Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Series: tied 2-2
Status: The winner of Game 5 went on to win 39 of the 56 previous best-of-seven series in major league postseason history to be tied after four games. That’s 70 percent, an encouraging figure for Game 5 winners, but not one all that much higher than the 65 percent of Game 1 winners who went on to win a best-of-seven series, a figure itself derived entirely from the advantage of needing one fewer win than one’s opponent to win the series. Given that a tie-breaking Game 5 win puts the victor just one win away from the series win, that 70 percent actually seems rather low, suggesting that a Game 5 win is no more indicative of which team is truly the better team than the split first four games. Indeed, 61 percent of the best-of-seven series to be tied after four games wound up going the full seven games, meaning the team that won Game 5 lost Game 6, resulting in yet another tie. Given that, it would seem only the artificial seven-game limit prevented those series from continuing to revert to ties ad infinitum. The flip side of that last statistic is that just 39 percent of the best-of-seven tied after four games saw the eventual victor sweep to victory in Games 5 and 6.
Fifty-one of those best-of-seven series to be tied after four games used the standard 2/4/2 home/road structure, and from those 51 series we can find something that’s a bit more informative. You see, while just 17 of the 30 teams to go up 3-2 via a Game 5 win at home managed to get that fourth win on the road (a mere 57 percent), 17 of the 21 teams to win Game 5 on the road, 81 percent, won the series after it returned to their home ballpark. For that reason, a Royals win Sunday night would seem to be a stronger indicator of the eventual outcome of this Series than a Giants win would be.
The Giants are heavy favorites to win this game for one very obvious reason: Madison Bumgarner is starting it. If you skimmed past them at the top, take a moment to check out the 2014 postseason ERAs of the two Game 5 starters. The Giants are 4-1 in Bumgarner’s five starts this postseason, with Bumgarner averaging more than 7 2/3 innings pitched in those games while not allowing more than three runs in any of them.
In his only loss, he allowed just two earned runs in seven innings, but was out-pitched (by the Nationals’ Doug Fister) and undermined by his own throwing error. At this point, James Shields seems about as likely to out-pitch Bumgarner as Kelvin Herrera is to out-hit Pablo Sandoval.
If there’s anything for the Royals to cling to in this game with regard to Bumgarner’s potential performance it is that he has been better on the road than at home both during the regular and postseasons, and that the 25-year-old lefty has now thrown 256 innings between the regular and posteasons combined compared to his previous career high of 223 1/3 set during the Giants’ championship run of 2012 and the mere 201 1/3 innings he threw last year, when the Giants missed the postseason.
With regard to the home/road splits, Bumgarner had a 4.03 ERA at home during the regular season and six of the seven runs he has allowed this postseason have come at home (with the seventh coming against the Royals in Kansas City in Game 1 of this series). That said, in his final four home starts of the regular season, Bumgarner allowed just two runs in 29 innings, and if you add in his postseason work, he has a 1.43 ERA in his last six home starts.
As for Shields, his Game 1 start against the Giants was a disaster as he gave up three runs in the top of the first, failed to get an out in the fourth, and was ultimately charged with five runs in mere three official innings of work. Hunter Pence did the most damage against Shields in that game with a two-run home run in the top of the first and a leadoff double to start the fourth that turned into the run that drove Shields from the game. Pence had made 12 outs in 11 career plate appearances against Shields prior to that, going 0-for-11 with a double play. Curiously, when these two teams met in Kansas City in August, the results were very different. The Royals managed to eke out a 4-2 win against Bumgarner thanks to a pair of Giants errors and Kansas City’s unyielding bullpen, while the Giants fell victim to a four-hit shutout by Shields the next day.
Like Bumgarner, Shields has been better on the road than at home this season (going 10-2 with a 2.97 ERA outside of Kansas City), but he allowed four runs in five innings in his lone road start this postseason and hasn’t looked sharp in any of his four starts thus far this postseason, only one of which was quality. Shields’ start Sunday night could prove to be his last for Kansas City, as he will be a free agent in November.
The Giants won Game 4 by scoring eight runs on the Royals middle relievers, which will make how Ned Yost manages the middle innings of this game even more interesting than usual. Lefties Tim Collins, who threw 40 pitches in Game 4, and Brandon Finnegan, who threw 32 and was roughed up for five runs in a single inning, are likely unavailable, leaving repurposed starter Danny Duffy, who retired just two of the four men he faced in Game 4, as the both only lefty in the Royals bullpen and the long man.
Indeed, it was Duffy who was called upon to eat three innings after Shields’ poor outing in Game 1. However, with Yost not having to use any of his Big Three in Game 4 and an off day on Monday, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland are all fully available, and it would not be shocking to see at least two of them used for more than three outs in this game. If Yost is willing to use both Herrera and Davis for two innings, which he did in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, he could go to his Big Three as early as the fifth inning, making Shields’ leash extremely short and the importance of an early lead in this game even more important than it has been to this point in the Series.
As for the Giants, Yusmeiro Petit needed just 33 pitches to get through his three scoreless innings in Game 4, but he will likely be unavailable anyway, in part because Bruce Bochy is going to want to have him available for either Game 6 or 7 in Kansas City. The Giants will still have Tim Lincecum available for long relief and a full six-man pen behind him, however, as no other Giant threw more than Hunter Strickand’s 17 pitches in Game 4 while lefty Javier Lopez and closer Santago Casilla went unused entirely.
Stolen steals: I noted this in my reaction to Game 4, but it bears repeating here. The Royals have stopped stealing bases. Over their last nine games, the Royals, the team that led the majors with 153 stolen bases during the regular season (nearly a steal per game) and which set postseason records by swiping seven bags against the A’s in the Wild Card Game, have attempted just five stolen bases in their last nine games and been successful in just two of those attempts with Billy Butler being one of the two successful thieves over that span. This was most noticeable in the sixth inning of Game 4, when Jarrod Dyson, one of the team’s fastest players, led off the inning with a single with the game tied at 4-4 but did not attempt a steal and was promptly erased by a double play. In this Series, the Royals have attempted just one steal and that attempting runner, Alcides Escobar in Game 2, was thrown out by Giants catcher Buster Posey.
Hitters to watch: Royals catcher Salvador Perez’s walk-off hit in the Wild Card Game was one of just four hits he picked up through the end of the ALCS, all of them singles, giving him a .118 postseason average coming into this Series. However, he homered off Bumgarner in Game 1, delivered a huge two-run double off Strickland in Game 2, and went 3-for-4 in Game 4, making him Kansas City’s leading hitter in this series to this point at 5-for-14 (.357) with a .643 slugging percentage. The only Royal with more hits in this Series is Alcides Escobar, who is 6-for-17 (.353) with a pair of doubles. It’s worth noting both Perez and Escobar are right-handed hitters with the left-handed Bumgarner starting for San Francisco in this game. Omar Infante, the only other Royal to homer in this series, is also right-handed and has faced Bumgarner more than any other Royals batter, sporting a .316 average (6-for-19) against the Giants’ ace in his career.
Update: Perez has been moved up to fifth in the lineup for Game 5. He had hit seventh in the first two games in San Francisco. Moving him up breaks up lefties Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, who had hit fourth and fifth in the last two games.
The Giants’ top hitter thus far in this Series has been Pence, who is 7-for-15 (.467) with three walks (.556 on-base percentage), two doubles and a home run (.800 slugging). As noted above, two of those three extra-base hits came in his only two at-bats against Shields in this series. Leadoff man Gregor Blanco, who is second on the team in on-base percentage in this series having gone 4-for-15 with five walks (.450 OBP) is 5-for-9 (.556) in his career against Shields.