When a starting pitcher leaves a game the manager has to bring in a reliever, and which reliever he brings in depends, to a large degree, on the score.
If his team is behind, the manager will probably use relievers who are scuffling: Why waste quality innings on a game his team is likely to lose?
If his team is ahead, the manager will probably use his best relievers: The game is winnable and this is when quality innings do the most good.
Here’s why I brought this up:
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When the Los Angeles Dodgers have a lead after five innings, their record is 49-0. They have the best bullpen in the National League and if they get the ball with a lead, they’re unlikely to give that lead back.
So if you want to beat the Dodgers, you better beat up on the starting pitcher and on Friday night, the Royals couldn’t do it.
The Dodgers’ starting pitcher, Kenta Maeda, came into the game with a 6-4 record and 4.56 ERA. In 13 starts, Maeda had thrown more than five innings only three times and more than 100 pitches only twice. He is not a dominant starter who goes deep in games.
The Royals needed to grab a lead from Maeda, keep the best Dodgers relievers out of the game, and protect their lead with the best relievers in their bullpen.
It didn’t work out that way.
Maeda left with a 2-1 lead so the Dodgers could go to Josh Fields (3.03 ERA), Brock Stewart (0.00 ERA) and Kenley Jansen (1.01 ERA). And, with the exception of Stewart, those numbers got even better.
Because the Royals didn’t have the lead, Ned Yost went to Neftali Feliz (5.23 ERA) and Peter Moylan (5.59 ERA).
The LA bullpen did not allow a run, Feliz gave up one, and the Dodgers beat the Royals 4-1.
Maeda’s fourth-inning at-bat was turning point
In the fourth inning the Dodgers took the lead and that led to everything that happened afterwards: The Dodgers could use their best relievers, the Royals couldn’t afford to.
Let’s take a look at the game’s turning point — Kenta Maeda’s single.
Jason Hammel had two outs, Chase Utley on first and Maeda at the plate. In the National League, the pitcher’s spot in the order is supposed to be an easy out and Maeda came into the game hitting .125.
Hammel threw Maeda a first-pitch slider and Maeda hit a groundball through the left side of the infield. According to Hammel, the Dodger Stadium surface is fast and Maeda’s grounder sneaked through.
Utley was on second, the easy out was on first and now Hammel had to face the top of the Dodgers order for the third time. Logan Forsythe and Corey Seager singled, two runs scored and the Dodgers had a lead they’d never give up.
Failing to retire Kenta Maeda — an out that would have ended the fourth inning — changed the course of the game.
The rest of the series
Coming into the Dodgers series, Friday night’s game looked like the easiest one for the Royals to win. Now they will have to face Brandon McCarthy and Clayton Kershaw.
In McCarthy’s last start, against the Colorado Rockies, he got lit up: five runs in three innings. McCarthy then went on the DL because of a knee problem and is coming back to make Saturday’s start. The Royals will send Ian Kennedy to the mound.
On Sunday, the Royals will see Clayton Kershaw — you might have heard of him — so it won’t get any easier. Danny Duffy will pitch for the Royals.
Kershaw is 13-2 with an ERA of 2.19, so if he’s on his game, the Dodgers’ ace will be a handful. If the Royals want to avoid a sweep, winning on Saturday would be a very good idea.
Enjoy today’s game.