As entertaining as it’s been to watch the Giants find creative new ways to score big runs late in games, and as much as it seems like the Giants’ reservoir in that regard is bottomless, it’s not an approach on which any team should heavily rely.
Especially against the Kansas City Royals, who have a three-headed monster at the back of their bullpen that, in modern ball’s parlance, “shortens the game” to six innings.
Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland, all right-handers who generally throw three speeds — hard, harder and hard as hell — and a lot of strikes, each had an ERA under 1.50 during the regular season and they’ve been significantly better in the playoffs.
During the 162-game marathon, in which days off are few and far between, the trio combined to work about 14 percent of the Royals’ defensive innings. During the postseason, in which days off are frequent (more so when you sweep every round), allowing relievers’ arms time to rest and recover, Herrera, Davis and Holland have worked about a third of Kansas City’s 80 innings for a 1.05 ERA.
In other words, if the first two-thirds of the game go the Royals’ way, look out. That third third is, quite clearly, a bitch.
Question, though: What happens when that third third doesn’t work out the way it has during K.C.’s ridiculous 8-0 sprint to the World Series? What happens if, say, Herrera gives up a game-tying homer in the seventh inning of Game 1 at gorgeous Kauffman Stadium tonight?
Herrera, who goes to his heater about 75 percent of the time overall and 89 percent on the first pitch, is the hardest thrower of the three (up to 100 mph), and he likes to work up in the zone. You’d think he’d be somewhat susceptible to the long ball, but he hasn’t surrendered a jack ALL SEASON.
Yet given the Giants’ aforementioned proclivity for doing stuff nobody else does, it’s not a stretch to see Pablo Sandoval, a great bad-ball hitter with terrific bat speed, sitting on a first-pitch fastball, getting it at the letters, and tomahawking it into stands about where he hit a three-run triple off Justin Verlander in the first inning of the 2012 All-Star Game at Kauffman.
How does Herrera react? How do the relievers following him react? How do the Royals as a whole react?
It’s not like they’ve faced a ton of adversity this month. Every move that manager Ned Yost has made has paid off. Every game has ended with a celebration. They’re due for a setback, and they haven’t dealt with one in what seems like forever.
The Giants deal with adversity seemingly every game, if not every inning. They’ve taken a couple of crushing losses this month, and the core that’s about to open its third Fall Classic in five years has a long history of overcoming things that might cripple a team not so battle-scarred.
The Royals are in their first postseason in 29 years. Their core has exactly zero battle scars. That might seem like a flimsy case for the Giants holding a distinct advantage heading into the Series, but it’s not. The game is played as much between the ears as it is between the lines, and we don’t know exactly what the Royals have between the ears just yet.
Another thing that a lot of people don’t seem to know is that the Giants’ bullpen is pretty damn good, too. They don’t have as many flamethrowers as do the Royals, but they’re more versatile in terms of style, repertoire, looks, and they’re experienced and tough as nails.
They also have manager Bruce Bochy, the greatest bullpen handler of his generation, pulling the strings.
That will be the difference. The Royals have the better ’pen on paper, but it won’t be better in the World Series. It will be beaten once or twice, and that’ll be all the Giants need to win the title in six games.
Mychael Urban, a longtime Bay Area-based sportswriter and broadcaster, is the host of “Inside the Bigs,” which airs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon on KGMZ “The Game” (95.7 FM).