Judging the Royals

World Series game five: James Shields pitched well, Madison Bumgarner pitched better

Royals pitcher James Shields looked out of the dugout in the fifth inning of game five of the World Series against the Giants on Sunday night in San Francisco.
Royals pitcher James Shields looked out of the dugout in the fifth inning of game five of the World Series against the Giants on Sunday night in San Francisco. The Associated Press

Before game five of the World Series on Sunday night in San Francisco, people were saying Royals starter James Shields needed to have a good outing. He did, pitching six innings while giving up just two runs. Unfortunately, Giants starter Madison Bumgarner pitched better.

Bumgarner threw a complete-game shutout in a performance that had people wondering whether he might be the best World Series pitcher ever. Nine innings. Four hits. No runs.

The Giants beat the Royals 5-0 to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Series and come back to Kansas City to play game six on Tuesday night.

A first-pitch ambush doesn’t work

In the first inning, Alcides Escobar tried to ambush a first-pitch fastball, and it didn’t work. He hit a fly ball to left. When a first-pitch ambush works, it looks great. When it doesn’t, it puts a lot of pressure on the next hitter.

Alex Gordon was up next and had to take a strike. Swing, and the pitcher can have two outs in two pitches. Bumgarner knew Gordon wasn’t swinging, grooved a fastball, got ahead in the count and eventually got Gordon to ground out.

The stolen base does not come into play

Lorenzo Cain singled in the first inning, but Bumgarner delivered the ball to home plate too quickly (1.1 to 1.2 seconds) for Cain to attempt to steal second base. More on the lack of stolen-base attempts at the end of this post.

A bad sign for Royals hitters

Bumgarner struck out Omar Infante in the second inning while throwing a slider, a fastball and a curveball for strikes. When a pitcher is throwing all his pitches for strikes, it makes it very tough on a hitter. He can’t assume he will get a fastball whenever the pitcher needs to throw a strike, and that can put the hitter in between, late on the fastball, early on the off-speed stuff. The Infante at-bat was an early indication of how good Bumgarner was going to be in game five.

Why the infield was not in

In the bottom of the second inning with one out, the Giants’ Hunter Pence was on third base and Brandon Belt was on second. With a runner on third and fewer than two outs — especially in a game where the pitching promises to keep the score low — a manager will bring his infield in to the edge of the grass in order to cut down a runner trying to score from third on a grounder. So why didn’t Ned Yost have his infield in?

Because Brandon Belt was on second base.

Bringing the infielders in makes it easier to shoot a ground ball through to the outfield, and because Belt was on second, that might have meant two runs instead of one.

Bumgarner has a brain cramp

Salvador Perez hit a weak ground ball to the right side, and Giants first baseman Brandon Belt had to field the ball and beat Perez to the bag because Madison Bumgarner had a brain cramp.

Any time a ball is hit to a pitcher’s left, he is supposed to break for first base. In this case, Bumgarner stood and watched until he realized he was needed, then broke for the bag. But was too late to help.

Generally speaking, the pitchers have been doing a lousy job fielding their position in the postseason. They probably haven’t had a PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice) in a while, and there has been a lot of bunting in the postseason.

Two-strike hits

The Giants once again had some key two-strike hits, and no one takes an uglier two-strike hack than Hunter Pence. But he makes it work. If you haven’t seen the “Hunter’s Hitters” instructional video, it’s worth your time. The guy has a sense of humor about his unorthodox playing style.

As a group, the Giants don’t try to do too much with two strikes. They just try to get the ball in play, and that approach has paid off. It’s much better than seeing a guy still trying to hit one into the parking lot and missing a slider by two feet.

Why Ned didn’t pinch hit for Shields in the fifth

The Royals had a runner in scoring position in the fifth inning. There were two outs, and pitcher James Shields was due up. At the time the score was 2-0, so why not have Billy Butler pinch-hit for Shields?

Remember Saturday night?

The Royals went to middle relief early, and that was when the game was lost. Pull Shields too early, and the single run you might pick up by pinch-hitting Butler could be insignificant. Shields stayed in the game and did his job. He threw six innings and got the ball to the back end of the bullpen with a chance to win.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Ned Yost has been criticized for not being creative with his bullpen. Some people think he should be less rigid about how he uses his relievers. Those people think he should not have a script he follows. He should be willing to wing it on occasion.

But when Kelvin Herrera came back out for a second inning of work after pitching a scoreless seventh, some fans said Yost should have given that inning to Wade Davis. Of course they waited until the move backfired to say so.

Herrera let two batters reach base in the eighth inning, then Ned brought in Davis. Wade struck out the side but gave up a double and a single while doing so. Critics were quick to jump on the Internet and say that Yost should have brought Davis in to start the eighth so he could have his normal warmup and feel comfortable in his role.

So if Ned sticks to a script and it doesn’t work, he gets criticized. If Ned doesn’t stick to a script and it doesn’t work, he also gets criticized. It seems to me we just criticize whatever move doesn’t work and wait until the smoke clears to voice our objections.

Frankly, I blame the announcers. Every time they said Wade hadn’t given up an extra-base hit since the Great Depression, I winced. Sooner or later, they were bound to jinx him, and they did.

The ninth inning

When his team is down by five runs, a hitter should take a strike. He can hit the ball a mile, and his team would still be down by four. Pitchers know hitters are taking and will throw fastballs down Main Street and get ahead in the count.

Cain and Gordon took called strikes. Hosmer didn’t. Neither approach worked, and Bumgarner finished a complete-game shutout.

This is what you asked for

If the tension of postseason baseball is getting to you, if you feel sick to your stomach when the Royals don’t win, welcome to postseason baseball. Fans are hanging on every pitch. They live and die with the umpire’s call. That’s what makes this great — it all matters so much.

Someone once asked me why I found baseball so compelling, and I said that if there were a movie that was so sad you felt depressed, then so happy you were elated, so filled with tension you were on the edge of your seat, everyone would want to see that movie. That’s what a good baseball game — or a World Series — is like.

And nobody knows how the movie is going to end.

Good information from the MLB Network

I was watching the MLB Network’s pregame show with Dan Pelsac and Mark DeRosa and they threw an interesting graphic up on the screen. When Madison Bumgarner misses with a fastball, he throws another fastball 83 percent of the time. When pitching to a lefty, if Bumgarner throws a breaking pitch for a strike, he throws another 67 percent of the time.

This is good, solid information, the kind of stuff coaches give to the players before the game starts. Knowing this stuff makes the game more interesting and helps fans decipher what they are seeing.

When you see someone in the media ask a player how he feels or what something means, that’s a bad question. The player will generally respond with the cliches that a bad questions deserves. Specific information and specific questions are harder. You have to pay attention to ask a smart question.

Hats off to the guys at the MLB Network who came up with good worthwhile information. The media don’t have to be lame.

Why the Royals have stopped running

Here’s a reader’s question about Saturday night’s game that might interest people who missed it.

Lee, I was surprised and disappointed Ned did not start Dyson in the sixth inning, which would have avoided the double play. Why do you think he has put the brakes on the team all of a sudden? When Aoki hit into that DP, I had a sinking feeling the game was about to head downhill. Speed on the paths got them here, but after the Oakland game, they have virtually abandoned it. Hasn’t been an issue to this point, but curious.

The answer:

It’s not Ned putting on the brakes. It’s the other team’s pitchers. Opposition pitchers are doing everything they can to stop the Royals’ running game. The main thing is delivering the ball quickly to home plate. If the pitcher is quick enough, even Dyson can’t steal. The other tactics you see are pitchers holding the ball in the set position, which kills a runner’s legs, and more pickoffs to first base. And runners like Dyson usually have the green light. They can go if they feel it. First-base coach Rusty Kuntz also will get involved and let the runner know what he thinks about his chances of making it. So it’s not all on Ned.

But even if they aren’t stealing bases, the Royals’ running game still has an effect. A pitcher who quickens his delivery to home often make bad pitches, and that can help the hitters. They get more fastballs, and those fastballs can be up in the zone.