Author: Matthew Pouliot

Yusmeiro Petit

Giants should give Yusmeiro Petit the Game 4 start


You know, if they’re not going to use him in relief.

Yusmeiro Petit was the Giants’ second best reliever this year. In 49 innings out of the pen, he had a 1.84 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and 59 strikeouts. He was almost a perfect match for Giants closer Santiago Casilla, except for how they were used (both had the same WHIP and .177 batting-averages against Casilla had a 1.70 ERA, but gave up two unearned runs compared to none for Petit).

Petit wasn’t quite as successful as a starter, mostly because of the home run ball. He gave up 11 in his 12 starts, which resulted in a 5.03 ERA even tough he had an exceptional 74/11 K/BB ratio and 1.13 WHIP in 68 innings. Still, most of those struggles were early on. After entering the rotation for good on Aug. 28, Petit had a 3.93 ERA in his final six starts.

Ryan Vogelsong was less good during that span; he had a 5.53 ERA in five during September. In the postseason, he’s had one fine outing against the Nationals (1 ER in 5 2/3 IP) and one lousy outing against the Cardinals (4 ER in 3 IP).

It’s not that Vogelsong is an awful choice to start Game 4 against the Royals. Petit is simply the better one. And if manager Bruce Bochy didn’t use Petit in Wednesday’s Game 2 loss to the Royals because he figures he might need him to go long in Vogelsong’s place on Saturday, then the obvious move is to simply go to Petit as the starter in the first place.

Petit has saved the Giants’ bacon twice so far in the postseason, pitching six innings in the marathon Game 2 against the Nationals and three innings in relief of Vogelsong in Game 4 of the NLCS. He allowed a total of two hits while not giving up any runs in those outings. He fanned 11. The Giants might not have won either game without him.

And facing the Royals in AT&T Park seems like a pretty ideal matchup for Petit. His issue is the home run ball. He’d be going against a team that doesn’t hit home runs in a ballpark that doesn’t give up many.

But it won’t happen. Petit seems to be the fallback. He’s getting saved for situations that might never materialize.

I don’t blame Bruce Bochy for eschewing Petit in Game 2. After Jake Peavy left a tie game in the sixth, Bochy thought he was going to get through the last four innings with his five cogs: Jean Machi, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Casilla. That was never a situation for Petit in the regular season, nor was it a situation he’s been used in during the postseason. Apart from a poor first half from Romo, those five guys got the job done for the Giants all season long. They’re the close-game relievers. Petit is the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency guy.

But Petit is too good for that role. He’s allowed 99 hits, walked 26 (six intentionally) and struck out 144 in 126 innings this year. He can make a difference, if the Giants let him.

Royals’ World Series hopes in Yordano Ventura’s hands


The Royals’ undefeated October is no more. Madison Bumgarner saw to that. Now the Royals’ fortunes hinge on 23-year-old rookie Yordano Ventura.

Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Ventura has one of the game’s best fastballs, and on a game-to-game basis, he was every bit the pitcher that James Shields was this year (Ventura had a 3.20 ERA and a 3.60 FIP, Shields had a 3.21 ERA and 3.59 FIP).

Ventura, though, left his last start in Game 2 of the ALCS with shoulder tightness. The Royals had him penciled in for Game 6 anyway, writing it off as a non-issue. However, Ventura didn’t have his usual stuff even before exiting the game against the Orioles. His average fastball was down about three mph, leaving him with his worst velocity of the year. He gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings, walking three and striking out three.

With the Royals sweeping Baltimore, Ventura essentially got to skip a start; he’ll be facing off against Jake Peavy on 10 days’ rest. If he’s sound physically, his batteries will certainly be recharged. He was able to shake off the big homer he gave up in relief against the A’s in the wild card game to limit the Angels to one run in seven innings during his ALDS start. If he has his high-90s fastball and plus curve, he’s the one Royals starter capable of making Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence look bad .

And that’s what the Royals badly need after burning out their only long reliever Tuesday. Ventura doesn’t have to go seven innings. He doesn’t even have to go six. But he probably will need to hold the Giants to a couple of runs through five in the Royals are going to send the World Series to San Francisco tied a game apiece. If they can’t do that, then they’ll need only return to Kansas City to pack up for the winter.

On Mike Matheny and Michael Wacha

Mike Matheny

“I realize that I put him in a real tough spot… Just a tough spot for him to be in. Not the spot we wanted him to be in.”

Mike Matheny decided he was using Michael Wacha on Wednesday. That much was clear. He made mention of it before the game, indicating that Wacha was available in a different fashion than in previous games this postseason. With the Cardinals up 3-2, Matheny got Wacha up in the top of the seventh, readying him alongside lefty specialist Randy Choate in case Wainwright needed to come out.

Related: Giants beat Cardinals in Game 5 to advance to the World Series

Wainwright finished that inning, and with the one-run lead intact, Matheny followed his usual script and put in Pat Neshek to pitch the eighth. Wacha got up again that inning after Neshek allowed a leadoff homer to Michael Morse, tying the game.

When the bottom of the ninth rolled around, Wacha was ready again. At this point, Matheny had to know it was use him or lose him. Wacha hadn’t pitched since Sept. 26. He hadn’t made a relief appearance all year. He didn’t have his usual stuff in September after missing 2 1/2 months with a shoulder injury, which is why he wasn’t included in the postseason rotation. There was no way Matheny wanted to bypass Wacha now and then risk injuring him by using him in the 12th or 13th inning of a tie game with the rest of his bullpen exhausted. So, Matheny made the call. Four batters later, the Giants were 6-3 winners.

Obviously, it was a bad call. Not a bad call in hindsight… a bad call at the very moment Matheny sent him to the mound. If Matheny thought Wacha was the right person to pitch in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth with elimination one mistake away… well, then there’s no doubt Wacha would have been on the mound at some point in the previous eight postseason games.

It might have worked out anyway. Wacha arrived on the mound with his best velocity of the year. He hit 98 mph on the FS1 gun. But he was rusty. He didn’t have time to find his command or his changeup. He was exactly the guy he should have been having sat for three weeks.

Matheny will survive the Cardinals’ loss. In three years at the helm, he’s guided the team to a 275-211 record, a World Series and a second NLCS. And given that the Cardinals lost their best player, Yadier Molina, in Game 2 of the series against the Giants, there’s a ready excuse for dropping the series, not that any excuse for losing a best-of-seven series should ever be needed. Still, it’ll be a long time before anyone forgets the Wacha move, and a couple of his Game 4 choices weren’t much better. The losses in the last three games of the series went to the last three pitchers on the staff (Randy Choate, Marco Gonzales and now Wacha). His decision to pinch-run Daniel Descalso in the ninth tonight only after Matt Adams got to second base might have cost the team the go-ahead run. It’s not nearly all on Matheny; the Cardinals were outplayed by the Giants. But there wasn’t any bigger mismatch on the diamond than the mismatch that was Matheny versus Bruce Bochy.

Mike Matheny had a very bad day at the office

Mike Matheny

Game 4 of the NLCS was played Wednesday night. The managers seemed to mistake it for a regular-season game.

While more good than bad, Shelby Miller and Ryan Vogelsong are fourth starters for a reason. Miller probably wouldn’t have made the Cardinals’ rotation if Michael Wacha were healthier or if Justin Masterson had bounced back following his midseason acquisition. Vogelsong wasn’t promised an NLDS start until Yusmeiro Petit, the superior pitcher down the stretch, was needed to throw six innings in relief in Game 2 against the Nationals.

Related: Giants defeat Cardinals 6-4 to take 3-1 lead in NLCS

And both starters came out struggling Wednesday. Vogelsong allowed three of the first four batters he reached to face, holding the Cardinals to one run only because Jhonny Peralta grounded into a double play. Miller gave the run right back in the bottom of the first before likewise escaping trouble because of a double play.

Vogelsong surrendered a double and an RBI single to start the second. At that point, Petit should have been warming up. He wasn’t. Vogelsong escaped from there, and Miller threw a clean bottom of the second. However, the third was punishing to both. Even with a double play mixed in, Vogelsong gave up two runs, the last coming on a Kolten Wong homer. He was only allowed to finish the inning from there because he was due to lead off the bottom of the inning. Miller allowed a single to the pinch-hitter and three hits in all on his way to giving up two runs.

At least Giants manager Bruce Bochy had the sense to get Vogelsong out after three. Up 4-3, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny let Miller hit with one out and none on in the top of the fourth. He then pulled him with two outs and one on in the bottom of the fourth.

Matheny’s choice to keep Miller in had no immediate ramifications. The Cardinals escaped the fourth without damage. But the whole process was just nutty. It took Matheny until runs were already in to get anyone up in the third, even though he had a completely rested Wacha ready to go long if needed and Marco Gonzales a possibility for multiple innings. Also, the Cardinals were in no position to just give away outs at the plate while up one run. The decision to let him hit, even though there was no confidence that he’d last much longer, was one of the worst any manager has made this postseason.

Matheny pulled off another doozy in the sixth, when he set up a double-switch with Gonzales entering the game and Tony Cruz replacing A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate. The pitcher’s spot was due up first the next inning, but now Matheny wanted to use Gonzales for multiple innings. In theory, it might have worked out, but Cruz hits like a pitcher anyway and it would have been better to lead off the seventh with another bench option, while still keeping the stronger Pierzynski in the lineup. As it turned out, Gonzales wasn’t going to pitch multiple innings anyway. Gonzales didn’t even last the one, giving up three runs because first baseman Matt Adams botched two throws.

By the time Matheny finally did use his best bench bat, Oscar Taveras, there were two outs and none on with the Cardinals down 6-4 in the eighth. That was in Pierzynski’s old spot. Taveras singled, but No. 8 hitter Randal Grichuk flied out. Matheny could have instead used Taveras in Cruz’s spot in the ninth, hoping to start a rally then, but it was left to Daniel Descalso. That went just as well as expected; he popped out to start the frame, and the Cardinals managed just a single before Santiago Casilla shut the door.

(Matheny also “wasted” his challenge on a successful steal by Hunter Pence in the fifth. I’m not going to complain about this, since I’m guessing the postseason umpires are going to be very lenient when it comes to letting managers request challenges, not that it’s been a factor so far.)

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to say Matheny cost the Cardinals’ this game. He wasn’t responsible for Adams’ miscues, and as shaky as Miller was, St. Louis still had the lead when he left. All the manager can do is put the team in the best position to win. Matheny didn’t do that. He also didn’t do it when he let a lefty specialist lose Game 3. Now with Giants ace Madison Bumgarner set to start Game 5 on Thursday, it might not matter at all what Matheny does next.

Against all expectations, Ned Yost figured it out

Ned Yost

Credit where credit is due: Ned Yost managed a great series against the Orioles.

By all rights, the Royals should have been dead in the wild card game. Down 7-3 against the A’s after the surprising move to have Yordano Ventura, pitching on one day of rest, relieve James Shields in the sixth, the Royals needed to score four runs in two innings against Jon Lester and one of the best bullpens in baseball. They did that and won it in 12, though between the Ventura call and the four sacrifice bunts (in a 9-8 game), Yost seemed to do more harm than good.

Related: Royals sweep Orioles to advance to first World Series since 1985

The sweep of the Angels? That was a better, easier series for Yost. About the only criticism one could lay down at his feet is that he declined to use his closer in tie games on the road. Of course, it didn’t hurt him one bit. The series included just one sac bunt (by Alcides Escobar in Game 2; it didn’t lead to a run). There weren’t really many tough decisions at all. All three of his starters pitched well, and none needed to be removed mid-inning. The relievers were great, because they’re Royals relievers and it’s required.

Against the Orioles, Yost seemed to learn from everything that had come before. There were two sac bunts in the series, and the first of those was left-handed hitter Mike Moustakas bunting against a left-hander in a tie game in the top of the ninth. No one is arguing against that one. The only starter he seemed to keep in too long was Ventura in Game 2. In Game 3, he patted Jeremy Guthrie on the backside after five innings of one-run ball and went right to the pen. In Game 4, Jason Vargas came out after allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings, even though he was at just 73 pitches.

As for his bullpen decisions… well, he had it pretty easy. His relievers allowed two runs in five innings in Game 1, but pitched 11 scoreless innings the rest of the way. There were no tough calls on when to use Wade Davis and Greg Holland. My only criticism was that he used Jason Frasor in the sixth against the heart of the Orioles order in Game 3, when it would have made more sense to go with Kelvin Herrera then and let Frasor face the bottom of the order in the seventh. But it didn’t matter. Yost went to Herrera during the sixth in both Games 1 and 4. That was the move he didn’t make in the wild card game. The one that nearly knocked his team out of the playoffs before this whole incredible run had a chance to get started.

It certainly helps that Yost has been able to stick to the script. He’s started the same lineup every game of the playoffs. He hasn’t had any pitching meltdowns to throw things off. Every starter has pitched between five and seven innings. Somehow, the Royals have had two pitchers leave with potentially season-ending injuries (Herrera in the ALDS, Ventura in Game 2) and turn out just fine. Yost never worries about pinch-hitting, only pinch-running and having Jarrod Dyson replace Norichika Aoki late in games. His players have made it simple for him, and he’s done absolutely nothing lately to muck it up. Admittedly, that might sound like a backhanded compliment, but as anyone who has watched the National League postseason can attest, not having a manager muck things up is really all there is to it.