The Kansas City Royals fell to the San Francisco Giants 7-1 in Game One of the World Series, and all over the media there are post-mortems being done today. How could this happen? What happened? Why did it happen? These are legitimate questions, and there are some really good articles on the subject, like this Jeff Sullivan piece on James Shields. Sullivan explains that Shields was giving up tons of hard-hit balls, probably due to poor command of his pitches, and he's been pretty hittable his last few games in the post-season.
Jeff Sullivan is a good writer who does serious analytical work, but what he doesn't get is that simple explanations like "poor command" don't generate clicks or move copy (printed newspaper still exists, right?). What gets eyeballs are NARRATIVES!
So let's go through two of the cliched narratives to explain why the Royals lost Game One.
1. THEY WEREN'T READY
The Royals are an inexperienced team when it comes to World Series action, having not appeared in the Fall Classic in 29 years, while the Giants are in their third World Series in five years. Obviously this meant that the Royals soiled themselves at the mere thought of appearing on a national stage while the Giants were cool cucumbers. As Buster Olney writes:
But the difference in experience between these Royals and the Giants showed itself in a sequence of hitters in the third inning, in Kansas City's one serious opportunity to climb back into the game.
With the Giants leading 3-0, Brandon Crawford made an error and Mike Moustakas pulled a double into the right-field corner. The Royals had runners at second and third and nobody out and the top of their lineup coming up, and Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey faced a difficult challenge in trying to navigate their way without surrendering runs.
Alcides Escobar struck out just 83 times in more than 600 plate appearances during the regular season, but it had become evident in his first at-bat that when Bumgarner got ahead in the count, he intended to attack the shortstop at the top of the strike zone, and now in the third inning, he did this again. Posey kept calling for high fastballs, holding his glove high. Escobar fouled off one two-strike pitch, but swung underneath another. Perhaps fueled by the adrenaline of the moment, he just couldn't lay off that high pitch, and Bumgarner's placement of the pitches had been precise.
Rob Lowe piles on.
The big stage is the big stage. The spotlight ain't for everyone. #Royals #WorldSeriesGame1— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) October 22, 2014
That must be "Creepy Rob Lowe."
The Escobar strikeout was quite awful, and as Dave Cameron points out, it was far outside of Escobar's history to swing so wildly at those kind of pitches. Still, it was just one at-bat, when the team was already down 3-0 against a very good pitcher in Madison Bumgarner. The Royals have struggled to score runs all year, so it should really come as no surprise they struggled to score against Bumgarner.
Let's also not overlook that the biggest reason the Royals lost was a poor starting performance by James Shields, easily the most experienced post-season player the Royals have. Shields, who tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings in his only other World Series start (when he was "inexperienced"), had lousy command and was hit hard.
The Royals have been on a national stage before. Even though TBS is part of basic cable, the ALCS was still a big stage, with big ramifications, and the Royals excelled in that series. As MLB Network's Mark DeRosa pointed out, the Royals have been playing big games for a few weeks now. Experience shouldn't be an issue.
2. THE FIVE DAY LAYOFF HURT THE ROYALS
The Royals took quick work of the Orioles, giving them five days to rest, goof off, enjoy NBA games, and take ticket requests from friends and families and total strangers on Twitter. Could the layoff have cooled off their hot bats?
The Royals are hot. Four wins in four postseason games. Timely hits, crushing blasts and game-winning knocks — which fell into infield crannies, the outfield grass or bleacher seats — are all part of their path to winning three straight extra-inning games before pounding the Los Angeles Angels in the decisive third game of their AL Division Series.
But now what? What if the Royals go cold? What if this break, which could be extended even more because of an ominous forecast in Baltimore, bothers their bats?
What about their rhythm?
As recent history has shown, hitters can be very vulnerable when they get out of rhythm.
"It affects a bit with your timing, especially when trying to adjust to pitchers," Kansas City second baseman Omar Infante said. "It's hard to recover that groove you have."
Of course, the Giants had one fewer day than the Royals to rest after dispatching of the St. Louis Cardinals in just five games. And as Ned Yost himself pointed out:
"I don’t think the layoff had anything to do with the ballgame tonight," Yost said after the game. "I think what had a lot to do with the ballgame tonight was Madison Bumgarner."
Momentum in baseball probably isn't really a thing. You're hot until you're not. Good pitchers cool down hot teams, not five-day layoffs. As Sam Mellinger smartly puts it:
The good part is that, despite what this month has shown, what happens in one baseball game usually has very little to do with the next. The bad part is the Royals have to make sure of that now.
The Royals had a bad first game, but its mostly because they didn't pitch well and didn't hit well, simple as that. The great thing is, they get a clean slate tonight, with a new pitcher on the mound for them, and a new pitcher for the opposition. The great thing about narratives, is they can change overnight. The Royals will get their chance to do so in just a few hours.