Just before the League Championship Series, I picked the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants to come through and face off in the World Series. Please take this time to look back and verify that fact while I go get some ice from the freezer. I’m a little bit sore from patting myself on the back.
But here we are with the Fall Classic getting under way Tuesday and it’s the upstart Royals who will look to take down a Giants team that, though it may not have come across as a dominant squad, is creeping into that “dynasty” discussion. This marks the third time in five years that San Francisco has reached the World Series. They’ve won it the previous two, first besting the Rangers (4-1) in 2010 and then dominating the Tigers (4-0) in 2012.
No team could be further from that prosperity than the Royals. Kansas City’s resume of recent playoff success would be just a blank sheet of paper with their email address at the top and some bogus character traits like “personable worker” or “go-getter attitude” scribbled in pencil. The Royals haven’t made the playoffs since 1985 when they beat the Cardinals in a memorable seven-game World Series. This year was only the ninth since that championship run that the Royals even finished the regular season with a winning record. It’s been a long time coming, but the change has finally come.
So we’re now left with what seems like an unlikely duo battling for 2014 supremacy. A series like this is why I always shake my head when people talk about the college football ranking or playoff system as “unfair.” Here we are after 162 regular-season baseball games and neither team with a chance at the World Series title won even 90. Per the sports information company STATS, this is the first time that the World Series will feature two teams that both finished with sub-.550 win percentages. The Royals had the seventh-best record in baseball and the Giants tied with three other teams for eighth-most wins. Is it really “fair” that after that body of work, these are the two remaining?
That’s a discussion for another day. What lies ahead should be an extremely entertaining series. I truly believe the team with better bullpen production is going to end up as champion. So far, Kansas City’s pen has been lights out. Not counting starter Yordano Ventura’s emergency one-third of an inning appearance against the A’s in the wild-card game, Royals relievers have given up just five earned runs in 34.2 innings (1.30 ERA). As a whole, the entire pitching staff has a 1.11 WHIP, which is pretty ridiculous. Nobody is getting on base against Kansas City these days, which helps explain it now being 8-0 in the postseason.
But the Giants are not impressed. San Francisco has a WHIP of just 0.95 in the playoffs and has a bullpen ERA of just 1.78, itself. It wouldn’t even be that high without some Bryce Harper domination of Hunter Strickland.
The teams’ styles are similar in that they don’t rely on the long ball, but they are adept at timely hitting. They both present unlikely heroes. Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hit just two home runs over his final 177 at-bats of the season but has crushed four big ones when it counts. Giants outfielder Travis Ishikawa was outright released by the Pirates earlier this season and hit just three homers all year, but he blasted San Francisco to the pennant with his walk-off three-run shot on Thursday.
Kansas City has been all about speed, defense and a killer bullpen. It’s obviously worked for them. San Francisco has been about dominant pitching and clutch hits from its stars, namely Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. The Giants clearly have the experience and they have the best starting pitcher in Madison Bumgarner. That’s usually a recipe for success, and San Francisco is and should be considered the favorite.
But something is happening in Kansas City that makes other recipes seem bland and distasteful. They’re going to run, they’re going to catch the ball and they’re going to pitch. And, like three decades ago, I think they’re going to do it slightly better.
The pick: Royals 4, Giants 2
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.