One win separates the Giants from their third title since 2010. But can the Royals take Game 6 at home to force a winner-take-all Game 7?
Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Series: Giants lead 3-2
Status: With a 3-games-to-2 lead, the Giants are just one win away from their third world championship in the last five years, but getting that final win on the road in Games 6 and 7 has proven more difficult that you might imagine.
Of the 30 teams in postseason history to win a tie-breaking Game 5 at home in a best-of-seven postseason series (in the 2/4/2 format), just 17 managed to get that fourth win on the road to take the series. That's 57 percent, or two more than half — far less than you'd expect given the fact that those teams needed just one more win to their opponent's two.
The sequence of wins is not insignificant here. The pitching matchups in Game 6 and, if necessary, 7, repeat the pitching matchups from Games 2 and 3, the two games the Royals have won in this series. Add in home field advantage and the above history to those matchups, and one could argue that Kansas City stands as good a chance to win the next two games as San Francisco does to win just one of them.
Matchups: Yordano Ventura's ERA above is misleading, as it includes the two runs he allowed in one-third of an inning of relief in the Wild-Card Game. Since then, Ventura has made three starts, posting a 3.50 ERA in those games, all Royals wins, though he has not received a decision in any of them. He did not pitch particularly well in his start against the Orioles in ALCS Game 2, which he left with tightness in his pitching shoulder, but in his other two games, including Game 2 of this Series, he allowed just three runs in 12 1/3 innings, striking out seven against just one walk. His Game 2 start against the Angels in the Division Series (7 IP, 1 R) remains the best performance by a Kansas City starter in this postseason.
Still, Ventura has not competed the sixth inning in either of his two starts since then, be it due to injury or manager Ned Yost's aggressive bullpen usage, and has allowed a home run in three of his four appearances this postseason. Ventura did not walk a batter in his Game 2 start in this Series, but he only struck out two. Eight of the nine men in the Giants' lineup in that game, none of whom had ever faced him before, picked up a hit; the lone exception was Brandon Crawford, who went 0-for-2.
Jake Peavy continues to search for his first career quality start in the postseason. He looked like he was finally going to get it in his Game 2 matchup against Ventura, entering the sixth inning having retired 10 straight batters and having thrown just 57 pitches to that point. But two batters later (a single and a walk), he was out of the game, with Bruce Bochy turning to his bullpen to try to keep the score tied at 2-2. It didn't work, and half of the runs Peavy was charged with in that game (his official line: 5 IP, 4 R) came around to score after he was pulled in the sixth.
Bochy has shown little faith in Peavy once the opposing order turns over for a second time, and for good reason: Opponents hit .323/.387/.545 the third time through the order against Peavy during the regular season. In his lone NLCS start, Peavy was replaced by a pinch hitter in the top of the fifth inning. As a result, he hasn't thrown more than 76 pitches since Oct. 3, a whopping 25 days. Given that Peavy will also, by completing the second inning of this game, reach his highest single-season innings total since 2007, fatigue might be an issue for the veteran. But with Bochy's quick hook and the high stakes of this game, he may not have a chance to get tired.
Peavy has walked eight men against just six strikeouts in his 14 2/3 innings this postseason and will need to be particularly careful against Alcides Escobar and Billy Butler. Those two have hit a combined .433/.469/.750 against him with five home runs in 64 career plate appearances and were 2-for-4 against him in Game 2, each collecting a single that led to the Royals' first run in that game. Indeed, it was Butler who was due up with men on first and second when Bochy went to the bullpen in that game.
Designated hitters: Speaking of Butler, he will be back in the lineup as the DH in this game, hoping to pick up where he left off in Game 2, in which he delivered a pair of RBI singles. Dating back to the start of the ALCS, Butler is 7-for-21 (.333) with a pair of doubles and five RBIs, and on the postseason as a whole, he is third on the team in RBIs (with seven) despite striking out in his only at-bat in the three games in San Francisco.
Of course, Butler's return means the Giants will also get to start Mike Morse, who has gone 5-for-13 (.385) with a walk, double and a home run in 14 plate appearances since being activated for the NLCS. The bulk of that production has come as a pinch-hitter, however. He was 2-for-8 (.250) without an extra-base hit or a walk as a designated hitter in Games 1 and 2 of this series and has hit .221/.250/.275 in 140 career plate appearances as a DH, including those two games.
Live by the sword, die by the sword: The Royals' bullpen has been crucial to their success throughout this postseason, entering Game 4 having allowed just nine runs in 48 2/3 innings this postseason, including the two charged to Ventura in the Wild-Card Game, for a 1.66 ERA. In Game 4, however, Kansas City's lower-leverage relievers combined to allow eight runs (plus one inherited run) in just four innings, and in Game 5, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis, two of the team's Big Three relievers, combined to give up three runs (one unearned) in the eighth inning. Those two games nearly doubled the team's bullpen ERA this postseason to 3.29. More importantly, they've planted a seed of doubt about the ability of the Royals' relievers to continue to carry such a heavy weight.
On one hand, everyone is fully rested coming off Monday's travel day, closer Greg Holland hasn't pitched since Game 3 on Friday, and there are at most two games left. On the other hand, it has been a long season. Davis and Herrera are up over 80 innings on the year, with Davis leading the Big Three with 84 1/3 innings in 82 games, including the postseason. While Holland is well rested, he has not pitched more than an inning in any of his 75 appearances this season. The Royals' bullpen may simply be out of bullets, but Yost can't shy away from them in this game. If anything, a manager facing elimination has to be faster with his hook.
Meanwhile, the top five arms in the Giants' bullpen — closer Santiago Casilla, setup man Sergio Romo, lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez and long-man Yusmeiro Petit — have combined to allow just one run in 39 1/3 innings this postseason (0.23 ERA), with Petit leading the bunch by having thrown 12 scoreless frames. Thanks to Madison Bumgarner's shutout in Game 5, the entire San Francisco bullpen has had two full days off coming into Game 6. Entering this series, the book on the Royals was that if they had a lead in the middle innings, it was as good as a win thanks to their bullpen. That would now appear to be more true for the Giants than for Kansas City.
Games 6: For all of the excitement that the phrase "Game 7 of the World Series" engenders in the hearts of baseball fans, Game 6 is more often the classic game. Go back to Carlton Fisk's 12th-inning home run off the foul pole in 1975, Reggie Jackson's three home runs in 1977, Don Denkinger's blown call and the Royals' subsequent rally in 1985, the groundball through Bill Buckner's legs in 1986, Kirby Puckett's walk-off home run in the 11th inning in 1991, Dave Winfield's double in the top of the 11th in 1992, Joe Carter's series-winning homer in 1993, the Angels' late-inning comeback in 2002 and the Cardinals' last-strike heroics and David Freese's walk-off homer (also in the 11th inning) in 2011, all of them in Games 6.
That doesn't include such memorable League Championship Series Games 6 as Jack Clark's ninth-inning home run in just the second LCS Game 6 ever in 1985, the Mets' 16-inning victory to avoid facing Mike Scott in Game 7 in 1986, Tony Fernandez's 11th-inning home run against the Orioles in 1997, Andruw Jones' series-winning walk against Kenny Rogers in 1999, the Bartman Game in 2003, the Bloody Sock Game in 2004 and Jim Edmonds' walkoff home run against the Astros also in '04. Here's hoping whatever happens in this game, it will be worthy of being added to that list.