Sunday October 26th, 2014

The Giants evened the World Series at two games apiece Saturday night, coming from behind to beat the Royals by a decisive 11-4 score and handing Kansas City just its second loss of the postseason. That San Francisco victory guaranteed that the series will return to Kansas City on Tuesday for Game 6 and will give Giants ace Madison Bumgarner a chance to put San Francisco one win away from its third championship in five years in Sunday’s Game 5.

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Here are three thoughts on the Giants' Game 4 victory:

1. The Underbelly

The Giants' comeback from an early 4-1 deficit was staged against the Royals’ bullpen, but not the Big Three of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Rather, the Giants got into the Royals bullpen in the fifth inning and feasted on the likes of Jason Frasor, repurposed starter Danny Duffy and 2014 draftee Brandon Finnegan. In doing so, they became the first team this postseason to take advantage of the Royals’ lower-leverage relievers.

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One reason they were able to do that was they managed to turn their order over for the second time at the end of the fourth inning. That meant that Royals starter Jason Vargas, who gave up a run on no hits in the first and another following a leadoff single by pinch-hitter Matt Duffy in the third, was set to face the Giants lineup for the third time in the fifth inning. Royals manager Ned Yost, knowing that the third time through the order is a common trouble spot for middling starters like Vargas, did not hesitate to pull the left-handed Vargas after Joe Panik led off the fifth with a double, bringing the right-handed Buster Posey to the plate representing the tying run.

It was the right move, particularly with righty Jason Frasor, who had worked four scoreless innings to that point in the postseason, being his choice to face Posey. But it didn’t produce the desired result. Frasor got Posey to ground out, but that advanced Panik to third. Then fellow righty Hunter Pence followed with a single that scored Panik to bring the Giants within one run.

Yost then went with the lefty Duffy to force switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval to hit from his weaker right side — he had struck out twice against the lefty Vargas to that point in the game — and face lefty Brandon Belt. Duffy, though, gave up a single to Sandoval and walked Belt on four pitches to push the tying run to third, which then scored on a sacrifice fly by Juan Perez. It would have been a bloop single if not for a spectacular catch by Jarrod Dyson, who started in center field for the second straight game.

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In the sixth inning, with the game tied and Kelvin Herrera having thrown 27 pitches Friday night, Yost called upon southpaw Finnegan with the pitcher’s spot and the left-handed top of the Giants order due up. Finnegan was greeted by singles by righty pinch-hitter Joaquin Arias and lefty leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco. Then, after a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third, an intentional walk to Posey to load the bases and a force out at home, Sandoval, again batting right-handed, delivered a two-run single up the middle that gave the Giants a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Belt followed with an RBI of his own, and the Giants added four more in the seventh against Finnegan and fellow lefty Tim Collins. Altogether, the Giants scored nine runs against the Royals’ bullpen’s first three innings of work (with one run charged to Vargas), exploding the unit’s collective ERA for this postseason from 1.66 after Game 3 to 2.91.

The only bright side for the Royals, with Madison Bumgarner lurking for Game 5, is that their Big Three all got the night off thanks to Collins absorbing the final two innings. By that same measure, however, Collins and Finnegan will most likely be unavailable in Game 5 after throwing 32 and 40 pitches, respectively, in Game 4. This leaves Yost with a five-man bullpen Sunday night.

2. Yellow Flag

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The Royals led the major leagues in stolen bases during the regular season, and set records by running wild on the A’s in the Wild Card Game. However, over their last nine games, they are just 2 for 5 in steal attempts with one of their two stolen bases over that span by Billy Butler. They are 0 for 1 in steals in this series, with Posey throwing out Alcides Escobar in Game 2. After the Giants tied the game in the bottom of the fifth, Dyson, one of Kansas City’s fastest players, led off the top of the sixth with a single but made no attempt to steal to put the potential lead run into scoring position. It may seem like a moot point given the eventual 11-4 final score, but with the Big Three lurking in the Royals’ bullpen, plating Dyson in that inning could have completely changed the outcome of the game.

Instead of stealing, however, Dyson stayed put and was erased on a double play off the bat of pinch hitter Nori Aoki, a ground ball that would have pushed Dyson to third with one out for the top of the order had he successfully stolen second. Dyson, it’s worth noting, was thrown out in both of his steal attempts in the American League Championship Series against the Orioles and did not attempt to steal when pinch running following a leadoff single by Aoki in Game 3 of that series.

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3. We Already Got One

As per our position-by-position breakdown of these two teams prior to Game 1, the Royals aren’t the only team in this series with a dominant bullpen. The Giants won this game despite the fact that starter Ryan Vogelsong lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The key contributor to 6 1/3 scoreless innings from San Francisco's bullpen was Yusmeiro Petit, who limited the Royals to just two hits in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings combined, during which the Giants’ offense scored five runs to take the lead. Jeremy Affeldt worked a scoreless seventh when the lead was still a relatively slim 7-4, after which Sergio Romo and Hunter Strickland mopped up.

With that, the five most reliable arms in the Giants’ bullpen — Petit, Affeldt, Romo, matchup lefty Javier Lopez and closer Santiago Casilla — have combined to allow just one run (the CardinalsKolten Wong’s walk-off home run off Romo in Game 2 of the NLCS) in 39 1/3 innings this postseason for a combined ERA of 0.23. Petit has now thrown 12 of those innings, allowing just four hits and striking out 13 without allowing a single run. He has earned the win in all three of his appearances this postseason.

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