KANSAS CITY -- The basic tenet of the Giants' recent title bids, if you want to boil them down to their essence, is that they've simply sidestepped the kind of Fall Classic clunker James Shields turned in for the Royals on Tuesday night in Game 1 of this World Series.
Shields didn't make it out of the fourth inning. He gave up five runs on seven hits with a walk, and once again his "Big Game" nickname was scrutinized, criticized and infused with irony.
This was exactly the sort of start the Royals could ill-afford, and it was exactly the sort of start the Giants have managed to avoid. In San Francisco's three World Series appearances since 2010, covering 10 games to date, it has had just one starter fail to make it into the sixth inning. That would be Jonathan Sanchez in a forgettable Game 3 of the 2010 Series against the Rangers, and Sanchez doubles as the only Giants starter from 2010, '12 or '14 to be saddled with a loss on this particular stage so far.
All told, in the wake of Madison Bumgarner's brilliance here at Kauffman Stadium, Giants starters are now 8-1 with a 1.90 ERA over the three World Series, averaging 6 2/3 innings per outing. Quite a standard for Jake Peavy to live up to in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
"Good thing I ate my vegetables," Peavy quipped.
Vegetable-enabled vitamins help, but so does basic execution. This is where the Giants shine. Dave Righetti's scouting reports, Buster Posey's game calling. In a World Series billed in so many corners as a potential battle of bullpens, don't underestimate what a separator these elements can be, right from the start.
"These guys have done a really nice job," Posey said, "of having a plan going in and carrying out that plan."
Game 1 was a reminder that -- as much as we admire the depth and dependability of both of these bullpens -- sometimes the simplest old adages apply. The game really does start with starting pitching, and when you've got a starting pitcher executing the way Bumgarner -- the undisputed ace of this October -- is right now, that's a huge separator in a short series. Bumgarner vs. Shields was as much of a mismatch as recent trends would lead you to believe it could be. They both only reinforced their recent reputations.
Bumgarner pitched deep into the night, allowing just a run on three hits over seven innings, extending his postseason road scoreless innings streak to 32 2/3 and his World Series scoreless innings streak to 21 before both came crashing down via a meaningless Salvador Perez solo shot.
This was a matchup that set up nicely for Bumgarner, as if he needed the assistance. The Royals lean heavily on their lefties -- Nori Aoki, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas -- and Bumgarner limited lefties to a .539 OPS this season. Even beyond that satisfying split, though, Bumgarner did a good job of getting a contact-oriented lineup to chase. He struck out five Royals the second time through the order -- a rate previously unheard of for a Royals team that was going 5.44 plate appearances between strikeouts coming in.
"When he throws 94 and busts you in, then throws that cutter that runs all the way across the dish, it's a huge challenge," Moustakas said. "You have to pick your spots and hope he makes a mistake. That's when you get him. But he didn't make many mistakes today. And the balls we did hit, they made good defensive plays on."
Shields, in contrast, was extracted early, inspiring worthwhile questions about whether he can be trusted with a Game 5 assignment (should it exist). Not that Danny Duffy was dominant in relief. He walked home a runner Shields left behind, and he would be charged with two more of his own two innings later. But Duffy's stuff was sharper, his velocity intact, and -- workload concerns be damned -- a starting assignment at a moment of this magnitude might be a better use of his time and talents than a long-relief role.
Well, anyway, don't hold your breath on that one. The pertinent point that remains, though, is that the Royals won eight straight games to open this postseason largely with a five-and-fly mindset from their starting staff (the three wins over the Angels in the ALDS remain the only three games in which a Royals starter has completed the sixth). That's a tactic that can work when you have a three-closer bullpen, but only if you're handing that 'pen a lead. Shields, obviously, didn't do that.
"Normally when he's really, really good, he's spotting his fastball well and his changeup is dynamite," Ned Yost said. "He was really struggling to command his changeup tonight."
The worry for the Royals is what we saw from Game 2 starter Yordano Ventura a week and a half ago in Baltimore. Diminished velocity, shoulder tightness and four runs allowed in 5 2/3 innings. They need the kid to be stronger and sharper than that, because Shields' struggles robbed them of their best long-relief option in Duffy.
Yes, this World Series could ultimately still come down to the bullpens, as many of us anticipated. Bumgarner is bound to come back to earth at some point, and perhaps the Royals will have better luck against resident old men Peavy and Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong.
But for one night, at least, the Giants kept the storyline simple. We can get swept up in the brilliance of these bullpens all we want, but the starters, obviously, still matter. And starting pitching has been the backbone of San Francisco's superb showing on the World Series stage.