The factor that could decide the World Series

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The factor that could decide the World Series

From Comcast SportsNet
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Mike Adams has already fielded plenty of phone calls this week, usually friends or family members wishing the Rangers reliever luck against the Cardinals in the World Series. The boldest of them even try to score tickets to Game 1. Adams admits that he doesn't have much experience handling all the fanfare -- this is his first playoff trip in seven big league seasons. But he certainly knows how to answer the phone. The one in the bullpen has been ringing nonstop. Yes, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are the homer-hitting stars. C.J. Wilson and Chris Carpenter are the staff aces in the spotlight Wednesday night. But it's the guys in the bullpens, the ones who have been called on so often to bail out Texas and St. Louis in their march through the playoffs, who could ultimately decide who wins this World Series. "How many championships do you find where the bullpen is going to be critical to the outcome?" Adams asked, genuinely seeking an answer. "Not many." No kidding. Texas starters are lugging around a 5.62 ERA in the playoffs. Wilson has been hammered in each of his three starts. Yet those guys out in the bullpen have jogged in every time manager Ron Washington has dialed their number and promptly pitched out of trouble. In knocking off the Detroit Tigers to win the AL pennant, Texas became the second team since best-of-seven series were introduced to have relievers earn all four wins. The Cardinals joined the club the very next day when they beat the Milwaukee Brewers to punch their World Series ticket. Tony La Russa called on his bullpen 28 times in the NL championship series, and St. Louis became the first team to win a postseason series without a starter reaching the sixth inning. "That's the thing about Tony, he's not afraid of pitching anybody in any situation," said left-hander Marc Rzepczynski. "When that phone rings, we're all ready." It's no surprise relief pitching has been such a focus this postseason. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels learned the importance of it last year, when he watched his relief corps collapse in the World Series. They were pounded for three runs in the eighth inning of Game 1 against San Francisco, allowed seven runs in the eighth inning in Game 2, and gave up two more runs in the last three innings of Game 4. The Giants bullpen, by comparison, allowed three runs total over five games. So, Daniels traded for Adams and fellow right-hander Koji Uehara just before the July 31 deadline, and added left-hander Michael Gonzalez from Baltimore at the end of August. Uehara has struggled in the postseason, but Adams has been excellent, and all Gonzalez did in the AL championship series against Detroit was allow one run over 7 2-3 innings. He wound up earning two wins, becoming only the fifth reliever to accomplish that in an ALCS. "You know, it was obvious that we had some weakness in the bullpen as the season started and progressed until the trading deadline," Washington said, "and then it got us two pieces to help settle down the bullpen, and put people in position where they always knew where they would pitch when an opportunity presented itself in a ballgame. And from that point on, we began playing the type of game we knew we were capable of playing." If those late acquisitions were the turning point for the Rangers bullpen, the Cardinals' success can be traced to an Aug. 24 team meeting. St. Louis was floundering back then, well out of playoff contention, when it gathered behind closed doors and decided to start playing every game like it was a one-game playoff. That meant using the bullpen as much as necessary, whenever necessary, even at the risk of burning it out. Not even a baseball lifer such as La Russa could imagine how they would respond. The bullpen was responsible for just six losses from Aug. 1 on, five coming in extra innings. St. Louis put together the NL's best record over the final month of the season as it chased down Atlanta in a dramatic wild-card race, with only three losses credited to all its relief pitchers. The Cardinals' starters are averaging about five innings per postseason outing, roughly the same as their Texas counterparts, which means La Russa has been on the phone just as much as Washington. "That's the thing that I'll probably remember the most about this season," La Russa said. "It's the most interesting story on our team, except for the heart we showed coming back, as to how much of a weapon the bullpen has become." Especially considering where it came from. The Cardinals blew the second-most saves in the majors this year, but most of those came with a vastly different set of guys. Nobody seemed able to nail down the ninth inning early in the year, and it took a while for everyone to finally grow comfortable in their roles. That includes Jason Motte, who has grown nicely into the closer job. He has a 1.47 ERA since the All-Star break, and just four of the 32 runners he's inherited this season have scored. "It doesn't matter what inning it is, we go out there and do our job," Motte said. "The last month and a half of the season, we've had to win. And we went out there with the attitude, not to freak out, not to tense out. And it's worked."

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

SAN FRANCISCO -- At some point over the next four days, Madison Bumgarner will pick up a baseball, stand a few feet across from a member of the training staff, and simply play catch. It'll be a huge step in Bumgarner's rehab, and should it go well, a boost to the psyche of a struggling team.

In the meantime, another lefty is making sure the Giants don't suffer too much without their ace, as improbable as that first seemed.

Ty Blach took a shutout into the eighth Saturday night and in true Bumgarner fashion, he added a pair of hits and an RBI. The Giants beat the Braves 6-3. They've won Blach's past three starts, and even with a 10-run outing in Cincinnati mixed in, he has a 3.71 ERA since taking the spot left open by a dirt bike accident.

"Because of what happened he's in the rotation," manager Bruce Bochy said, "And he's taking full advantage."

Blach has shown that long term, he might be a big part of this rotation. It's been years since the Giants locked a young, cost-controlled starter in, and Blach has backed up his big cameo last year. It's possible -- likely even -- that at some point the Giants will need to trade a veteran, perhaps Johnny Cueto, for young bats. Blach provides needed insurance. 

Short term, he's providing a huge boost to a team that doesn't have much going right. Blach has thrown at least seven innings in his past four starts. He has allowed just eight earned runs in four starts since the one in Cincinnati, throwing 28 2/3 innings. 

"I feel good," Blach said. "I've always been a starter, so it's been a pretty easy transition to make. I feel comfortable."

The Giants are comfortable behind him, as evidenced by a half-dozen strong defensive plays Saturday. 

"He's been consistent and he works quickly," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "He's just a great guy to play behind."

Blach even joined in at the plate. He had an RBI single in his first at-bat -- his first big league hit off Not Clayton Kershaw -- and later roped another single. Blach even showed off his wheels, busting it from first to third on Denard Span's ball to the corner before Phil Nevin held him up. 

"I worked into some good counts and I was able to get fastballs," Blach said of his night at the plate. "It's definitely a big confidence booster when your spot comes up and you're able to drive in runs."

The night was straight out of Bumgarner's playbook, and it was needed. The Giants had dropped five of six, but Blach was backed by homers from Nick Hundley and Brandon Belt. It got a little hairy late, but the bullpen held on, clinching Blach's third win of the season. He looks poised for many more, and Bochy is happy to keep running him out there.

"I'm not surprised by what he's doing," the manager said.

 

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — This spot in the rotation is the one reserved for the stopper, the pitcher who takes a game by the throat when his team really needs it. 

Ty Blach took the mound Saturday for a team that had lost five of six, and just as Madison Bumgarner often has, Blach ended the skid. The young lefty was dominant into the eighth and the bats finally provided enough support. The Giants won 6-3, tying this weekend series with the Braves.

Here are five things to know from a night we were reminded that Emilio Bonifacio is in the big leagues … 

--- Blach pitched 7 2/3 innings. He has thrown at least seven innings in his last four starts, and five of seven starts overall. Jeff Samardzija (6) is the only Giants starter who has gone that deep more often. Blach is tied with Johnny Cueto for second-most seven-inning starts on staff, and Cueto has made three additional starts. 

--- Blach’s RBI single in the fourth was -- at the time -- the fourth hit of his career, and the first against a pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw. The ball had an exit velocity of 101 mph. Blach tried to score from first on Denard Span’s double, but Phil Nevin held him. Still, the way he was moving, it makes you wonder if Samardzija really is Bruce Bochy’s best pitcher-pinch-running option. In the seventh, Blach picked up a second single. 

--- Blach’s only bad start has been the one he made in Cincinnati, where the Giants played like a Double-A team. If you take that one out, Blach has a 2.21 ERA since taking over Bumgarner’s rotation spot. 

--- Even though he gave up just two earned in 7 2/3, Blach’s home ERA actually went up. It’s 1.75, which ranks seventh in the National League. The sellout crowd gave Blach a standing ovation when he was pulled in the eighth. 

--- Blach had a season-high five strikeouts. When he got Nick Markakis to end the first, Blach ended a streak of 37 left-handers faced without a strikeout. He later struck out another lefty, Matt Adams. The new Braves first baseman came up as the tying run in the eighth but Derek Law got him to ground out to first. 

--- Bonus sixth “thing to know” ... on Blach of course: His first name is Tyson, not Tyler. It’s Tyson Michael Blach.