Game Three of the World Series went to the Kansas City Royals. Here’s how it happened, in a few highlights and bullet points:
- Before the game, I went to the mattresses for Nori Aoki, whom Ned Yost benched in favor of Jarrod Dyson. I believe I was right, although the game did not remotely hinge on the decision to play Dyson in center field and Lorenzo Cain in right, leaving Aoki out in the cold. The Royals scored just three runs; Dyson grounded into a double play that killed a second-inning rally. That was the highest-leverage plate appearance taken by a Royals batter all night, and the highest for either side until the sixth inning, and the damage to the Royals’ win probability done by that double play grounder was the second-worst done by any batter all game—second only to Buster Posey flying out to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning. On the other hand, Cain made two fine catches in right field, one of which I imagine Aoki would not have made (though Aoki’s defense is, by now, much too widely and harshly panned). I imagine we’ll see Dyson again on Saturday night; it will be as wrong then as it was on Friday night.
- Jeremy Guthrie got through five-plus innings without breaking, or even bending all that much. He was around the plate all night, benefiting from a very generous bottom of the strike zone:
and from Giants hitters who let too many elevated strikes go by unmolested. Guthrie batted for himself to lead off the top of the sixth, proving the error of Yost’s ways with regard to Dyson and Aoki: A leadoff at-bat in a 1-0 game is a sneaky high-leverage situation, perfect for using a leadoff-style pinch-hitter like Aoki. That Yost didn’t call upon Aoki then demonstrates that he was never up to the task of using a batter so well as to make bringing him off the bench preferable to starting home.
Guthrie took his at-bat, though, and pitched to two Giants before being lifted in the sixth inning. That he got just two more batters faced proves the folly of letting him hit for himself, but the fact that Yost is so consistently cutting off his lesser starters before they go the third time through a batting order is a minor miracle. Guthrie ended up facing 18 batters, and all 18 at-bats were resolved with balls in play. That the Royals defense held up to that pressure is impressive and crucial.
- When Guthrie left, Kelvin Herrera came in to face the top of the order. This is where Yost made his most glaring mistake, and one he may yet deeply regret.
Herrera should not have been the choice there. Yost was too eager to get to his big bullpen trio, comprising Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. He had a natural, easy bridge to get to Herrera with the bases empty and the slate clean in the seventh. He needed to go to Brandon Finnegan.
Finnegan, 21, has become a fourth member, a silent partner in that elite cluster of arms. He’s left-handed, so he would have been able to dispense with Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik (each lefty batsmen) more easily.
He also would have allowed Herrera to enter a less strained environment, and that’s the real point here. After Friday night’s eventual 27-pitch effort, Herrera has thrown 138 pitches over six outings in the last 15 days. During the regular season, he only topped that pitch total in a 15-day span twice, each spread over eight appearances. After one of those stretches, he was all but shut down due to health concerns, facing nine batters over a two-week span, then going on a jag where he pitched only once a week or so for nearly a month.
Yost called on Herrera in Game Two to get out of a sixth-inning jam, then stuck with him through the seventh frame despite the long bottom of the sixth, which blew the game open and made Herrera unnecessary. On Friday night, he doubled down on his overuse of his third-best reliever, only bringing in Finnegan once Herrera had trudged through the sixth (allowing an inherited runner to score), batted for himself with a runner on base in the seventh and allowed a walk and a strikeout in the bottom of the frame.
After throwing 32 pitches, then having one day off, then throwing 27 more, is Herrera even available on Saturday night? The easy answer is yes; everyone is available. It’s the World Series. So let me ask a different question: Given Herrera’s heavy use over the last two weeks, intensifying over the last three days; given the fact that he left an outing with forearm tightness during the ALDS; and given his increasing struggles over his last few outings, can Yost—or Royals fans, or anyone—trust Herrera in a big spot tonight? I would argue that the answer to that question is no.
What, then, of the seventh inning? If the Royals have a narrow lead, or if the game is tied, will Yost have the guts to give Herrera a night off? Will he be creative enough to call upon Wade Davis to get six outs? Will Finnegan be available to pitch on consecutive nights? Will Danny Duffy be available? Will Yordano Ventura be? These aren’t awful options, but there are question marks at the ends of all those sentences. Herrera provided a bit more certainty. That, for me, is now gone. The next few games will be very interesting.
- Madison Bumgarner, early reports indicated, wanted the ball for Game Four if the Giants trailed the Series. That turned out to be a bad rumor, and Ryan Vogelsong will go, after all. That’s fine; the Giants need to win at least one of the next two, and Vogelsong would start one of them anyway. At this time of year, there’s no sense in pulling a starter who has thrown as much as Bumgarner has this year out of his normal schedule.
The Giants need to win Game Four with their bats, anyway. Michael Morse, from the sound of things, will be a bench asset again, while Bruce Bochy will start Juan Perez in left field. Jason Vargas is a left-hander, meaning Travis Ishikawa moves to the bench to prepare for some late-inning battle with one of the Royals’ big relief arms. The only question had been whether Perez or Morse would take his place.
I’m all for great defense, but unless Morse’s lingering oblique strain (which has not prevented him from swinging well (usually the hardest hurdle to clear with that injury) or running the bases) has had some fatal effect on his poor defensive skills, he should be the starter. This is not at all unlike the Aoki-Dyson conundrum.
Bochy wasted Morse a little in Game Three, using him in the bottom of the sixth as something less than the tying run. There was an argument for doing it, because it was almost certain to be Guthrie’s last batter and if the Giants didn’t close the gap then they might never have even gotten close, but still, Morse was slightly wasted. The next at-bat taken from the ninth spot in the order had a leverage index 30 percent higher than Morse’s at-bat. San Francisco can’t afford to try to wait around for the right opportunity to use Morse; they need to send him out there right away.
Previous post: Starting Jarrod Dyson a Mistake for Royals; Offense Needs Aoki