The Giants current situation is a familiar one, with a 3-2 series lead and Games 6 and 7 on the road with a pitcher that is by no stretch of the imagination their ace. The last time that they faced this situation was back in 2010 with Jonathan Sanchez on the mound against the Philadelphia Phillies.
The way Bruce Bochy managed that game should serve as a blueprint for what he should do tonight against the Royals.
Bochy’s leash with Sanchez was incredibly short. If we remember back four years ago, Sanchez was a good pitcher but he often found himself with no idea where his pitches were going and would get himself into trouble. His stuff was good enough that more often than not he could wiggle his way out of tough spots, but in this game Bochy was not going to give him a chance.
Sanchez got into trouble in the first inning, giving up a leadoff walk and three hits to spot the Phillies two runs. Then he settled down a little bit, getting a pair of groundouts and strikeout against the Phillies’ 8-9-1 hitters the next inning. However, he found himself in another jam in the third with a walk and a hit batter before giving way to Jeremy Affeldt.
Tonight Bochy has Jake Peavy pitching, and while not a perfect comparison to Sanchez there is reason to believe that he should be willing to pull him very early in the game at the first sign of trouble. Peavy has been a good pitcher the first two times he’s gone through an opponent’s lineup, with opponents putting up a .227/.283/.373 slash line. Players generally hit like all-stars against Peavy after that, producing a .323/.387/.545 line. This isn’t something unique to this year, either. For his career, batters have an OPS of .642 the first time facing him, a .668 OPS the second time and .736 the third time.
This third time through the order penalty is not unique to Peavy, but it sure looks like he is especially susceptible to opposing batters getting a look at his pitches. To make matters even tougher, this will be the second time in a week that the Royals have seen him. Given this, Bochy would be well-advised to let Peavy only face tonight’s Royals lineup twice before handing the game over to the bullpen — regardless of how strong or well Peavy has pitched.
If trouble presents itself early, Bochy shouldn’t hesitate to bring in one of his more trusted relievers to get out of a jam like he did with Affeldt in 2010. If Peavy does pitch well and gives Bochy four or five strong innings, Bochy shouldn’t get greedy and try to squeeze extra innings out of him instead of going to Yusmeiro Petit to cover the middle innings(or Affeldt, who could play a similar role four years later).
The last lesson from that game is that everyone needs to be ready to pitch (except Tim Hudson and probably Madison Bumgarner) at any time. Everyone in the bullpen has had at least two days off, so fatigue won’t be a concern.
The actions taken by Bochy in Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS exemplified his flexibility with his pitching staff. He did not fall into the trap of thinking that his pitchers had concrete roles from which he could not deviate, and managed the game like it was a “must win,” despite the cushion of a Game 7 if things went poorly. If Bochy follows his old game plan — and there’s no reason to believe he won’t — he can put his team in a good position to win their third title in five years.