t have turned out to be more true, although maybe not in the way Levine foresaw.
Jake Peavy and Yordano Ventura weren’t bad. Ventura threw 5 1/3 innings, leaving with two runners on base and the game tied 2-2 in the sixth inning. He only struck out two Giants batters—and only induced five swings and misses out of 87 pitches, a jarringly low number—but he didn’t walk anyone. He gave up a home run to Gregor Blanco to lead off the game, but after that, he kept the ball in the park and let the Royals defense do the heavy lifting. San Francisco put 20 balls in play while Ventura was on the mound. Seven were hits. He wasn’t getting lucky. He just scattered those hits and managed not to get too deep into trouble.
Jake Peavy also left the game in the sixth inning, two runners on base, game tied 2-2. He’d been, in my estimation, shakier, but he kept the Royals at bay just enough to give the bullpen a chance to lock things down.
Peavy worked much higher in the strike zone:
than he did in this randomly-chosen start in September:
which accords with the findings published by Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus earlier this week. He found, in essence, that the overly generous bottom portion of the strike zone that umpires had been calling for some time was cut off in the second half of the season, and that pitchers have been pitching higher during the playoffs because of it.
It does not, however, follow that Peavy was simply adjusting to a change in the landscape. I don’t think his apparent change of approach even was one, honestly. It looks more like Peavy simply didn’t have command of his secondary arsenal, especially his cutter.
For two years now, the cutter has been Peavy’s clear second pitch, after the fastball. While may pitches throw the cutter as a sort of fastball variant, though—nearly the same speed, around the same height, trying to change the hitter’s read and saw him off or run the ball out to the end of the bat—Peavy uses his much more like a slider:
As you can imagine, he throws it much more often to right-handed batters. When it’s located well, it’s a very effective pitch for him. But he couldn’t get it right on Wednesday night, and he gave up on it fairly early. Without that pitch, the Royals were able to take comfortable, aggressive at-bats against him. Peavy got only four swings and misses all night. He gave up an RBI single to Billy Butler in the first inning on a cutter that, while just below the knees, was in the center of the plate. Alcides Escobar teed up a first-pitch fastball, middle of the plate, belt-high, for a second-inning RBI double. He threw a cutter against Eric Hosmer, the last batter he faced, that ended up in the right-handed batter’s box. He would walk Hosmer before being lifted.
I lay all of this out for you, because without it, there’s a strong case to be made that Bruce Bochy messed up by lifting Peavy in that sixth-inning spot, two runners on base, no outs, but with Peavy having thrown only 66 pitches. For a man who dominated for the Giants down the stretch, without all this evidence that he was off his game, that move would be indefensible.
No, Bochy was justified in removing Peavy, and even made a decent decision to call upon Jean Machi in relief. Things just went wrong from there. Machi threw two horrendous fastballs, easy takes for Billy Butler, and then a real meatball, up and down the middle of the plate, and Butler singled cleanly.
From there, things just spiraled. Hunter Strickland is a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, and thus, a perfect profile fit for Salvador Perez and Omar Infante. It’s just that, as it turns out, Strickland has neither movement nor command on his fastball right now, and so the playoff drubbing of him continued. Perez, who I suggested should be benched before the game, took a 1-2 fastball with plenty of the plate and mashed it into the gap. (I still say there’s merit to that argument, by the way. Perez went o-for-3 with a strikeout and saw nine total pitches against pitchers not named Strickland.) Infante saw two fastballs, the second of which was even meatier than the one Perez saw, and deposited it in the bullpen.
The Giants simply couldn’t get the ball past the bats of the Royals, the best contact-hitting team in baseball. None of Machi, Javier Lopez, Strickland or Jeremy Affeldt got so much as a single swing and miss. The Royals only whiffed on seven swings all night. When you put the ball in play, good things can happen. The Royals got pitches to hit and whaled on them. Their aggressiveness didn’t work against them, because the Giants couldn’t effectively work outside the hitting zones.
The Royals bullpen had none of those problems. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland recorded 11 outs, allowed three baserunners, struck out six and got 10 total swings and misses—twice as many as Ventura had gotten, three more than the entire Giants staff got. The Giants lineup is really good, dangerous, balanced, generally invulnerable to any particular skill set. The Royals bullpen made them look like the team that scarcely reached the Postseason due to an offensive outage that lasted a month.
Through two games, the Giants are batting .322/.379/.525 against all Royals pitchers outside of Herrera, Davis and Holland. They’ve struck out only nine times against those pitchers, in 66 plate appearances, or three more than the number of times they whiffed in 14 trips against the three-headed monster Wednesday night.
That’s just what the Series is going to come down to. The Royals can’t get the Giants out, unless they get to that trio. That trio can only pitch, at the absolute most, half a game, and Ned Yost won’t go to them unless the game is very close. It will be up to the Royals offense to keep each game close until the bullpen can take over. We’ll see if they can do that, with the lesser half of the playoff rotations due up for the first two games in San Francisco.
- Bochy brought in Tim Lincecum for the seventh and eighth innings, with the game well out of hand. That’s the final nail in the coffin. Lincecum, it’s now clear, is on the roster as a courtesy, and will not be called upon in anything resembling a high-leverage situation. He wasn’t good enough to protect the fat lead San Francisco had in Game One, but Bochy was willing to call on him to mop up with a fat deficit. Cross Lincecum off any list of potential pitchers of import for the rest of the Series.
- Where is Yusmeiro Petit? It’s utterly unclear to me that Bochy has a plan for using the pitcher who pitched best for him during the second half, save perhaps Madison Bumgarner. At this point, any thought of saving Petit to play handcuff to Ryan Vogelsong is silly. If that has to be done, it can be done, by Petit, or by Peavy, or by Lincecum, if things really go south. At this time of year, holding so much in reserve only costs you. Petit should have been Bochy’s bridge to Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla. If Bochy had done that, the game might have gone very differently.
- There was a near-brawl after Infante’s home run, after Strickland began shouting at Perez as the latter crossed home plate. It was a foolish moment, a frustrated pitcher acting like an idiot, a runner too willing to meet him in the middle, and it nearly bubbled over into a completely unnecessary mess. Strickland, between his poor performance and his displays of bad makeup, has earned a spot at the far end of the bullpen bench. One wonders, though, just how many members of the Giants’ roster for the Series they can afford to declare obsolete.
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