Behind strong bullpen, Royals edge Giants 3-2 to take a 2-1 World Series lead

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There was much hagiography about the Royals’ bullpen, and for good reason. During the second half of the regular season, only four teams’ bullpens posted an ERA better than the Royals’ 2.87. The back end of Kelvin Herrera (1.41 ERA), Wade Davis (1.00), and Greg Holland (1.44) was nearly unhittable. According to Inside Edge, the Royals lapped the competition when it came to throwing heat, registering 2,287 pitches at 97 MPH or above.

So no one was exactly surprised when the Royals’ bullpen held the Giants hitless for four innings once starter Jeremy Guthrie departed. Herrera did struggle, walking two, but recorded four outs before giving way to lefty Brandon Finnegan, who retired both batters he faced. In the eighth, Davis flashed his high-90’s fastball and a devastating curve to strike out two of the three batters he faced. And in the ninth, with the Giants needing one run, Holland retired Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence in order to end the game and notch the save.

The Royals hit the scoreboard early thanks to Alcides Escobar doubling to start the ballgame, then coming around to score after a pair of ground outs. In the sixth, the Royals tacked on two more runs against Giants starter Tim Hudson to make it 3-0 when Alex Gordon doubled to center field to drive in Escobar, and Eric Hosmer lined a single to center against reliever Javier Lopez to score Gordon.

The Giants finally mounted an offensive attack against Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie in the bottom of the sixth. Guthrie had retired 10 batters in a row, but Brandon Crawford singled to lead off the frame and promptly scored when Mike Morse ripped a double down the left field line. Manager Ned Yost relieved Guthrie with Kelvin Herrera, but the right-hander had trouble finding the strike zone, walking Gregor Blanco. Following the Royals’ M.O., the Giants then used a pair of ground outs to score Morse, making it 3-2. But that was it for the Giants, unable to handle the Royals’ relievers.

Guthrie got the win (the first post-season victory of his career), allowing the two runs on four hits with no walks and no strikeouts in five innings. Hudson got the loss, allowing three runs on four hits and a walk with two strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.

The Royals take their 2-1 World Series lead into Saturday night’s Game 4. Lefty Jason Vargas is slated to oppose right-hander Ryan Vogelsong. Vogelsong could be scratched if the Giants decide to start Madison Bumgarner on short rest instead.

Update: Vogelsong is starting Game 4 for the Giants, Bochy says, via Jon Morosi of FOX Sports.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Tigers 13, Orioles 8: Leonys Martin hit a grand slam out of the leadoff spot and the two-slot hitter, Jeimer Candelario, drove in three via a two-run homer and an RBI single. They play for the Tigers, by the way. Figure a lot of you were not aware of that. Heck, outside of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos, figure most of us don’t know most of the guys on the Tigers anymore. You do know that Manny Machado plays for the Orioles. Know that he hit two homers in a losing cause. Know that, given how the Orioles are doing these days, he won’t be with the Orioles too much longer, I reckon.

Cubs 8, Cardinals 5: Chicago built an early 6-1 lead on a bunch of singles and sac flies and stuff and Jason Heyward capped the Cubs scoring with a two-run homer in the fifth. Jon Lester allowed only an unearned run over six. Every Cubs starter had at least one hit. Anthony Rizzo had three. Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez had two a piece. After the game Joe Maddon said:

“This is so much fun to watch. Keep your launch angles, keep your exit velocities, give me a good at-bat. Seeing inside the ball, using the whole field. With that you’ll see better situational hitting, better batting average. That’s just good hitting.”

Without looking, I’m going to guess that the Cubs’ eight-run outburst was, at least in part, a function of good launch angles and exit velocities. Not that Maddon would be the first person to engage in the fallacy of assuming mutual exclusivity where it does not exist.

Astros 9, Mariners 2: Charlie Morton tossed seven shutout innings, dropping his ERA down to 0.72 in his three wins. He has also struck out 33 guys in 25 innings and has walked only six. At this rate he’s going to be in a three-way race with two of his teammates — Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander — for the Cy Young. Seattle dropped three of four in the series and, as a team, went 15-for-100 against Dallas KeuchelLance McCullers Jr., Cole and Morton.

Yankees 4, Blue Jays 3: Aaron Judge homered and, while the Jays threatened late when David Robertson couldn’t find the strike zone and loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, but he got out of the jam with only one run scoring. Judge — who a lot of you wise acres thought would struggle this year now that everyone is ready for him — is hitting .339/.481/.629 and is on a 48-homer, 152-walk pace. So, yeah.

Phillies 7, Pirates 0: OK, I think Jake Arrieta has finally finished his late spring training. Here he tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and striking out ten. Rhys Hoskins homered, Odubel Herrera singled in runs in the second and the fifth, J.P. Crawford and Cesar Hernandez knocked in runs on singles as well. More importantly, look at the photo on the top of this post and acknowledge how spiffy Philly looked in these blues. Their only fault is that teams that do this should, like the White Sox the other day, wear the blues on the road as originally intended.

Braves 12, Mets 4: Matt Wisler was called up from Triple-A to make a spot start. Guessing he’s going to get a bit more than that after allowing only two hits in seven innings. Matt Harvey, meanwhile, allowed six runs in six innings and after the game Mickey Calloway would not commit to him making his next scheduled start. He’s just not the guy he used to be. Preston Tucker drove in five with a bases loaded double and a two-run double. Kurt Suzuki had three hits and drove in three runs, including a two-run homer. The Braves offense leads the NL in runs scored. We were all expecting that heading into the season, yes?

Brewers 12, Marlins 3: It was close until the sixth, when Milwaukee put up a seven-spot. Lorenzo Cain homered, doubled twice and scored four times and Ryan Braun hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer. Those three runs gave him 1,000 RBI on his career. Lewis Brinson — who came over to the Marlins from the Brewers in the offseason trade for Christian Yelich — hit his first two career homers.

Diamondbacks 3, Giants 1: Zack Greinke held the punchless Giants to one run over seven innings, with a Brandon Belt homer being his only blemish. The Snakes got homers from Ketel Marte and A.J. Pollock. The Giants have scored only 51 runs in 18 games. That’s the lowest run total in baseball, tied with the Royals, who have only played 16 games. It ain’t 2014 anymore, is it?

Red Sox 8, Angels 2: And the Red Sox never lost again. Homers from Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi. Eight runs on 14 hits against six pitchers. A fine outing from Eduardo Rodriguez. Seven wins in a row and, heck, even though it covers the whole season, 16 of 18 for Boston.