It’s worth repeating, probably for the 57th time, that before the playoff field was actually set — when the Royals hosted the A’s in the Wild Card elimination game — Kansas City was an 18/1 longshot to come away as World Series champions. 18/1. Since that night, in one of the great baseball games you will ever see, the Royals haven’t lost a game. They are 8-0 in the 2014 playoffs.
The Giants, meanwhile, faced the same odds the Royals did, at least ostensibly, as they too had to win their own Wild Card game against the Pirates, then navigate relatively easy series wins over the Nationals and Cardinals. As I mentioned in my original Royals blog back in the day (which was only a few weeks ago), if all things were equal and every game/series gave that respective team a 50% chance of coming out on top, both Kansas City and San Francisco had only 1-in-8 chance of reaching the World Series. For two Wild Card teams to do so? Now we’re getting into factorials and I think it would be something like 1-in-64.
That’s crazy, son.
What might be even crazier, is that neither the Royals or Giants have been favored in any series they’ve played so far. (Okay, this is baseball, so that isn’t that crazy.) The Royals beat the team with the best run differential in MLB (Oakland) and the two-best records in the American League (Anaheim, Baltimore), while the Giants took out Pittsburgh (which is only a mild upset since it was a road game), Washington and St. Louis. It goes to show just how little the regular season means once the playoffs get underway, that it’s more small sample variance and a little luck here and a bad managerial decision there to usually decide the outcomes. This is why people like me say “the playoffs are a crapshoot,” because they are and perpetually prove to be, which is why all you can hope for from your favorite team is that they make it into the dance. After that, anything can happen. Once again, anything has happened.
In the World Series, these same themes will come up, and since I’m picking the Giants to win it all, you should be looking forward to another Royals sweep.
World Series: San Francisco over Kanas City in 6
The best pitcher in this series is Madison Bumgarner, and the second best pitcher is not James Shields. If anyone, it’s probably Jake Peavy. The Royals don’t care about your stupid pitchers, though; all they care about is keeping the game close through the first six innings before breaking your heart with a late-inning home run and letting their bullpen obliterate your life after that.
That’s the key to Kansas City in this series: If their starting pitcher can make it through five innings with at least a tie, or, hell, even within a run, they have a (good enough) shot of winning any game. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland are that good, and Ned Yost displayed a willingness to use each of the first two for multiple innings at a time during the ALCS — an encouraging sign if you’re a Royals fan.
Lineups-wise, there is no clear favorite in this matchup. Neither team has what one would consider a “great” offensive squad, but there also aren’t a lot of holes in either lineup. There’s a lot of average, some above-average, and nothing spectacular. Alex Gordon and Buster Posey provide as much potential as you’ll see in this series, unless of course Eric Hosmer continues on his Hall-of-Fame playoff output.
As far as the rotations go, the same concept applies. Neither is outstanding by any means, but neither is a huge detriment, either. Assuming Bumgarner and Shields match each other in Game One and Game Five, I have to lean towards the Giants, which is inevitably why I think they have the advantage in the series. As far as the other starters are concerned, Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson are cool, Jason Vargas and Yorvano Ventura are nice, and whomever the Royals decide to duke it out with Ryan Vogelsong is a veritable wash.
When it comes to the bullpens is where the Royals have the clear advantage. Unless James Shields is on the mound and pitching particularly well (which is far from a guarantee since he’s sucked in the postseason), Ned Yost is going to ride his bullpen aces for the remaining innings and hope for the best, which is easily his best strategy and not at all close to what most observers imagined Yost would do before the playoffs got underway.
Essentially, due to short series’ and all, the playoffs boil down to two starting pitchers and three relievers; for the Giants it’s Bumgarner and Peavy, Santiago Casilla, Yusmeiro Petit and Sergio Romo; for the Royals it’s Shields, Ventura, Holland, Davis and Herrera; simply by looking at those five respective pitchers, you have to feel pretty good about your chances if you’re a Royals fan, but only because the three bullpen mates are so damn awesome. Unfortunately, in a seven-game series they probably can only account for, at the absolute maximum, about 20 innings of work of a possible 63. Kansas City have to find a way to manage the other 5-6 innings of each ballgame, which isn’t going to be an easy task against a team with a better overall rotation, a slightly better lineup, and a significantly better manager.
As always, the small sample will supersede every word I’ve written up to this point, but those are things to keep in mind if all was fair and baseball’s ultimate champion was decided on paper rather than on the little television screens inside of our homes.
Here are the team advantages in each individual category for the final series of the 2014 season:
Starting pitching: Giants
As a final note, I will say I hope very strongly that the Royals somehow come away with this World Series, if for nothing else that I’m sick and tired of the Giants winning it all and if any team is to have a dynasty in Major League Baseball I don’t want it to be to 2010-’14 Giants; I want it to be the 2015-’17 Texas Rangers.
As a Rangers fan, this was a totally miserable baseball season, one that I will never forget and one that I don’t want to ever forget, because it’s going to make the next winning season that much more special. For the Royals, a franchise that hasn’t done anything significant for the last three decades, a World Title would be something special.
Over all, I hope it’s a fun series. I hope everyone enjoys it.