The San Francisco Giants' Sixth-Inning Woes Continue in the World Series
The Billy Goat Curse. The Curse of the Bambino. The Sixth-Inning Stench. These are the most prominent curses in Major League Baseball. While the Boston Red Sox were able to escape the Sultan of Swat, the San Francisco Giants just can't shake that irrationally awful sixth frame of a baseball game.
It happened again last night. Entering the bottom of the sixth tied at two, Jake Peavy was cruising. He had retired 10 straight batters and held the Royals off the bases since the second inning. Then the Royals unleashed for five runs to take Game 2 comfortably, 7-2, and tie things up at a game apiece.
This shouldn't be a surprise anymore.
All season, the Giants have struggled mightily in the sixth inning. The team overall on the season had a 3.50 ERA. In the sixth, that number shot up to 4.33, an increase of over 23 percent. And this wasn't merely a result of limiting a sample size to 162 innings - opposing batters hit .283/.341/.443 in that frame. Hunter Pence hit .277/.332/.445 this year, so batters were, on average, better than Pence against Giants' pitching in the sixth. Not good.
At the same time, Bruce Bochy would have been crazy to take Peavy out prior to the sixth. Like I said, he had retired 10 straight batters, and his pitch count was in the 50s prior to the inning. There was no reason to indicate that there was anything falling off for Peavy.
Then, after a Lorenzo Cain single and an Eric Hosmer walk, Bochy went to the pen. Again, this was probably right when every other manager would have called for the hook. Bochy is not at fault for leaving Peavy in as long as he did. But things spiraled from there.
Let's reset the situation briefly: before Peavy's exit, there were runners on first and second with no outs in the inning of a tied ballgame. Bochy goes to Machi to face Billy Butler. Although Machi has been pretty good against righties this year (they are hitting .179/.258/.293 off of him for the season), his numbers have been largely influenced by his success with the bases empty.
This year, Machi pitched 37.1 innings with the bases empty. In those situations, opponents hit .157/.199/.269. That's filth to the nastiest degree. But that wasn't this situation; he entered the game with a pair of guys on base. In 29 innings this year with that as the situation, opponents hit .250/.350/.444 off of Machi. Other options in the pen had these same struggles, though, so it's hard to really question Bochy too much here.
Next up was Lopez. He has essentially been used as a lefty specialist this season, so he was the logical choice. He also holds opponents to a .192/.325/.265 slash with men on base. That was definitely the right decision to go with him there, especially when you consider how good of a hitter Alex Gordon is. The Strickland decision was not as commendable.
Again, the situation: runners on first and second with one out in a one-run World Series game. Seems like a big time in the game/series/season, right? Apparently not.
Bochy put Strickland in a difficult spot. Strickland was a September call-up who had never played above the Double-A level prior to his Major League debut. He was excellent in the seven innings he threw in September, but now he's being asked to pitch in the highest pressure situations possible. What do you expect him to do?
Strickland had pitched five times in the post-season prior to last night. He had allowed zero of his four inherited runners to score over that time, and he should be commended for that. But he had also allowed four home runs over those five appearances. All had come with the bases empty prior to last night. Eventually, that trend would change.
So, what was Bochy to do? Not only is he in a tight spot to begin with having runners on first and second with one out, but there's that whole curse of the sixth inning thing. Not the most desirable position.
Why not just roll with Jeremy Affeldt right away? Although over half of the batters he has faced this year have been lefties, he has actually been better against right-handers with a .250 wOBA-against compared to .284 by lefties. He has also allowed only three hits over seven innings during the post-season after a fine regular season. Wouldn't that be a safer option than a guy who was in Double-A two months ago and has been bomb city in the playoffs?
In reality, the Giants' sixth-inning woes are far from easily correctable, no matter what Bochy does. As we've seen, he doesn't necessarily have a wealth of talent available for middle relief (except for Yusmeiro Petit, who needs to be used more). And the next two scheduled starters for the Giants have been brutal in the sixth, as well.
Tim Hudson is the scheduled starter for Game 3. Hudson has a 6.53 ERA this season in the sixth inning. He didn't have an ERA higher than 4.06 in any inning in which he threw at least 20 frames.
Ryan Vogelsong is looking like the guy for Game 4 (#FreeShortRestMadBum). His ERA in the sixth this year is 7.40. Is it any wonder why Bochy would have a quick trigger with Peavy? The dude has been bombarded with sixth-inning putridness the whole year. I would have done the exact same thing with Peavy, and he may need to do the same both Friday and Saturday with Hudson and Vogelsong.
What the Giants need to do is find a guy that can bridge to the back-side of the bullpen. It's pretty clear that Strickland is not that guy. It doesn't matter if it's Petit, Affeldt, Tim Lincecum (assuming his back is all right), Pablo Sandoval or Bochy himself. They need something. Right now, they're between a rock and a hard place because of this Sixth-Inning Stench, and there's no easy solution in sight.