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.

Bryce Harper defeats Kyle Schwarber 19-18 to win the 2018 Home Run Derby

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Bryce Harper, who said he was tired after taking his cuts in the first round, certainly appeared gassed in the final round. So, too, did his dad, who was throwing to him. But Harper caught fire, going on a tear and tying Kyle Schwarber with 18 home runs before time expired in the final round of the 2018 Home Run Derby. Harper unlocked 30 seconds of bonus time by hitting two home runs at least 440 feet. With his second swing in bonus time, Harper homered to straightaway center field for No. 19. He tossed his bat in celebration, grabbed his trophy, then gave it to his dad before he was mobbed on the field by his All-Star teammates.

Harper hit 13 home runs in the first round, eliminating Freddie Freeman and advancing to the semifinals. In the semis, Harper topped Max Muncy 13-12 to advance to the finals. On Schwarber’s side of the bracket, he bested Alex Bregman 16-15, then defeated Rhys Hoskins 21-20.

Harper is the first member of the Nationals (or Expos) to win the Home Run Derby. Harper participated in the 2013 Derby but finished in second place behind Yoenis Céspedes. Harper is also the first left-handed hitter to win the Derby since Prince Fielder in 2012. The only players to win the Derby in their home park are Todd Frazier in 2015 and Ryne Sandberg in 1990.

As a spectator, the 2018 Home Run Derby was tons of fun. The four-minute clock adds a lot of tension and intrigue even to the initial rounds. Seeing teammates cheer and get excited for their teammates in the Derby is really fun. Of course, watching dinger after dinger is cool, too. Can’t wait for next year.