The greatest trick this Royals bullpen ever pulled …

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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.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.