Chris Young gave the Royals just what they needed Tuesday night: a solid start that got the ball to the Kansas City bullpen with a lead.
The Royals’ bullpen pitched four and a third innings while allowing no runs. Meanwhile, Toronto’s bullpen threw seven and a third innings and gave up nine runs.
So it’s pretty simple: Kansas City has a terrific bullpen, and if their starting pitcher can go deep enough — and as Young proved, that doesn’t have to be very deep — Ned Yost can go to his best relievers and hold onto the lead.
The Royals are one win away from going to their second World Series in a row, and two of their starting pitchers in the playoffs finished the regular season with ERAs over 4.00. The starting pitchers do not have to be great; they just need to avoid disaster and give the Royals’ offense and bullpen a chance.
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Most teams invest heavily in starting pitching, and starting pitching defines how good those team will be. Most teams want their starters to go as deep as possible because they don’t want to expose their middle relievers who would pitch the sixth and seventh innings.
In the Royals’ case, going to the bullpen early can be a strength because the Royals’ pitching staff is constructed back to front: grab a lead and get the ball to the best bullpen around.
Speaking of that bullpen
If the bullpen is in good shape and the Royals have a lead, Ryan Madson (2.13 regular-season ERA) will probably pitch the seventh inning, Kelvin Herrera (2.71) will probably pitch the eighth and Wade Davis (0.94) will handle the ninth.
So getting the ball to those three guys with a lead is a big deal.
Luke Hochevar came on to get the final out in the fifth, but then he had to face the heart of the Jays’ order — Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Chris Colabello — in the sixth. The score was 4-0 and the sixth inning was Toronto’s chance to get back in the game before the Royals gave the ball to their three late-inning guys.
Bautista started with a single, but then Encarnacion hit into a double play and Colabello hit a ground ball to short. At that point, the game was pretty much over. The Royals jumped out to a big lead — they never even used Davis — and the Jays would not score again.
More from Game 4
... Oddly enough, knuckleball pitchers can be tough to steal on. They don’t have much windup, so it doesn’t take long for them to get the ball on its way to home plate. Catching it and throwing the ball down to second base can be a chore, so that’s where base stealers make up time.
... Kendrys Morales did a professional job of hitting when he moved Eric Hosmer over to third base in the first inning. That paid off when Mike Moustakas hit a sacrifice fly to center field and Hosmer scored.
... Fans could see how bouncy the Toronto turf is when Ryan Goins dropped a fly ball in front of Lorenzo Cain and it bounced over his head. Fortunately, Alex Gordon was doing his job and backing up Cain. Gordon was there to field the ball and keep it from rolling to the fence.
... Alex Rios was called out when he did a pop-up slide and momentarily came off the base while being tagged. If MLB is going to keep using replay this way, runners need to drop the pop-up slide.
... If you didn’t like the Blue Jays walking off the field when they saw the Rios play on the scoreboard, remember that the Royals walked off the field on a similar play — they saw the replay and knew the umpires would overturn it.
... The Royals now have three chances to win one game and return to the World Series. Their most consistent starter — Edinson Volquez — is pitching on Wednesday, and because Kris Medlen absorbed five innings on Monday, most of the bullpen will be available.
Ya gotta like their chances.