Three weeks ago, I certainly did not think I would be typing that headline into a post profiling the upcoming World Series, but sure enough, both teams have made incredible runs through the first two rounds of series play, after both teams won the Wild Card Game in their respective leagues, setting up the first all-wild card World Series since these Giants lost to the Angels in 2002, the second ever, and the first in the era of the Wild Card Game (since 2012).
When the Royals were six outs away from elimination, down by four runs against Jon Lester exactly three weeks ago, all this sure didn’t seem very likely. Since then, they’ve sounded like a DJ Khaled song, as all they’ve done is win. They’ve become the first team in baseball history to win the first eight games of a postseason, beating the previous record of 7-0 held by the 2007 Colorado Rockies (who swept their way to the World Series then got swept in it), and the 1976 Cincinnati Reds (who won the World Series in that 7-0 run in a different playoff format with no LDS and a best-of-5 LCS). Dating back to Royals wins in the last three games of the 1985 World Series, the franchise has won 11 straight playoff games, which is one short of the all-time record, shared by a couple of Yankees dynasties. And all of this has been done for a hungry city, as the Royals are making their first playoff appearance since 1985, and the other major sports team in the city, the Chiefs, have not won a playoff game since 1993.
The Royals unbeaten streak has overshadowed the impressive run of the Giants on their way to the World Series. They sit at 8-2 in the playoffs, after a blowout win in the NL Wild Card Game, a 3-1 NLDS win over Washington, and a 4-1 NLCS win over San Francisco, culminating with Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off homer to clinch the pennant. The Giants, much like the Royals, have been underdogs all postseason, but it’s an even year, so after World Series titles by Bruce Bochy’s team in 2010 and 2012, we shouldn’t be surprised. They become the first team since the Yankees in 1999-2003 to advance to at least three World Series in five seasons, and the first NL team to do it since the Braves in 1992-96.
Here is how the teams match up against each other in each facet of the game:
Rotation: One definite advantage the Giants have is the series best individual pitcher, as Madison Bumgarner has been exceptionally good in this postseason, and is currently working a 26.2 inning scoreless streak in road playoff games, an MLB record. He is joined in the Giants rotation by Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and Ryan Vogelsong, all of whom have pitched very well in the playoffs. Hudson is scheduled to pitch in Game 3, which will be his first World Series appearance after 457 regular season starts and 11 postseason starts in a 16 year career. The Royals counter the Giants rotation with “Big Game James” Shields, who will pitch Game 1 after missing Game 4 of the ALCS while passing a kidney stone. Following the Royals ace is rookie Yordano Ventura, and veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas, all of whom have certainly pitched up to their potential in the playoff run. On paper, the Giants rotation is a touch better, but both teams’ starters are pitching lights out right now, so it’s hard to give an edge either way. I certainly don’t expect either rotation to lose their team the series.
Bullpen: The Giants bullpen has traditionally been a strength in their playoff runs in the last few years. This year, while it’s not a weakness, there have been times the pen has shown its vulnerability, and they can’t match up with the Royals. The Giants are led by closer Santiago Casilla, who last gave up a run on September 11, but ex-closer Sergio Romo, Jean Machi, and particularly Hunter Strickland have shown they can be hit off of at times in these playoffs. Lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez will be a big factor against the Royals’ left-handed bats. On the other side, the Royals are unstoppable, particularly from the 7th inning on, with setup men Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland all having ERAs at 1.44 or lower in the regular season, and they have each allowed just one run in the playoffs (none of them were overwhelmingly costly).
Lineup: The Giants lineup is full of guys who have been there before, like former NL MVP Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, nnd Pablo Sandoval, in addition to postseason heroes Brandon Crawford and Travis Ishikawa. But throughout the postseason, the clutch hitting of the Royals lineup has been incredible to watch, led by Eric Hosmer, Mitch Moustakas, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon. Both lineups come in very hot, but I like the Royals to continue the trend.
Bench: The Giants bench is led by Michael Morse, who came off the bench in Game 5 on the NLCS to tie the game in the 8th, although Morse will play DH in the games under AL rules in Kansas City. Beyond that, the Giants don’t have a bench full of well-known or accomplished players, although they have, at times, been effective when called upon. For the Royals, Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore have continuously come off the bench for pinch-running and defense, and their speed has made a huge difference, resulting in big stolen bases and key defensive plays.
Defense: The Giants come in ranked 5th in the NL in fielding percentage, with a .984 clip, while the Royals rank 9th in the AL, at .983. The difference of .001 is certainly made up for the Royals with the eye test, as they have made outstanding play after outstanding play throughout the postseason. The Giants have also made some great plays throughout their run to the Fall Classic, and I certainly don’t see defense becoming a liability for either team in the series.
Manager: Royals manager Ned Yost will be one of the top candidates for the AL Manager of the Year award after leading his team to the postseason for the first time in a generation. The longtime Braves assistant and former Brewers manager has improved the Royals every year since becoming manager in 2010. However, the resume of Yost can’t compare with that of Bruce Bochy, who has led the Giants to World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, and has never lost a playoff series during his Giants tenure. Bochy finds a way to get the most out of his players in October, and will likely be a Hall of Fame manager when all is said and done.
Home field/crowd: The Royals crowd has been loud and overwhelmingly supportive throughout the entire postseason, as they are hungry for history. While the Giants crowd has also been great throughout the playoffs, as they have throughout their other postseason runs in recent years, and while they aren’t complacent by any means having success, I have to give the edge here to the Royals, who also have home field advantage due to the AL’s victory in the All-Star Game in Minneapolis. This criteria really may not matter, as both teams have been great on the road in the postseason (Royals 4-0 home, 4-0 away, Giants 4-1 home, 4-1 away).
The Royals have the advantage in four of the seven criteria, while the Giants have the advantage in one, and two are even. That being said, I think the Royals have enough momentum and have the strong enough roster to win it all. Game 1 tonight will be very important, as 22 of the last 26 World Series winners have won Game 1.
The Royals will win the series, 4 games to 2.
111th World Series
Game 1: Tuesday, October 27 at Kansas City
Game 2: Wednesday, October 28 at Kansas City
Game 3: Friday, October 30 at New York
Game 4: Saturday, October 31 at New York
Game 5 (if nec): Sunday, November 1 at New York
Game 6 (if nec): Tuesday, November 3 at Kansas City
Game 7 (if nec): Wednesday, November 4 at Kansas City