Royals and Giants, no longer on top of the world, have come back to the pack

April 18, 2017

MLB, San Francisco Giants

AP354303040537

By Morris Phillips

A bunch has transpired since Madison Bumgarner became a household name, single handedly lifting the Giants over the Royals with his singular, five innings of relief in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.

A bunch.

Since then, the Giants became World Series champs, the Royals also became champions, shaking off the disappointment of 2014 and capturing the title the following fall.  Players on both teams have moved on, or faltered, or retired.  And one especially bright young star, Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura died in a tragic car accident.

As a result, neither team is on top of the world at present, just a pair of struggling clubs mindful of making strides within their respective divisions before aspiring to another lengthy, playoff run.

Here’s what’s happened to the Royals and Giants over the last two-and-a-half years leading into the brief, interleague series between the two starting on Tuesday:

Nothing personifies the change within both organizations more than the two pitching staffs, beginning with the Game 7 starting pitchers, Jeremy Guthrie and Tim Hudson.  Hudson had a star-crossed evening on October 29, 2014.  Tabbed by Bruce Bochy to start the deciding game, Hudson lasted less than two innings.  Still, the 38-year old became a champion for the first time in his career.

Hudson would return to the Giants in 2015, his last season.  He would retire with 222 big league victories.

Guthrie pitched three innings that night, giving way to the heralded Royals’ bullpen, who shut the Giants down the rest of the way. The former Stanford pitcher would return to the Royals in 2015, only to be demoted from the starting rotation in August because of poor performances.  Guthrie has since been signed and released by the Rangers, Padres and Marlins.  Just two weeks ago, the Nationals tabbed Guthrie to start against the Phillies, but he allowed 10 runs in the first inning and was released again.

Jeremy Affeldt pitched two innings that night in a marvelous turn following Hudson, and leading to Bumgarner. That outing was the final assignment of his career as Affeldt announced his retirement in the days following the Series.

In fact, the Giants have moved on from all four relievers that were with the club for all three World Series titles. Affeldt retired after 2014, and Javier Lopez retired after the 2016 season. Sergio Romo signed with the Dodgers, and Santiago Casilla with the A’s after the Giants’ bullpen performed so poorly in 2016.

The only Giants’ bullpen holdovers from that World Series? 32-year old George Kontos, and Hunter Strickland, 28.  Of course, Strickland is well known for his high-90’s fastballs that fooled no one in the 2014 postseason in which he allowed six home runs just weeks after his major league debut. Since, he’s become a front-end bullpen guy, currently pitching in setup roles ahead of closer Mark Melancon.

The fate of the Royals’ bullpen since 2014 is even more stark than the Giants. The Kansas City trio of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland was dynamic in their 2014 postseason run, shutting down opponents sometimes starting as early as the fifth inning.  In 2017, the often meteoric rise and fall of fireballing relievers is personified in the trio.

Davis, Herrera and Holland returned to their familiar roles in 2015, leading the Royals to the AL Central crown and the playoffs. Late in that season, Holland, the closer, was shelved in order to undergo Tommy John surgery that would cost him the entire 2016 season. Davis assumed the closer’s role and was fantastic, saving all four postseason chances while not allowing a run.

But in 2016, Davis experienced arm issues, was put on the disabled list, and was traded to the Cubs in December. Holland became a free agent shrouded in the unknown after a year of inactivity.  Holland drew interest from the Giants before signing with the Rockies. Holland earned his first save since saving 32 in 2015 on April 3, in the Rockies’ home opener.

Only the 27-year old Herrera remains with the Royals, now their closer in a bullpen that’s far less formidable than in 2015.

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