The Royals have concocted a simple formula for playoff success: solid starting pitching, lockdown relievers, and scratching out juuuust enough runs to win. With three relievers—Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Greg Holland—who had an ERA below 1.50 during the regular season, and one of the weakest-hitting lineups in the league, the strategy makes plenty of sense. Throughout their eight game playoff win streak, the Royals followed it to a tee. Every starter lasted at least five innings, and the fearsome bullpen trio combined to throw 25 2/3 innings with a minuscule ERA of just 1.05. But in the first game of the World Series, it all went to shit.
It was immediately apparent that James "Big Game James" Shields didn't have his best stuff. The Giants jumped on him with a leadoff single, and a Pablo Sandoval double followed by a Hunter Pence homer eventually brought across three runs. Shields had to labor through 33 high-stress pitches, and even when he got outs he didn't look particularly convincing.
Shields would end up settling down, but only temporarily. He was charged with two more runs in the fourth, and was done for the night before even getting a single out. It was the shortest start from a Royals pitcher this postseason. This blew apart the Royals entire approach. They couldn't immediately hand the ball over to their devastating bullpen arms, and instead threw playoff spot-starter/long man Danny Duffy—who had only pitched a single inning in the entire postseason—out there for three innings, where he gave up two runs.
Being down so many runs so early also meant the Royals couldn't get their Ned Yost on. They didn't have a single steal or sacrifice, instead praying that few big bats they do have would come alive. Salvador Perez delivered with a home run to prevent the goose egg, but it came with no men on base when the game was basically already over—according to FanGraphs it only raised the Royals win expectancy from 0.3% to 0.7%.
The Royals will have to hope game two starter Yordano Ventura can keep things close, and allow their herky jerky offense a chance to get into gear.
Photo via Rob Carr/Getty