Gregg Ritchie, head coach at George Washington University, says that the Royals have more of their game-changers going into tonight’s game than the Giants do. With pitching, as my former GW teammate explains, the two clubs are basically even. Royals’ starter Jeremy Guthrie and his Giants counterpart Tim Hudson are pretty similar—right-handers whose top velocity is 90-92 mph, and who, as Ritchie says, change speeds up and down, making them plus-and-minus pitchers, rather than power pitchers.
The Royals big game-changer is speed, on offense and defense. The Giants’ big game-changer throughout the World Series is Madison Bumgarner. And that’s why Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy will have him ready in the bullpen. As Royals assistant general manager and another former GW coach Mike Toomey told me earlier today, Bumgarner “can rest all winter. He’s a horse. For game seven, it’s all hands on deck.”
In pitching the first World Series shutout since 2003 Sunday night, the Giants’ 25-year-old southpaw has already become an October legend. With four wins in three World Series (2010, 2012, and this year), Bumgarner has registered a 0.29 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 31 innings. In all postseason play, Bumgarner is 7-3, 2.27 ERA and 73 Ks in 83.1 innings. He’s made 13 postseason appearances in ten series, only one of them a relief appearance. Tonight, however, Giants’ skipper Bruce Bochy has decided to go with Hudson, with Bumgarner only a phone call away in the bullpen.
“Bumgarner is a game-changer,” says Ritchie. “With him striking out eight to ten a game, how many chances do you have to execute something? These other guys are very good pitchers, who keep hitters off balance, but they’re not major strikeout guys. With these other pitchers, there are fewer strikeouts, more times the ball will be put in play and so more opportunity to execute things.”
That’s good for the Royals. “The more balls they put in play will allow their speed to be used,” says Ritchie, who played in the Giants organization. He had decent power as a player, but his premium physical tool was speed, a game-changer that he prizes even now as a college coach. “If speed comes in to play for the Royals tonight,” he tells me, “it’s a big advantage.”
Ritchie agrees with Mike Toomey that speed helps the Royals not only on offense but on defense, too. “Guys who can run balls down in the outfield like Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson cover more ground and make the field smaller for opposing hitters. The same balls hit by one team may get caught and another team might not make the play on that same ball. That’s how defense is a game-changer,” says Ritchie.
Same on offense. “When Cain and Dyson put the ball in play, it’s tougher to make a play against a guy who runs something like 3.9 from home to first, as opposed to a guy who runs a 4.5 down the line. There’s more pressure on the defense, just knowing that the Royals have guys who can do that.”
From Ritchie’s perspective, what was decisive in the Royals’ 10-0 game six win last night was the Kansas City club’s ability to keep the ball in what he refers to as the large part of the field. “For right-handed hitters,” says Ritchie, “that means hitting the ball from left center to the right-field line. And it’s the reverse for left-handed hitters. Look at what the Royals did last night, all the balls they hit to right-center, all the times they went the other way with a two-strike count. If you had a diagram of the field and drew a dotted line to show where the Royals hit balls last night, they’re hitting line drives and ground balls. They grounded out to the left side of the infield, short or third, five times. Very few shallow fly balls to left or popping up to the infield. They struck out only five times. They hit the ball the other way a ton. The Royals were staying inside the ball and hitting it to right field. Cain got locked up inside, but then he still dumped a ball into right center. The Royals used a disciplined approach to put the ball in the big part of the field—center, right-center and left-center gaps. Now add speed to it, and you have a chance to open some things up.”