World Series Game 7 preview: All hands on deck for Royals and Giants
Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Series: Tied 3-3
Status: Wednesday night's game will be the 37th single-elimination Game 7 in World Series history, and while the recent trends favor the Royals, who are the home team and won Game 6 Tuesday night, the larger sample reminds us that anything can and does happen.
The history of the first 36 Games 7 is an interesting mix of recent trends and full-sample parity. For example, the home team has won 19 of those 36 games, or 53 percent. However, the last road team to win Game 7 was the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979; home teams are 9-0 since then. Similarly, the team that won Game 6 also won Game 7 in 19 of those 36 Series, the same 53 percent. But since 1975, only two teams — Boston in '75 and Cleveland in '97 — have won Game 6 and lost Game 7. Since 1997, Game 6 winners have gone 9-1 in the subsequent Games 7.
Incidentally, if we add in League Championship Series to expand our sample to 51 Games 7, we find that 29 of the 51 home teams won Game 7 (57 percent); the same is true of Game 6 winners (29 of 51). Expanding the sample also gives us many more recent examples of the exceptions to those recent trends. From this century alone, the Rays won Game 7 after losing Game 6 to the Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS, while the 2006 Cardinals beat the Mets at Shea Stadium to take Game 7 of the NLCS on the road. Those '06 Cardinals had also lost Game 6, while the 2004 Red Sox and 2003 Marlins both won a Game 7 on the road, and the 2003 Yankees won Game 7 at home after losing Game 6.
Matchups: Having turned 39 in July, Tim Hudson will become the oldest pitcher to start a Game 7 in World Series history, and he comes into this start having thrown 208 2/3 innings this season between the regular and postseasons, his highest innings total since 2011 and one he has surpassed just twice since 2007. Adrenaline and what is sure to be a quick hook from his manager will likely negate any possible fatigue, however. The same should be true for 35-year-old Jeremy Guthrie, who, at 212 2/3 innings between the regular and postseasons, has already surpassed his previous career high, set last year, by one inning.
Hudson, despite the lukewarm capsule numbers listed above, has pitched well this postseason, striking out 15 against just one walk and one home run allowed in 19 1/3 innings. That works out to seven strikeouts per nine innings, a figure Hudson hasn't reached in the regular season since 2000. But while the Giants are 2-1 in his starts, he has not pitched in the best of luck.
Hudson's best start (7 IP, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 K against the Nationals in the Division Series) was overshadowed first by Jordan Zimmermann's near shutout, then by the 18-inning marathon that followed it. In his second start, he took a 4-3 lead into the seventh, only to give up a game-tying home run to Randal Grichuk on what proved to be his last pitch of the game. The Giants won both of those games in extra innings. Against the Royals in Game 3 of this Series, he allowed just one run through the first five innings, but Guthrie made that run hold up, and the Royals added two in the sixth, both charged to Hudson.
Guthrie, meanwhile, has given the Royals exactly what they needed in his two starts thus far this postseason: five solid innings. In Game 3 of the ALCS, he allowed just one run, handing a 1-1 tie to the Kansas City bullpen in a game the Royals eventually won 2-1. In Game 3 of this Series, he held the Giants scoreless for five innings before giving up hits to the first two men he faced in the sixth and getting the hook. The Giants wound up scoring two runs in that inning, both charged to Guthrie, but the Royals' bullpen held things there for a 3-2 win. I have little doubt that Ned Yost would sign up for a chance to hand his bullpen a one-run lead after five innings in this game, as well.
Incidentally, the two men who got the hits to bounce Guthrie in Game 3 were Brandon Crawford and pinch-hitter Mike Morse. Crawford is 5-for-6 with a home run in his career against Guthrie, while Morse is 4-for-9 (.444) with a double. Morse, however, continues to struggle as a designated hitter, going 0-for-4 in the role last night to drop his career line as a DH to .215/.243/.267 with zero homers in 144 plate appearances. That includes a 2-for-12 performance in the role in this Series without a walk or an extra-base hit.
Meanwhile, the two players who got hits to drive Hudson from Game 3 were Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon. Escobar is 5-for-11 (.455) with two doubles in his career against Hudson, and Gordon is 3-for-6 with a double and a homer against Hudson, all six of those confrontations coming this year. Escobar, Gordon, Nori Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, and Mike Moustakas have a total of one strikeout (by Gordon) in 43 combined plate appearances against Hudson.
All hands on deck: Given the quality of their bullpens, Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost have not been shy about giving their starters a quick hook this postseason, and that will be especially true in this game. No pitcher on either team is going to pitch another meaningful major league game until April, so there's no need to save any bullets.
For the Royals, who needed just 16 pitches from Jason Frasor and 13 from Tim Collins in Game 6, that means everyone is available. Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis enter this game with two days of rest after throwing 24 pitches each in Game 5, with surprisingly poor results. Lefties Brandon Finnegan and Danny Duffy have had three days off since last appearing in Game 4. Closer Greg Holland, who last appeared in Game 3, has had four days off. All will likely be available for multiple innings with the exception of Holland, who last recorded more than three outs in a game in September 2012. Ideally, Yost would be able to stick to his big three of Herrera, Davis, and Holland.
However, extending Herrera may not prove as wise as it had been earlier this postseason. In his last four innings of work over three appearances, Herrera has walked five men against two strikeouts (compared to two walks against nine whiffs in his first six outings this postseason), and he retired just two of the three men he faced in Game 5. Better to extend Davis, who allowed the two runners he inherited from Herrera to score in Game 5 but still struck out the side in that inning and has struck out 15 in 10 innings since issuing his last walk. Davis has worked multiple innings twice this postseason, not allowing a hit or a run on either occasion, most recently in Game 1 of the ALCS.
Thanks to Madison Bumgarner and the Game 6 blowout, the Giants' high-leverage relievers are even more rested. Sergio Romo and lefty Jeremy Affeldt both enter this game with three days of rest, and matchup lefty Javier Lopez and closer Santiago Casilla have had the last four days off. Yusmeiro Petit did pitch in Game 6, but once it was clear he was not sharp, Bochy got him out of the game to keep him in play for Game 7. As a result, Petit threw just 17 pitches Tuesday night and should be available for multiple innings in this game if needed. Only Jean Machi, who threw 51 pitches in Game 6, is likely to be unavailable.
The X-factor is the possibility of a relief appearance from Bumgarner, who needed 117 pitches to shut out the Royals on Sunday, but has had two days off since then. Bumgarner would normally throw a between-start bullpen session on the second day, but instead, he made himself available if needed in Game 6 and thus will be available again, with an extra day of rest, for Game 7. Bumgarner hasn't pitched in relief since 2010, but did so under similar circumstances on that occasion, throwing two scoreless innings in Game 6 of the NLCS on two days' rest after his Game 4 start. The Giants clinched the pennant in that game.
Games 7: Try as we might to predict what might happen in Game 7, the only accurate answer is "anything." In a game in which one of the two teams is guaranteed to emerge as the world champion, it's not uncommon for us not to know what will happen until the final play of the game.
The last time the Giants were in a Game 7 in the World Series, they were playing the Yankees at Candlestick Park, trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth with the tying and winning runs in scoring position and Willie McCovey at the plate. McCovey, who hit the ball as hard as anyone ever has, creamed a Ralph Terry pitch; at the moment of contact, it seemed for all the world that the Giants had just won the World Series. A fraction of a second later, the ball smacked into the glove of second baseman Bobby Richardson, and the Yankees had won. The only other time the Royals have been in a World Series Game 7, the opposing pitcher was the Cardinals' John Tudor, who had shut them out in Game 4. Kansas City bounced Tudor in the third and wound up winning 11-0 behind a shutout by 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen, who will throw out the first pitch tonight.
History has shown before that having the advantage on paper means nothing when the game starts. In 1968, the Cardinals sent Bob Gibson, who was 5-0 with a 0.80 ERA in his previous five World Series starts in '67 and '68, to the mound in Game 7 and lost after a scoreless tie was broken in the seventh on a misplay in centerfield by Curt Flood, one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. In 2001, the Yankees had a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth with Mariano Rivera on the mound and lost.
Three times Game 7 has gone into extra innings (1924, 1991, and 1997). On those three occasions, plus 1960 and 2001, Game 7 ended with a walkoff run by the home team (on Earl McNeely's double in '24, Bill Mazeroski's home run in '60, and singles by Gene Larkin, Edgar Renteria and Luis Gonzalez in '91, '97, and '01, respectively). In 1975, Game 7 was tied heading into the ninth; the Reds scored the Series-winning run on a Joe Morgan single with two outs in the top of that inning. In 1972, the Reds had the tying run on base and Pete Rose at the plate in the bottom of the ninth before Rose flew out to end the Series. In 1946, Enos Slaughter scored from first base on a two-out double in the bottom of the eighth with what proved to be the Series-winning run for St. Louis. In 1926, Babe Ruth drew a walk from Pete Alexander to put the tying run on base in the bottom of the ninth but was then caught trying to steal second to end the Series.
Anything is possible in Game 7, right down to the last play of the game. That's true for baseball in general, of course. It's part of what makes the game so great. Until the last out is recorded or the last run crosses the plate, anything can happen. What's different about Game 7 is that whatever does happen will determine this year's champion.