Judging the Royals

Two reasons playoff baseball is different

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner.
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner. The Associated Press

If you’re like me, let me offer you my condolences. (OK, that’s not what I intended to write, but that joke jumped out at me like a deer on the highway and I couldn’t avoid it.)

Let’s start over.

If you’re like me, you enjoy playoff baseball, but playoff baseball is different for a couple of reasons. (There are actually more than two reasons it’s different, but two is all I have room for.)

Reason number one: More days off.

More days off mean the best pitchers can pitch longer and more often. For instance: in the 2014 postseason, Madison Bumgarner threw 52  2/3 innings for the San Francisco Giants, Tim Hudson threw 21 innings and nobody else on the Giants threw more than 16 innings. In the 2014 World Series, Bumgarner threw 21 innings for the Giants and Tim Hudson had the second-most innings with 7  1/3 .

Because the lesser pitchers pitch fewer innings and the better pitchers pitch more, it’s not uncommon for the quality of pitching to get better in the playoffs.

Reason number two: You have to win right now.

You can’t take the long view and say we’ll get ’em tomorrow or our style of play will get us 90 wins over a 162-game schedule. If you’re in a playoff game that doesn’t suit your style of play, you better change your approach; you’re running out of time.

Teams that can’t change what they do are at a disadvantage; teams that are versatile have a better chance.

The big inning versus small ball

As long as I’m oversimplifying things, let me continue.

There are two ways to approach offense: you can play for the big inning (combine walks and hits to score multiple runs) or play small ball (use the steal, the hit and run, sacrifice bunts and fly balls in an effort to score one run). The ability to do both is handy, but many teams tend to do one better than they do the other.

When the Toronto Blue Jays were in Kansas City this summer, manager John Gibbons said if they got in pitching duel with the Royals the Jays would be in trouble; manufacturing runs in a big ball park wasn’t their kind of game — hitting home runs out of smaller parks was.

On Tuesday, the Blue Jays beat the Orioles in the American League Wild Card game by a score of 5-2; four of Toronto’s runs came off the long ball. On Thursday, the Blue Jays beat the Rangers 10-1 in the first game of their series and eight of those Toronto runs were driven in by extra-base hits.

Look for the Jays to swing the bats and mash; but if they get into a low-scoring game or a game where manufacturing a single run is required, they might be in trouble — it’s not their preferred style of play.

Over in the National League Wild Card game they had a pitcher’s duel; San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner and New York’s Noah Syndergaard were throwing shutouts and that’s the kind of game where playing small ball can make a difference.

When a pitcher is dealing, it’s hard to score runs by stringing singles together or hitting the ball out of the park; a good pitcher won’t allow it. Bumgarner gave up four hits all night, three of them singles and he never allowed two hits in the same inning. But the Mets were 14th in the NL in stolen bases and 14th in sacrifice bunts, so playing small ball is not their thing.

The Giants are a little better at it and had one sacrifice bunt and two steal attempts in the game, but they didn’t score any runs until Syndergaard came out of the game. Mets pitcher Addison Reed got out of bases-loaded jam in the eighth, but Jeurys Familia gave up a three-run homer in the ninth.

Like I said, both styles of play can come in handy. You might need to play for the big inning early and one run late, or scramble to put up single runs against a top-of-the-line starter and swing for the fences once you get into the other team’s bullpen.

There is no one right style of play; depending on the situation, both can win you ballgames.

Enjoy the playoffs

The Royals didn’t make the postseason, but if you love baseball, this is still a great time of year; you might see four meaningful games on the same day. Like I said at the beginning; if you’re like me, you enjoy playoff baseball and if you’re really like me, you might call in sick to do it.

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