Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Series: Tied 1-1
Starting Pitchers:Jeremy Guthrie (13-11, 4.13 ERA) vs. Tim Hudson (9-13, 3.57 ERA)
The Royals would have faced a particularly tall task had they not won Game 2, as only three teams have lost the first two games of the World Series at home and then gone on to prevail. One of them was the 1985 Royals, though last we checked, George Brett, Bret Saberhagen and Don Denkinger aren't part of this year's proceedings. In any event, this year's Royals did win on Wednesday night, erupting for five sixth-inning runs to break a 2-2 deadlock.
Historically speaking, teams that have won Game 1 have gone on to win their best-of-seven postseason series (most of the World Series, plus the LCS since 1985) 65 percent of the time, but the odds shift significantly when it comes to series tied 1-1. Of the 76 series laid out in a 2-3-2 format to reach that point, the home team — the one hosting the opening and closing pairs of games — has won the series 55 percent of the time. That winning percentage holds even if we limit the focus to the 42 such World Series. The last three home teams to find themselves in this position — namely the 2009 Yankees, 2011 Cardinals and 2013 Red Sox — all pulled it off, with the Yankees doing so after losing Game 1, just as the Royals did.
Matchups: Hudson has waited a long time for this. A 16-year major league veteran who first pitched in the postseason back in 2000, the 39-year-old is the oldest pitcher to start a World Series game since 45-year-old Jamie Moyer in 2008, and the third-oldest pitcher to make his first World Series start, behind Moyer and 46-year-old Jack Quinn in 1929.
Hudson's age may be more than trivia if the arc of his season tells us anything. He was the Giants' best starting pitcher for much of the year, carrying a 1.81 ERA through his first 13 starts and completing the first half with a 2.87 ERA and 3.19 FIP, making 12 quality starts out of 18. His ERA remained at 2.90 through August even as his peripherals regressed, but hampered by a sore right hip in September, he was strafed for a 6.46 ERA over five starts (one quality start) totaling just 21 2/3 innings. His first half/second half splits aren't pretty; his strikeout-to-walk ratio sank from 4.1 to 2.8 and his home run rate doubled from 0.5 per nine to 1.0. It didn't help that his batting average on balls in play shot from .285 to .331.
Hudson's final ERA+ was just 98, his second straight season below 100 after finishing above it in 13 of his first 14 seasons. After throwing 131 1/3 innings in his injury-abbreviated 2013, he's at 203 including his two postseason starts, his highest total since 2011. It's fair to wonder how gassed his tank still is.
Hudson looked strong in his Division Series Game 2 start against the Nationals, scattering seven hits and eight strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings while allowing just one run, and needing just 97 pitches to do so. He was shakier in his NLCS Game 3 start against the Cardinals; after retiring nine of the first 10 hitters, he frittered away a 4-0 lead. Some of that is on manager Bruce Bochy, who insisted on pushing him through the batting order a third time despite Hudson's .303/.339/.495 line allowed this year under such circumstances; if that sounds familiar, it's also what Bochy did in sticking with Jake Peavy on Wednesday. The pitch counts may have been in each hurler's favor (Hudson finished with 89), but Bochy should have had the good sense to quit while he was ahead (literally) and hand the keys to the bullpen.
Splits-wise, Hudson scuffled against lefties this year (.281/.327/.428 with a 2.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and subdued righties (.258/.283/.384 with a 6.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio), a platoon split that's in line with his career showing (.630 OPS allowed to righties, .718 to lefties). In Nori Aoki, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Mike Moustakas, the Royals have a quartet of lefties that can do damage. And while the squad as a whole was weaker against righties (.261/.310/.372) than lefties (.266/.322/.387) during the regular season, they've been slightly more effective against righties during the postseason, particularly in the power department: seven homers and a .402 slugging percentage in 255 PA, compared to three homers and a .375 slugging percentage in 138 PA against lefties.
Opposite Hudson is Guthrie, who at 35 is no spring chicken, either. He was the least effective of the Royals' five starters during the regular season but was more or less a LAIM (League Average Innings Muncher), topping 200 innings for the fifth year out of six and maintaining a 96 ERA+. He was much stronger in the second half of the season (3.50 ERA, 3.50 FIP) than the first (4.56 ERA, 4.88 FIP) thanks to a modest uptick in his strikeout-to-walk ratio (from 2.3 to 2.9) and a dramatic drop in his home-run rate (1.3 per nine to 0.5). Solid in his lone postseason start, he provided five innings of one-run ball in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Orioles, with manager Ned Yost turning to his shutdown bullpen instead of pushing Guthrie past his 94 pitches.
Guthrie was particularly effective against righties this year, holding them to a .241/.291/.310 line with just four homers in 383 PA; by comparison, he was battered by lefties at a .297/.348/.480 clip with 19 homers in 481 PA. The latter performance is a ringer for his career numbers against lefties (.816 OPS allowed, compared to .699 against righties).
As noted during the NLCS, the Giants' lineup tilts heavily to the left via Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco, Brandon Crawford, Travis Ishikawa, Joe Panik and switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval, but not all of those players have wielded such potent bats against righties. The Big Panda hit .317/.363/.461 against them, Belt an uneven .233/.299/.473, and Crawford a measly .213/.291/.346. Righty Buster Posey (.314/.366/.478) was very dangerous as well, while righty Hunter Pence showed more power but less on-base proficiency against righties (.274/.323/.456) compared to lefties (.284/.355/.415).
Lineup shakeups: After wheeling out the same lineup out for the last 18 games (eight in the regular season, 10 in the postseason) dating back to Sept. 21, Yost has been forced by the move to the NL park to make his first change by benching Billy Butler. The 28-year-old designated hitter set across-the-board career lows this season with a 95 OPS+ on a 271/.323/.379 line, but he did have two big RBI singles when Game 2 was still tight, driving in the Royals' first and third runs before Hunter Strickland started the fireworks show. While his seven RBI rank third on the team in the postseason, he's hitting just .273/.333/.333 through 39 PA. Even so, he should be a weapon off the bench; his small-sample pinch-hitting stats (44 PA, .306/.432/.556 with two homers) are certainly strong.
Yost may have another significant move up his sleeve as well. On Thursday, he acknowledged the possibility that he might start Jarrod Dyson in place of Aoki, presumably with Dyson in center and Lorenzo Cain playing AT&T Park's tricky rightfield, which ranges from 309 feet at the foul pole to 421 feet in the deep triangle in right-center.
Both the metrics and the postseason highlight reels show Aoki to be by far the least defensively adept of the Royals' outfielders; notably, he made one misplay in Game 2, inadvertently deflecting Brandon Belt's double about 20 feet away from himself as he attempted a sliding stop. Later in that inning, he got an assist in doubling Belt off second, but that came after his none-too-impressive relay throw clanked off Alcides Escobar's glove before being recovered by Yordano Ventura. For what it’s worth, Aoki has been very pesky in his 34 pinch-hitting plate appearances since coming stateside, batting .345/.424/.345.
UPDATE: Yost has indeed benched Aoki for Dyson, with Cain starting in right and Dyson in center.
On the Giants’ side, the lack of a DH pushes Mike Morse back to the bench, where he’s already proven his worth this October with a pinch-hit solo homer in Game 4 of the NLCS. Morse went 2-for-8 with an RBI and three strikeouts in the two games in Kansas City. In 69 career regular-season pinch-hitting plate appearances, he’s hit .290/.348/.435 with one homer.
Timmy OK: On Wednesday, Tim Lincecum made his first appearance of the postseason, entering after Strickland served up Omar Infante's homer to widen the deficit to five runs. Considering his 23-day layoff, he looked sharp, needing just 18 pitches to retire the first five hitters he faced before departing with a 2-2 count against Salvador Perez due to lower back tightness; Santiago Casilla completed the strikeout with one pitch.
An MRI showed Lincecum's back to be structurally sound, so he should be available if needed, and he may have pitched his way back into Bochy's good graces. Sent to the bullpen in late August with a 4.64 ERA, he allowed eight runs in 10 1/3 relief innings thereafter, but all of those runs came in two outings decided by a total of 27 runs; he was scoreless in four other outings. Of course, he starred out of the bullpen during the Giants' 2012 championship run, allowing just one run in 13 relief innings with a 17/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.