Omar Infante

Ned Yost

Ned Yost made a terrible double-switch last night

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Most likely, nothing Royals manager Ned Yost did or didn’t do was going to change the outcome of Sunday night’s Game 5. Madison Bumgarner was dominant, and no combination of Royals hitters figured to beat him. Still, in the midst of the game, Yost made his most inexplicable move in weeks: he committed to 25th man Jayson Nix.

It happened in the seventh inning with the Giants up 2-0 and coming to the plate. James Shields was done for the night after six innings, and Kelvin Herrera was taking over. Had the game been taking place in an American League park, nothing here would have raised an eyebrow.

Game 5, though, was played in San Francisco. And the Royals had the pitcher’s spot due up second in the top of the eighth.

Still, this should have been irrelevant. The obvious strategy was to let Herrera, the Royals’ busiest reliever all postseason, pitch the seventh and get lifted for a pinch-hitter. Instead, Yost opted to make the double-switch. He planned for Herrera to pitch two innings, even though Wade Davis and Greg Holland both have undertaken lesser workloads this month and were very much available, having not pitched Saturday.

That was actually the lesser problem with the move, though. The bigger one is that he locked Nix, who was replacing Omar Infante, into batting second the following inning and finishing the game. Nix wasn’t even on the roster for the ALDS or ALCS. He replaced Christian Colon for the World Series because the Royals preferred his defense. Nix had two at-bats all month. He had a total of seven at-bats in September. He’s a poor hitter in the best of times, and these were not the best of times. For the season, he batted .120/.169/.157 in 83 at-bats.

Had Yost simply waited to pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot, he would have had his pick of Billy Butler, Norichika Aoki or Josh Willingham to hit (Butler actually hit for Jarrod Dyson to lead off the inning. The other two didn’t get at-bats in the game). Instead, he forced himself to go with Nix, since there weren’t any other infielders on the roster to take over.

Nix ended up flying out in his at-bat in the eighth. Herrera pitched a scoreless seventh, then gave up back-to-back singles to start the bottom of the eighth and was pulled. Davis entered and had a rare off night, allowing both inherited runners to score and giving up a run of his own before escaping the frame. The Royals went on to lose 5-0.

So, no, Yost didn’t cost the Royals the game. He hasn’t cost the Royals a game in a long time now, and it’s been pretty difficult to find ways to make fun of him of late. This was an awful choice, though.

World Series, Game 5: Royals vs. Giants lineups

James Shields, Madison Bumgarner
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The Giants evened the World Series at 2-2 with an 11-4 win over the Royals in Game 4 on Saturday night. Both teams will battle to retake a series lead tonight in Game 5 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. First pitch is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. ET.

Royals:

SS Alcides Escobar
LF Alex Gordon
RF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
C Salvador Perez
3B Mike Moustakas
2B Omar Infante
CF Jarrod Dyson
SP James Shields

The Royals are using the same lineup as they’ve used in Games 3 and 4, which features Dyson in center and Cain in right field, eschewing Norichika Aoki.

Giants:

CF Gregor Blanco
2B Joe Panik
C Buster Posey
3B Pablo Sandoval
RF Hunter Pence
1B Brandon Belt
LF Travis Ishikawa
SS Brandon Crawford
SP Madison Bumgarner

With the right-handed Shields on the mound, Giants manager Bruce Bochy has put Sandoval back to the clean-up spot and Pence back to fifth in the order. Juan Perez goes back to the bench after his Game 4 start, giving way to Ishikawa in left field.

Royals bat around in the third inning, take a 4-1 lead against the Giants

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The Royals did not hit the ball terribly hard in the top of the third inning against Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong, but they used their speed and place discipline to create a rally and score four runs. After starter Jason Vargas hit a fly ball to deep center field for the first out after a decent at-bat, Alcides Escobar singled to center field. Escobar was erased on a 3-6 fielder’s choice ground ball by Alex Gordon, but Gordon promptly stole second base — the Royals’ first stolen base of the World Series, oddly enough.

Lorenzo Cain hit a weak ground ball to shortstop and had just enough speed to beat out Brandon Crawford’s throw, though he pulled up after lunging at the first base bag. He stayed in the game. Gordon had advanced to third in the meantime. Eric Hosmer chopped a grounder to first baseman Brandon Belt, who threw to Vogelsong covering the bag, but it wasn’t in time. Vogelsong didn’t appear to have the best footwork covering the bag but it was a tough play.

Vogelsong then walked Mike Moustakas on four pitches to load the bases. Manager Bruce Bochy sent reliever Jean Machi to warm up. The meltdown continued. With a 2-2 count, Omar Infante grounded a single up the middle, plating two runs to give the Royals a 3-1 lead. Vogelsong fell behind Salvador Perez 3-0, pumped a get-me-over fastball for a strike, then surrendered a single to center field for yet another Royals run.

Bochy strolled out from the dugout to take the baseball from Vogelsong. Machi came in and walked Jarrod Dyson to load the bases again. Vargas worked a 3-2 count and tossed his bat as if he had drawn a bases-loaded walk. He got about 30 feet down the line before he was made aware of his error. Laughing off the embarrassing moment, Vargas then took strike three looking to end the inning.

Vogelsong finishes his night having allowed four runs on seven hits and a walk with two strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings.

World Series, Game 4: Royals vs. Giants lineups

Ryan Vogelsong AP
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With the Royals up 2-1 over the Giants in the 2014 World Series, here are the lineups for Game 4 tonight in San Francisco. First pitch is slated for 8:07 p.m. ET:

Royals:
SS Alcides Escobar
LF Alex Gordon
RF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
3B Mike Moustakas
2B Omar Infante
C Salvador Perez
CF Jarrod Dyson
SP Jason Vargas

Royals manager Ned Yost is back with the same lineup he used in Game 3 last night. That means that Alex Gordon is in the No. 2 spot once again while Jarrod Dyson is in center field and Mike Moustakas is batting fifth for the second straight day. Nori Aoki and Billy Butler remain on the bench.

Giants:
CF Gregor Blanco
2B Joe Panik
C Buster Posey
RF Hunter Pence
3B Pablo Sandoval
1B Brandon Belt
LF Juan Perez
SS Brandon Crawford
SP Ryan Vogelsong

While the Royals are sticking with their lineup from Game 3, Giants manager Bruce Bochy is making some changes with left-hander Jason Vargas on the hill for Kansas City. Juan Perez will make his second start of the postseason in left field, pushing Travis Ishikawa to the bench. Michael Morse apparently isn’t ready to play the field quite yet. The change will make the defense stronger at the very least. That could be critical with some tricky winds expected. Meanwhile, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval have flip-flopped in the order.

The greatest trick this Royals bullpen ever pulled …

Greg Holland
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So, you’ve seen “Defending Your Life,” right? Love that movie. Quick plot synopsis: Albert Brooks dies and finds himself in “Judgment City,” where he has to defend his life in front of judges. It’s a little bit more complicated than that, but that’s all you need to know for this World Series reference.

In the middle of the trial, Brooks’ regular lawyer gets pulled away and Brooks finds himself being defended by a guy named Dick Stanley (played by the incomparable Buck Henry).

“Without tooting my own horn,” Stanley tells Brooks, “I’m very good at this.”

Then, every time a moment comes up for for Stanley to make an argument for Brooks’ life, he instead says, “I’m fine.” And that’s it. He does not say anything else. Just: “I’m fine.”

“I hear you had Dick Stanley today,” one of the other lawyers says to Brooks. “He’s excellent. Quiet. But excellent.”

“Very quiet,” Brooks said.

Here, after that overly long setup, we come to our point which is the awesome power of the Kansas City Royals bullpen. I’ve started trying to get people to enter their Chuck Norris like Royals Bullpen Facts on Twitter, to only moderate success. So far we have:

When the Royals bullpen cuts onions, the onions cry.

When the Royals bullpen stares into space, space blinks.

Before the bogeyman goes to sleep, he checks his closet for the Royals bullpen.

Thunderstorms can’t sleep because of the Royals bullpen.

The bartender says: “Why the long face?” “The Royals bullpen,” says the horse.

Star Wars wears Royals bullpen pajamas.

But the greatest trick this Royals bullpen ever pulled was, yes, making  Ned Yost look like the man of the hour. Look: Ever since Game 2 of the series ended, smart people have been considering the somewhat mind-boggling possibility that Yost out managed Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy.

Did he? Well, as I suggested to San Francisco Magazine, even a longtime Yost yammerer like myself doesn’t really believe that manager strategy will make that much of a difference. Seven games is such a short series. Small samples rule the airwaves. The variance between optimal and non-optimal strategies is minuscule (unless you bizarrely decide to send Michael Wacha into the game in the ninth inning after not pitching him for three weeks). And most moves, for one reason or another, don’t matter anyway.

Quick example: In the sixth inning of Game 2, with runners on first and second, Billy Butler hit a run-scoring single that broke the tie and gave the Royals a one-run lead. Yost then decided to pinch-run Terrance Gore for Butler.

I racked my brain to come up with a single reason why he did it. By pulling Butler in the sixth inning, he removed one of his two most-potent right-handed hitters from the lineup. And for what? Gore’s one skill is that he’s fast. But with a runner on second, Gore could not steal. With a runner on second, Gore’s run wasn’t especially important in the grand scheme of things.

But … what difference did it make? A wild pitch moved up both runners (even Butler advances on that pitch) and then Salvy Perez’s double scored both runners (even Butler scores from second on a double) and then Omar Infante’s homer would have scored anybody including me. It’s not quite right to say the move worked. It is more right to say the move didn’t matter — and a lot of moves don’t matter.

So, no, I don’t put much stock into the idea that Yost actually out-managed Bochy or that Bochy could have somehow changed the outcome by managing better.

But I will say this: Yost has learned the Dick Stanley art of zen and baseball management. In the sixth inning, Bochy was doing some full contact managing, pacing back and forth between the mound and the dugout like one of those 1950s expectant fathers, leaving his starter in one batter longer than seemed prudent, matching lefties against lefties, righties against righties, going to his homer-prone and hotheaded rookie for reasons nobody could quite fathom. Bochy was working it, hitting all the buttons, pulling all the levers, twisting all the knobs, switching all the switches.

And Ned Yost said: “I’m fine.”

“After the sixth inning, my thinking’s done,” Yost said, and it drew a little bit of a laugh, but he’s exactly right. The Firm of Herrera, Davis and Holland is so good, so bleeping good, that there are no decisions to be made, no match-ups to be matched, no maneuvers to maneuver.

“Hey Ned, there’s a lefty coming up against Kelvin Herrera.”

“I’m fine.”

“Ned, this guy coming up against Wade Davis has got some power and kills righties.”

“I’m fine.”

“Um Ned, there’s a giant spaceship over the stadium, and aliens are rushing in from the Planet TaterBopper, and Greg Holland is out there alone.”

“I’m fine.”

This has been the impervious bullpen. Going into every series so far, the talk has been that the Royals might have a SLIGHTLY better bullpen than Anaheim or Baltimore or San Francisco, but those other teams have really good bullpens too. The Giants do. But the Giants like those other teams have an IKEA bullpen which requires Bochy to guess which of those screws is the right one, which wood piece is D and which one is E, what direction these things are supposed to face.

The Royals bullpen is out of the next century, You can’t use them wrong.  You don’t have to read the instructions. You don’t have to install any anti-virus protection. No assembly required.

Of course, things change quickly in a short series. The Firm has been so absurdly dominant this postseason that you can’t help but think at some point they will lose a game. But that’s looking more and more like a bad bet. The Giants pathway to victory in this series seems clear: Do what you did in Game 1. Score early, get a solid performance out of your starter, maintain that lead. If they do that, Bochy will look great. If they don’t, he might not look great.

The Royals pathway to victory seems even clearer: Take a lead or tie game into seventh inning. Then Ned Yost will happily turn off his brain. Joke about it all you want. With this bullpen, he’s fine.