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.

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.