Make no mistake about it, the World Series is still must-watch television. Granted, the superstar power of the Tigers, Angels, and Dodgers is absent, but the 2014 installment of the Fall Classic highlights some of the game’s lesser known stars. The San Francisco Giants, America’s least talked about sports dynasty, is looking to become champions for the third time in five years. The Kansas City Royals have not been to the World Series since 1985, which was also the last time most baseball fans could name more than five people off of their roster.
Let’s start with the American League representative. Kansas City, winners of eight straight playoff games, have done it with their bullpen. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland formed the nastiest 7th-8th-9th bullpen in the league, and that success has only continued in the playoffs. They are second best in ERA (1.70) and WHIP (1.00) and have only given up one home run in 35 innings of work. They’ve gotten contributions from true rookie Brandon Finnegan – the kid pitched in the College World Series this past June, and he’ll become the first rookie to pitch in both World Series in the same year when he makes his first apperance – who had a rocky ALCS but had a very nice ALDS against the Angels.
Add that to a starting rotation that is strong with James Shields leading the way, and the pitching is great. However, I do not think that it is strong as San Francisco’s. Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas are capable pitchers who have been able to get the job done thus far, but they will be facing better pitching this series than they have yet faced.
They also play stellar defense, particularly in the outfield where Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson, and Nori Aoki have become human highlight reels. It could be argued that without their timely diving catches, the Royals would have lost either of their playoff series. On the infield, they are less spectacular, but no less capable. Overall, the Royals have a convert a ball hit into play for an out 75 percent of the time.
Their offense, which has faced good but not great pitching in the first two rounds, is puzzling. All year, the Royals had been a team that gets on base, moves runners over, and gets them in by any means necessary. They hit 95 home runs in 162, which is to say that they hit one home run every other game. In the playoffs, however, they’ve slugged eight home runs in as many games. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Alex Gordon have proven that they are more than capable of getting clutch hits in October, and they are leading all playoff teams with 13 stolen base (partly a misnomer – seven of those steals were in the Wild Card game against Oakland). This team has found a way to score late in games, winning four extra inning affairs. It’s an underrated offense, but they can be deadly.
The Giants are led by their pitching, and it begins with Madison Bumgarner. He simply wins big games, and it would be no surprise if he took control of Game 1 of the World Series. Behind him sits Tim Hudson, who will be pitching in his first Fall Classic, Jake Peavy, and Ryan Vogelsong. Hudson is a gritty pitcher, who has bounced back from a poor regular season to deliver two quality starts in the playoffs. Peavy shined in the regular season after being traded from Boston, and but was chased from his NLCS start against the Cardinals after only four innings. Vogelsong is also inconsistent, but has had success in October.
Remember when I said that the Royals had the second best bullpen stats during the playoffs? Well, that’s because the Giants have dominated the end of games, too. Aside from Sergio Romo’s wildness, there have not been many issues. Yumieri Petit, Javier Lopez, and Jeremy Affeldt have shut down teams, but their weakness has been the longball. The Giants bullpen has been pristine except for seven home runs they’ve given up. It’s a good thing they’re going up a team that can’t hit home runs. Oh wait, no. The Royals can do that now.
Their offense should speak for itself. Buster Posey might be the next generation of Derek Jeter with the amount of timely hits he comes up with in October, and Pablo Sandoval who was swinging at pitches that were directed towards South America during the regular season, has suddenly started working the count and giving professional at-bats. That’s how the Giants have won games. They don’t outslug, outrun, or outsmart the opposition. They simply wear down pitchers to the point where they’ve run out of all other options to get the hitter out. Every single player is capable of putting in a professional at-bat, and I think that’s a huge difference in this series.
The Royals are beatable. The Giants are beatable. History says that the Giants, who have this magical October aura about them, are less beatable.
For the Royals to lose, you have to keep their speedsters off the bases, cut out their running game, and hope that one of their starting pitchers has a bad night. To beat the Giants, you have to hope that their offense, which has been dominant in October in 2010, 2012, and 2014, suddenly forgets how to hit. Then you also need for the pitching to go south. Then, if you are in a game against them, late in the game, you need to hope that Bruce Bochy forgets how to use his bullpen. None of those options are likely.
San Francisco Giants in 5.