BumgarnerAP Photo/Jamie SquireMadison Bumgarner had a masterful performance in Game 1 of the World Series.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Royals have become America's team during the postseason, the team that casual fans are rooting for because of their energetic style and because, quite simply, they haven't been on this stage for a very long time.

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.
Madison BumgarnerAP Photo/Jack DempseyMadison Bumgarner has an elongated delivery, which the Royals might try to take advantage of.
KANSAS CITY -- When San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner delivers the ball to home plate with a runner at first base tonight, the numbers that appear on the stopwatch of Kansas City Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz will indicate to him that the Royals should try to steal.

Bumgarner is 6-foot-5 and has the wing span of a condor, and if you think of his body like a catapult, the time required to remove the ball from his glove, draw his arm all the way back and then sling it toward home plate is relatively slow, no less than 1.3 or 1.4 seconds.

Kuntz has said during the course of the postseason that everything the Royals try to do is dictated by those numbers on the stopwatch: If the pitcher's delivery time is 1.2 seconds or more, Kansas City will run. But 1.3 seconds? In the Royals' world, that's like a green light.

But over time, Bumgarner has developed a speed trap.

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10 key matchups in the World Series 

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
Bruce Bochy and Ned YostGetty Images, US TODAY SportsBruce Bochy and Ned Yost will match managerial wits in the 2014 World Series, which begins Tuesday.
Time to look at the crucial matchups to watch in the World Series:

1. The San Francisco Giants vs. the Kansas City Royals' track team

The Baltimore Orioles demonstrated that it's very possible to slow the Royals' baserunners with pitchers who deliver the ball quickly and with an unorthodox approach to holding runners on. Kansas City had just one steal in the American League Championship Series.

Some of Kansas City's baserunners never seemed completely comfortable in reading the intent of first baseman Steve Pearce, who would be five feet off the base and then retreat, sometimes for a pickoff, sometimes not. The Giants could have Brandon Belt do the same thing.

The Giants' starting pitchers, like the Orioles' starters, are generally effective in controlling a running game.

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OriolesJoy R. Absalon/USA TODAY SportsThe Baltimore had a sudden end to their season, getting swept by Kansas City in the ALCS.
The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants are moving on, while the Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals are left to wonder about what might have been. What if Manny Machado hadn’t gotten hurt, or Yadier Molina? What if Randy Choate’s throw to first base had been true in Game 4, or if the O’s had done something more with their sixth-inning rally in Game 1?

Each of these teams has its own set of questions going into an offseason that started sooner than it expected. Here are the three biggest ones for each team.

For Baltimore:

1. What will Manny Machado be going forward?

He’s had two significant knee injuries in two years. The Orioles have to begin to wonder whether this is going to be a chronic situation and whether Machado is a player who can be a franchise cornerstone. In fact, there’s a chance that

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A hero one step beyond 'unlikely' 

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
Travis IshikawaThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesTravis Ishikawa would normally be out of a tight game in the later innings.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jake Peavy’s eyesight is awful, and the truth is he sprinted out of the Giants’ dugout Thursday night not entirely sure of what he had just seen. Peavy didn’t know whether Travis Ishikawa’s long drive to right field had cleared the tin on top of the wall, or if it had ricocheted off the brick. He only knew that Ishikawa had mashed a ball beyond the reach of the Cardinals’ outfielders, far enough to score the game-winning run and win the pennant.

“I’m so proud of you!” Peavy screamed at Ishikawa, as he moved to embrace him.

“Get out of the way!” Ishikawa shouted while trying to dodge Peavy, unsure of whether he needed to avoid being touched by teammates in order to make this journey around the bases count.

Or at least that’s what Ishikawa and Peavy think he shouted; nobody could remember with complete clarity even a few minutes after, because of how overwhelmed they were by the moment.

Tim Hudson couldn’t recall exactly what Giants manager Bruce Bochy said to him when they hugged on the field, but whatever it was, Hudson was weeping with the realization that after 16 years in the major leagues, and after having his ankle dislocated in 2013, he will play in the World Series. Hudson started tearing up again as he started talking about the words between him and his manager. “I’m a marshmallow,” he said.

Buster Posey, the catcher admired by teammates because of how understated he is no matter how tense the situation, pumped his fists happily on the field, once, between hugs with teammates. Third-base coach Tim Flannery was crying. Mike Morse waved happily to someone he knew in the stands. The stoic Madison Bumgarner couldn’t stop smiling; neither could Brandon Crawford. Jeremy Affeldt shouted, randomly.

Among them, Ishikawa struggled to catch his breath.

On the last Wednesday of the regular season, the day of Game No. 158, there was no thought that he would play a meaningful role in the postseason, let alone play left field. He has been a first baseman for almost his entire career, and 23 days ago, he had exactly zero career starts in left field in the major leagues.

But the Giants were desperately seeking a solution in left field, having learned the last week of the regular season that Angel Pagan would miss the rest of the season and the playoffs. Gregor Blanco was needed in center field and Juan Perez had performed poorly in September, and in conversation with Bochy, Giants general manager Brian Sabean suggested that he try Ishikawa, who had a handful of outfield starts in the minor leagues. Bochy, with nothing to lose, went along with it and found a left fielder in the last hours of the regular season -- a decision that had gone well right up until the third inning of Game 5 Thursday night, when Ishikawa misread a line drive by Jon Jay.

The potential for another crushing defensive mistake like that loomed in Bochy’s mind into the middle innings. He had usually pulled Ishikawa out of games in the sixth or seventh inning, and as he and bench coach Ron Wotus shared thoughts in the eighth inning, Bochy decided that he was going to give Ishikawa one more at-bat and then replace him with Perez.

One more chance for Ishikawa. One more swing. And when he hit the ball

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Andrew FriedmanKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLongtime Rays GM Andrew Friedman was hired Tuesday to run the Dodgers' front office.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Andrew Friedman takes over as president of baseball operations for a Los Angeles Dodgers franchise that has a payroll three times larger than what he's worked with in the past, with an all-time great pitcher in Clayton Kershaw and a ton of talent in both the major leagues and the minors.

Here is Friedman's partial to-do list:

1. Work out a deal with his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, and hire manager Joe Maddon

Dodgers officials made it clear Tuesday that Don Mattingly is their manager, with two years remaining on his contract. Maddon, who has one year left on his contract, is saying all the right things about not wanting to leave Tampa Bay. But what needs to happen next is for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to sit down with Maddon -- like, today -- and ask him: Will you commit to the Rays with a long-term extension?

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Five ways a Molina absence hurts Cards 

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
Molinamie Squire/Getty ImagesA strained oblique has put All-Star catcher Yadier Molina's status for the rest of this series in doubt.
Yadier Molina still hasn't ruled out the possibility that he could play in Game 3, writes Derrick Goold, but there is some mystery about what Molina's role could be, writes Jayson Stark.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny isn't saying exactly how -- or when -- he might use Molina, but he sounded more inclined to consider him as a defensive replacement than as a starter. Molina didn't swing a bat Monday to test his oblique strain, but Matheny said that wasn't a priority.

Let's say Molina is out of the starting lineup Tuesday, and that his greatest contribution is the counsel he offers to the catcher who replaces him and to the pitchers. What is the practical impact of his absence?

1. Some baserunning possibilities open up for San Francisco.

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Wainwright decision looms for Matheny 

October, 12, 2014
Oct 12
Adam WainwrightDilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesAdam Wainwright allowed two earned runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings Saturday night.
ST. LOUIS -- The topic was about managing in October with urgency, and San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy stood at the back rail of the batting cage before Game 1 on Saturday night and recalled, with great detail, a bullpen decision he regrets from the 1998 World Series.

But Bochy paused and said, “The toughest decisions are what to do with your horses.”

By horses, he meant pitching staff ace -- the guy who leads your staff all summer, who takes the ball every fifth day through the cold and the heat and the aches of a long year, and earns longer reins of trust. If a rookie starter struggles in the postseason, the manager’s evaluation is performance-based only, because there are no emotional strings attached.

But the staff horse is different, which is why the decisions can be wrenching, as Bochy knows, as Grady Little knows from his choice to stick with Pedro Martinez in the 2003 playoffs, and as St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny knows too well today.

The St. Louis Game 1 starter had previously worked in two games since Sept. 22, two appearances in 20 days partly because of the discomfort he was feeling in his pitching elbow, and in those two games he allowed 17 hits, four walks and nine runs in nine innings. He was taken out after 4 2/3 innings Saturday, at the end of an erratic performance in which he got little help from his defense, or his own command. If Matheny made all choices blindly, without regard to history, then he might weigh an alternative starter in Game 5 of this short series.

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Max ScherzerMike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsMax Scherzer will be hitting free agency this fall.
ST. LOUIS – A growing trend, over the last decade, has been for teams to lock down their best young talent into long-term deals, whether it be the Giants signing Madison Bumgarner to a contract through 2017 with club options for 2018 and 2019, or the Rays signing Matt Moore and Chris Archer to what are perceived to be team-friendly deals.

These sorts of contracts have meant that fewer high-end players have gone into free agency, and some agents say there has been a nudge from the players' association to get more players into the open market; to not settle for deals that are perceived to have significant value to teams.

An elite free agent, like CC Sabathia in the fall of 2008, has maximum leverage and can drive the salary ceiling higher. Sabathia got $161 million over seven years -- a record-setting deal that set the tables for some of the deals that followed, like that of Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw, who all agreed to deals before reaching free agency.

Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are heading into free agency this fall, along with James Shields, and they will all be paid well. But like changing weather conditions, the market setting for these free agents may not be as strong as it was for Sabathia.

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Can Andrew Friedman thrive in L.A.? 

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
Andrew FriedmanKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAndrew Friedman is the independent film producer who must decide if his artistic qualities can survive at a big-budget studio.
Editor's note: Buster originally wrote this Friday, Oct. 10. It has been updated to reflect the Dodgers' hiring of Friedman on Tuesday.

L.A. has seen Andrew Friedman's story before. In the movies.

Friedman, the longtime general manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, is the equivalent of the indie film producer who has done masterpieces, the talk of Sundance, of Cannes, work that hardened reviewers love.

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Mattingly/CollettiStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesNed Colletti and Don Mattingly are under fire following the team's NLDS loss, but should they be?
As Bill Shaikin notes, the Dodgers now must decide what to do with general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly. If the Dodgers' leadership is honest with itself, it will recognize the circumstances are a whole lot more complicated than whether Mattingly should've used Scott Elbert in Game 3, or if Colletti built an adequate bullpen.

The Dodgers were sold 2½ years ago and their club operation has been in hyper-drive since then, as the organization worked to do everything at once: rebuild the roster and the farm system, rebuild the organization's star power, restore the faith of a dormant fan base, rebuild interest and win.

For the most part, they've been successful in doing all of that. The franchise has been rebuilt as a power, they've filled Dodger Stadium, their farm system has improved dramatically and they've made the playoffs the past two seasons.

There are problems, unquestionably, and inefficiencies and waste along the way.

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10 crucial matchups in the ALCS, NLCS 

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
Jarrod Dyson and Caleb JosephGetty Images/USA Today SportsJarrod Dyson and his aggressive Royals are set to take on strong-armed catcher Caleb Joseph.
ST. LOUIS -- Ten key matchups in the AL and NL Championship Series that begin Friday and Saturday, respectively:

1. The Orioles vs. the Kansas City running game: This is like a steel-cage match within the main event. The Royals have run aggressively in the postseason, with 12 stolen bases in 13 attempts, including seven in their wild-card game against Oakland. Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson are setting new standards for brazenness.

But the Orioles are excellent at controlling the running game, and with the layoff before the start of the ALCS on Friday, you can bet O's manager Buck Showalter and his staff are preparing for the Royals' roadrunners. They already have some great countermeasures in place, such as:

Chris Tillman: Nobody steals against him because he delivers his pitches to the plate so quickly. Opponents have tried to steal 13 times on him over the past two years and have been successful twice. To repeat, that's two steals in 13 attempts.

Caleb Joseph: The catcher has a great arm, and during the season he threw out 23 of 57 baserunners.

Wei-Yin Chen: He has allowed just nine steals (in 13 tries) over the past two years.

The Royals' best chances may come against the Baltimore bullpen, using Gore and Dyson. Teams try to run on Darren O'Day because of his unconventional delivery (10 steals in 15 attempts over the past two seasons), and there have been only six attempts over the past two years against Andrew Miller (with four steals).

No team stole more bases than the Royals did during the regular season, while only seven teams allowed fewer steals than Baltimore.

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Victor Martinez and Russell MartinGetty ImagesFree agents-to-be Victor Martinez and Russell Martin should be in demand this offseason.
Lockers are being cleaned out these days, first in Oakland, then Pittsburgh, Detroit and Anaheim. Goodbyes are being said, perhaps temporarily or maybe for longer than that.

Victor Martinez's season is over, and maybe his time with the Tigers is finished as well. Russell Martin got a standing ovation in the last inning of the wild-card game last week as the Pirates' season waned to a close, and the fans chanted his name, but nobody knows if he'll be back.

Both will be highly coveted this winter, and with multiple suitors, and while the Tigers and Pirates are expected to pursue their respective veterans, the bidding could be extraordinary.

Martinez is coming off a season in which he was arguably the best pure hitter in the majors, batting .335 with 32 homers, 103 RBIs, 70 walks and 42 strikeouts. Nobody had a greater ratio of walks to strikeouts, and it wasn't even close. Martinez will turn 36 in December and will be viewed as a DH-only player by some teams, at a time when the industry generally is veering away from full-time DHs.

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Jordan ZimmermannPatrick Smith/Getty ImagesJordan Zimmermann was dominating the Giants, but was pulled with two outs in the ninth.
LOS ANGELES -- If there’s a common denominator in the first extraordinary week of the playoffs, it is this: There is no perfect time for a manager to pull his starting pitcher.

On one day, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was criticized for leaving Clayton Kershaw in the game too long, and the next day, he was questioned about perhaps pulling Zack Greinke too soon.

Ned Yost called for relief for James Shields after 88 pitches and would’ve never been forgiven by the Kansas City fan base if the Royals hadn’t come back to win their wild-card game against Oakland. On Saturday, Matt Williams may have unwittingly contributed to the list of longest games in history by removing Jordan Zimmermann after just 100 pitches and a stretch in which he retired 20 of 21 batters.

Generally, there are a few things are at play here

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Kershaw with no answers for loss 

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
Clayton KershawRichard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsClayton Kershaw may not get a chance for redemption.
LOS ANGELES -- A brood of reporters and cameramen waited near the locker of Clayton Kershaw, gathered for the expected confessional. With his hair still damp from the shower, Kershaw -- taller than most in the crowd before him -- glanced around the room, in the modestly sized Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse, and decided to move, probably so he wouldn’t inconvenience his teammates any more on this day.

Kershaw walked into the hallway outside the clubhouse and the media horde followed, and after Kershaw backed against a wall and the cameras and iPhones settled in a semicircle around him, he went about the business of dispensing blame.

On himself. Entirely.

It makes no sense that the best pitcher on the planet blew a five-run lead.

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