Saturday, February 20, 2016

Top Moments (#130 - #121) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

These ten plays include some terrific defensive plays, the inciting plays for the biggest inning in Royals postseason history, and conclude with the greatest back-to-back exhibits of speed I have ever seen on a baseball diamond. We’ve climbed into lofty territory now, even if we’re not even halfway home.

Moment #: 130
Date: October 29, 2014
Game: 2014 World Series Game 7, vs. San Francisco Giants
Score: San Francisco 3, Kansas City 2, Bottom of the 5th
Situation: No outs, bases empty
Count: 1-1
Matchup: Omar Infante vs. Madison He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named
Result: Single
WPA: 6%

Summary: Omar Infante greets Madison He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, who had just come out of the bullpen in Game 7, with a single, sparking hopes of a Royals rally.

Link to video: Here.

Game 7 of the 2014 World Series would be the crowning achievement for Madison He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, coming out of the bullpen on two days’ rest and throwing five shutout innings while protecting a one-run lead the entire time. But we didn’t know that would be the case when he came into the game to start the bottom of the 5th inning. We knew that he had just thrown a shutout in Game 5, and allowed a single meaningless run in seven innings in Game 1, but those were both starts, on normal rest, with plenty of time to prepare along his normal routine. This was a relief appearance on short rest, and maybe he wouldn’t be in peak form.

And on his third pitch of the game, Omar Infante drilled a line drive to right field for a leadoff single. Suddenly it looked like the Royals might get to him after all; let us not forget that He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named’s career ERA in the 1st inning, 4.27, is 80 points higher than his ERA in any inning from the 2nd to the 7th. You can get to him early. Infante got to him right away, and it felt like the Royals were in business.

And then Alcides Escobar bunted Infante to second base.

I’m not certain that this was a mistake. Esky Magic notwithstanding, he’s a below-average hitter, and against a #1 starter you can make the case that a bunt there may increase the Royals’ odds of scoring one run in the inning. It no doubt reduced their odds of scoring more than one run, but with the Royals’ bullpen, and the stat fact that I wrote about in Moment #140, you could argue that tying the game is all the Royals should have been concerned about. But I may always wonder, given He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named’s documented first inning struggles, if this might not have been the time to go for the jugular - particularly since Escobar was ahead in the count 2-0 when he put the bunt down.

Instead, the Royals gave up one of their outs voluntarily. And then Nori Aoki batted, and hit another ball right on the screws toward the left field corner, and when it left the bat I thought the game was tied for sure. And then I turned and saw Juan Perez, who was starting over Travis Ishikawa for his defense, shaded perfectly – with the slashing opposite-field predilections of Aoki, Perez was set up waaaaay to the left of your typical left fielder. What should have been an easy double down the line turned into a fairly routine running catch. Lorenzo Cain struck out, and the Royals would not have another baserunner until there were two outs in the 9th.

I thought the decision to bunt with Escobar, and especially the Giants’ outfield shifting against Aoki, would haunt me for the rest of my days. Instead it was about 12 months. And the next time the Royals faced a left-handed ace coming out of the bullpen in a winner-take-all playoff game, they would make him pay.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Top Moments (#140 - #131) of the 2014-2015 Kansas City Royals.

We continue our journey into rarefied territory with a group of ten plays that were not only dramatic in their moment, but set up even more dramatic Moments later in the game.

Moment #: 140
Date: October 23, 2015
Game: 2015 ALCS Game 6, vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Score: Toronto 3, Kansas City 3, Top of the 8th
Situation: Two outs, man on second
Count: 3-2
Matchup: Troy Tulowitzki vs. Wade Davis
Result: Strikeout swinging
WPA: 8%

Summary: Wade Davis keeps Game 6 of the ALCS tied in the 8th after the Royals had blown a 3-1 lead earlier in the inning, setting the stage for their game-winning rally.

Link to video: Here.

Not only have the Royals not lost a single playoff game in the last two years that they led at any point after six innings, there has been only one instance in which the Royals temporarily blew a lead after the 6th inning. This is that game, famously, when Ned Yost – no doubt trying to avoid using Wade Davis because of the impending thunderstorm blowing through Kansas City – let Ryan Madson pitch the 8th inning with the Royals six outs away from the World Series, and with one out Madson gave up a game-tying home run to Jose Bautista that just landed…wait…just one more second…now. Madson then walked Edwin Encarnacion, forcing Yost to do the thing he didn’t want to do and bring Davis in anyway. Davis got Chris Colabello to pop out, but Encarnacion moved up to second base on a wild pitch, putting the go-ahead runner in scoring position while Davis did battle with Troy Tulowitzki. Davis ended the threat by striking out Tulowitzki on a full count fastball in the perfect spot, just beyond the outside corner, too close to take but where Tulo could do nothing but wave at it.

The momentum may have swung to Toronto, but as the Royals have proved over and over again these last two years, momentum means nothing. Having a lead – or even having the game tied – in the late innings means everything.

Don’t believe me? Consider this wild and crazy stat: the Royals did not lose a postseason game these past two seasons in which, at any point from the end of the 6th inning onward, they had a lead or the game was tied. If MLB had passed a rule which immediately ended the game and awarded the win to Kansas City the moment the Royals had a lead or simply tied the game after the 6th inning, no game would have had its outcome changed. That’s insane.

As for Wade Davis and Game 6 of the ALCS…we’re not done with him. Not even close.