Much has been made, and for good reason, of Ned Yost's bumbling (at least he's consistent) of Kelvim Herrera last night. Herrera was left in to bat, struck out as Jarrod Dyson was attempting a stolen base (why, exactly?), came out to retire one batter and was relieved, while Brandon Finnegan got loose in the bullpen but did not come in to face a couple LH batters.
Of course Yost's randomness was rewarded when the Royals held on to win, same as happened in the wild card game when Yost inexplicably turned to Yordano Ventura for a bullpen appearance on one day's rest, and rode that blunder to the World Series.
In contrast, you have a shrewd manager in Bruce Bochy yet smart managers still make regrettable decisions from time to time. I thought Bochy made a mistake last night that has been largely overlooked.
In the top of the 1st inning, the Royals put a runner at 3B with one out for Lorenzo Cain and Bochy opted to play the infield back. Generally a sound move so early in the game when you are aiming, first and foremost, to avoid a crooked number. With runners at 2B and 3B it's pretty much a no-brainer because a base hit can score two runs. With nobody out it's also pretty standard fare with that run likely to score and the potential for a big inning very much there.
If there's a time to bring the infield in, even early in a game, it's with a runner at 3B and one out. In this particular spot, in Bochy's position I would have taken a page out of Tony La Russa's book. Play the infield back, but when Tim Hudson got to a 2-strike count on Cain bring the infield in.
With 2 strikes a batter has to shorten up his swing a bit or risk striking out. What you want to avoid is to bail out the hitter by allowing him to take a "just make contact" swing, play pepper with one of the infielders, and bring home a run. With a ground ball pitcher on the mound and Cain in a 2-strike hole, I think the Giants did not have to concede a run on a ground ball. La Russa was the first manager I observed bringing the infield in only once the count got to 2 strikes, and I think it's often a sound strategy -- especially in a situation exactly like the Giants faced in the top of the 1st inning.
In a game that was ultimately decided by one run, that 1st inning run was huge. It was also the top of the 1st inning in a game opposed by Jeremy Guthrie, author of very few 1-0 final scores. So many factors to consider: The offensive prowess of each team, the opposing starter and opposing team's bullpen, the situation, the time in the game, your pitcher's strikeout and ground ball tendencies.
And the count.
Your thoughts on when to play the infield in and when to play it back? How about last night? Does Bob Melvin choose the right course most of the time?