High-fives for everyone.

Photographer: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Tied World Series Seems Like Giants' Advantage

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
Read More.
a | A

During the 2014 World Series, Bloomberg View columnists Jonathan Bernstein and Kavitha A. Davidson will discuss, debate and dissect the happenings on and off the diamond.

Kavitha A. Davidson Hello again, Jonathan. During Game 2, you astutely noted that Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost wasn’t playing the matchup game, refusing to budge from the three-reliever formula that has worked for him thus far in October. Last night, we saw why.

With the Royals up three runs, Yost went outside the bullpen’s Big Three and it backfired. The San Francisco Giants scored the tying run off Jason Frasor in the fifth and blew the game open against lefty Brendan Finnegan, exploding for five runs in the sixth and seventh innings.

Meanwhile, Giants manager Bruce Bochy got three solid innings out of Yusmeiro Petit, sticking to his game plan and using him in exactly the long-relief role he was saving him for, picking up for a lackluster start by Ryan Vogelsong.

I don’t think it’s particularly fair to say that Yost #Yosted -- Finnegan has been a solid bridge to the three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera in the seventh, Wade Davis in the eighth and Greg Holland in the ninth.

Now, with Madison Bumgarner going against James Shields in Game 5, the Giants probably have the upper hand to leave San Francisco with a 3-2 lead. As one Royals’ official told the writer Joe Posnanski, the team’s top goal was to “bring the series back” to Kansas City, but I probably believe him as much as I believe Yost when he says he’s secretly hoping for the series to go seven.

You must be feeling pretty good about where your team stands now, Jonathan. If the Giants take the title, will this be the game that altered the series (even if you don’t believe in momentum)?

Jonathan Bernstein Well, I’m certainly feeling better than I was in the middle of the third inning, with the Giants down 4-1. I may not believe in momentum, but I never said anything about jinxes: From the point that pitcher Jason Vargas, while taking his at-bat, started trotting to first after the count went to 3-2, absolutely nothing went right for the Royals for the rest of the game.

I don’t think Yost mishandled the game. With a lead and with his big three relievers (especially Herrera) worked hard, I agree it was reasonable to push Vargas into the fifth, and then with the game tied to go back to Finnegan in the sixth. It just didn’t work. In part because the Giants pulled out the Magic Wandoo on hits by Joaquin Arias and Gregor Blanco to lead off the sixth (not to mention Petit’s own earlier hit.

I got one right and one very wrong in my analysis yesterday. I was right about Vogelsong, saying he should have been limited to about 50 pitches or once through the order: He looked excellent for two innings, but just couldn’t sustain it. Yes, he did catch a series of bad breaks early in that inning, but he wasn’t nearly as sharp as he had been, and the whole point was that with Bumgarner on Sunday and a day off on Monday, the Giants had no reason to try to squeeze every last pitch out of a starter who usually tires early.

But wow did I pick the wrong day to knock the Giants bench. Matt Duffy singled. Arias singled. Michael Morse walked. And Juan Perez, whom I was quite unkind to, merely had the best game of his life (technically not from the bench, but at best he’s the short side of a platoon, so it counts).

Kavitha, the one interesting choice Yost made last night was to basically surrender in the bottom of the seventh, first leaving Finnigan in and then using Tim Collins to rest his better bullpen arms. It was still 7-4 at that point; not a very likely lead to erase, but hardly an impossible one even against the excellent Giants bullpen. I’m not sure whether I liked it or not; any thoughts?

KAD: The decision to sacrifice Collins is one we've come to expect from Yost, who earned his derisive hashtag largely through his stubbornness in refusing to use his bullpen's best arms in nontraditional situations. Along those lines, Yost admitted after the game that he thought about bringing in Herrera with the rookie Finnegan faltering in the sixth, but any chance of using him was quickly erased once the Giants took the lead.

It’s understandable to question the wisdom of essentially conceding a World Series game; this isn’t the time to hold anything back. But recall that Herrera had thrown 27 pitches the game before, and with an off-day between Games 5 and 6, Yost now has the flexibility to use his best, well-rested bullpen arms for an inning or more in any situation as the series is now shortened to a best-of-three.

Of course, there’s only so much the Kansas City bullpen can do if “Big Game James” fails to live up to his nickname yet again. And the Royals need to find a way to start getting some timely hits; aside from their 7-2 win in Game 2, the team hasn’t come through with runners in scoring position, hitting 1-6 and 4-11 in Games 3 and 4.

Given what we saw in the series opener, the Giants have a clear advantage behind Bumgarner. Do you give Shields any chance to redeem himself?

JB: Oh, I most definitely think Shields has a chance to redeem himself. That’s just baseball; if Jeremy Guthrie can shut down the Giants for five innings, surely Shields can. And as great as Bumgarner has been, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be lights out again tonight. I’m sure recent pitcher performance has more use for predicting the near future than does recent hitting performance, but I’m still mostly inclined to view all of it as random variation unless there’s additional evidence to explain it … and even then, probably. That also means that I’m inclined to treat Bumgarner’s home/road splits (he’s been much better away from China Basin this year) as meaningless, too.

That said: I do think Bumgarner is a better pitcher, and the Giants are correctly favored tonight. It’s just nothing close to a lock.

As far as the Royals' hitting: I think one of the things to remember here is that they just aren’t that good. Of their regulars, only Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain had an OPS+ better than 100 (that’s league-adjusted on base plus slugging, with 100 league average). With Travis Ishikawa in left, every one of the Giants regulars was above 100 this year (and that’s without Morse, 130, not to mention the injured Angel Pagan, 110). Now, one can certainly argue that several of the Royals are actually better than their numbers for this season would indicate, and I basically would agree with that. But still, the Giants scored 14 more runs than Kansas City this year, despite playing without the DH.

Which only gets back to the Giants as legitimate favorites, and explains why I’m in excellent spirits at this point. But that’s a long, long way from certainty. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the authors on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Stacey Shick at sshick@bloomberg.net