Royals' failure to get clutch hits in Game 1 — aberration ... or omen?
History will remember Game 1 of the 2014 World Series for Madison Bumgarner's dominant performance and a lopsided 7-1 score. But Bumgarner was vulnerable early in the game, however briefly, and the Royals' failure to capitalize Tuesday night should give their fans reason to fret about the course of this Fall Classic.
As we know, the Royals' offensive identity hinges on an ability to make contact. They had the fewest strikeouts in the majors during the regular season. In two of their ALCS wins over Baltimore, all of their runs scored without the benefit of hits.
Helped by a Brandon Crawford error, the Royals put runners on second and third with none out against Bumgarner in the third inning on Tuesday. Paul Rudd, Eric Stonestreet and 40,000 of their closest friends at Kauffman Stadium had reason to expect the home team would tighten a 3-0 game, with plenty of baseball yet to play.
Instead, Alcides Escobar struck out. Then Nori Aoki struck out. And after a Lorenzo Cain walk, Eric Hosmer rolled a first-pitch groundball to second base. Inning over. No runs. "A killer," Royals left fielder Alex Gordon said later, and he was right. The Giants replied with two runs in the top of the next inning, and the Royals never again threatened to make it a game.
Curiously, the Escobar and Aoki strikeouts were Bumgarner's first two of the night. He had only three more over the remainder of his seven innings. So it wasn't as though the Royals were completely unable to put the ball in play against the Giants' ace. They simply couldn't do it in the sort of circumstance in which they've been thriving for weeks — and at a moment when they could have changed the game's direction.
In this small-sample-size time of year, we're left to wonder: Was this an aberration against the preeminent postseason ace of this generation, before the Royals return to the productive form we witnessed during the historic 8-0 run through the American League playoffs? Or did the five-day layoff leave the Royals in an offensive malaise from which they'll have difficulty recovering in time to prevent the Giants' coronation?
The quality of the Royals' at-bats in Game 2 should provide the answer, but recent history suggests Kansas City already has reached a desperate moment in this series: It's well known the Giants have won all eight of their postseason series under Bruce Bochy, their Hall of Fame-bound manager. But their efficiency in dispatching opponents after winning Game 1 is particularly noteworthy.
Including Tuesday's result, the Giants have taken 1-0 leads in seven of the nine series they've played under Bochy. In the previous six instances, they never once faced elimination. The best-of-seven series concluded in six, five, four and five games, respectively; the two division series ended in four.
Apparently, even a 1-0 lead suggests the Giants are in firm control of this World Series. No matter what happens in Game 2, they will board a westbound charter flight with the chance to spray champagne at AT&T Park.
The Royals’ loss in Game 1 heightened the pressure on Game 2 starter Yordano Ventura. The way they lost increased it exponentially.
Because James Shields recorded only nine outs, Kansas City manager Ned Yost needed long reliever Danny Duffy to remain on the mound for three innings Tuesday night. That almost certainly rules out Duffy to work in Game 2, at a time when the worry over Ventura’s shoulder (or his workload, at the very least) hasn’t dissipated entirely.
Ventura’s most recent start — Game 2 of the ALCS against Baltimore — was curtailed by shoulder tightness in the sixth inning. Recently, he’s said that he feels fine. But there’s no way to know if the fatigue he experienced in Baltimore is going to resurface, particularly when he’s thrown 196 innings this year (regular season and postseason). That’s a substantial increase over the 150 he logged (combined minors and majors) in 2013.
Bochy is expected to send six left-handed hitters to the plate against Ventura, just as he did with Shields in Game 1. And if Ventura encounters similar trouble early in the game, Yost won’t have Duffy to begin the rescue effort.
Rookie left-hander Brandon Finnegan is a good bet to be the first man in, but it will be a discouraging sign for the Royals if he’s needed any time before the sixth inning.
OK, a little good news for the Royals: Sal Perez’s seventh-inning home run off Bumgarner, however irrelevant to the final score, was a welcome sight. Until that moment, Perez was 4 for 36 in the postseason with zero extra-base hits.
Perez’s workload during the regular season likely is one major reason for his sluggish bat. Perez led the majors in innings caught and games started behind the plate. So perhaps the five-day layoff before the World Series was exactly what he needed.
The Royals trailed after only the 12th pitch of the World Series — Pablo Sandoval’s RBI double to right — after an ALCS in which they didn’t play from behind until the 21st inning, the early stages of Game 3.