Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wild Card World Series

World Series: Kansas City Royals vs. San Francisco Giants
Series Start: Tuesday, October 21st
Homefield Advantage: Royals
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: Royals 3-0

The wild card playoff game was supposed to make it harder for a wild card team to make the World Series, but both World Series teams this year are wild card teams. Both the Royals and Giants had a tough road to the World Series, and beat quality teams to get there. Momentum is a big factor in the playoffs, and both teams have been on a roll.

Coming into the season, the Kansas City Royals had the longest playoff drought in the majors. They hadn't been back to the postseason since winning the 1985 World Series before this October. The Royals were hovering around .500 for most of the first half. There were calls for manager Ned Yost's firing, and many considered former highly rated prospects like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer as busts. In the second half, the Royals took off, going 41-27 after the All Star break.

The Royals ending their playoff drought was a feel good story, but little was expected from them in the postseason. They came back from a 7-3 deficit against Jon Lester and the Athletics to win the Wild Card Game. Kansas City then went on to face the Angels in the Division Series. The Angels had the majors best record in the regular season, but the Royals swept them. Then, the Royals swept the Orioles in the ALCS. This young group of players now find themselves four games away from a championship, and have revitalized a organization that had been down and out for years.

The Giants lost out to the Dodgers for the NL West crown, losing two out of three in a key late season series against L.A. San Francisco limped into the playoffs, with key injuries to Michael Morse, Angel Pagan, and Matt Cain. Morse has since come back, as any Cardinal fan would know. The Giants even slipped to the second wild card spot, meaning they had to go on the road for the do or die Wild Card Game.

San Francisco's opponent for the Wild Card Game was the Pirates. Pittsburgh had proven to be a hostile environment for the Reds during last year's Wild Card Game, but not for the Giants. Madison Bumgarner shut out the Bucs, and the Giants won the game 8-0. The Giants then faced off against the Nationals, who led the NL in wins this year. After dispatching the Nats, the Giants faced off against the Cardinals in the NLCS. It was a hard fought series, but key mistakes by the Cardinals were taken advantage of by the Giants, who won the NLCS in five games.

The World Series matches up a young, up and coming team against a team full of seasoned veterans. So far, the big stage hasn't affected the Royals. They have thrived in October, and Ned Yost's team has gone 8-0. Bruce Bochy's team has been a regular participant in October baseball, and this isn't their first rodeo. This is the third World Series appearance for the Giants since 2010. San Francisco won the title in 2010 and 2012, so even numbered years have been good for the Giants lately.

                       Game 1 Starters: Madison Bumgarner and James Shields

This matchup also pits two teams with outstanding bullpens. The Royals trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera has drawn comparisons to the 1990 Cincinnati Reds "Nasty Boys" trio of Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton. Rookie lefthander Brandon Finnegan has made KC's bullpen even deeper. Finnegan will be the first player ever to pitch in the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same year.

The Giants bullpen is also very good, and has plenty of postseason experience. The Giants closer in 2010 was Brian Wilson, and then Sergio Romo in 2012 after Wilson was injured. This year, Romo has been replaced as closer by Santiago Casilla. Casilla had been the set up man in 2012, when Bochy made the opposite switch. Between Casilla, Romo, lefties Jeremy Affeldt, and Javier Lopez, these four relievers have appeared in a combined 14 World Series (including this year). Yusmeiro Petit has been a big time weapon for Bochy out of the pen, especially when he pitched over six innings during a 18 inning win vs. the Nats in the Division Series. Jean Machi has had a really good year this year, and is another low cost acquistion by the Giants.

James Shields and Davis were acquired during the 2012-13 offseason, and is a major reason why the Royals are were they're at now. Shields hasn't quite lived up to his big game reputation this October, but has given Kansas City a veteran presence and a innings eater at the top of the rotation. Hard throwing rookie Yordano Ventura will likely start Game 2, with Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie likely starting Games 3 and 4. Danny Duffy had been one of the Royals best starters this season, but was limited due to injury late in the season. Duffy will continue to pitch out of the bullpen in the World Series.

The Giants will counter with Bumgarner as their Game 1 starter. Bumgarner has emerged as the Giants ace, and is a money pitcher in the postseason. Jake Peavy started his career with the Padres under Bochy, and was re-united with him after a late July trade. Peavy will start Game 2. Tim Hudson will be appearing in his first World Series of his 16 year career, and will start Game 3. Ryan Vogelsong is tabbed to start Game 4. Tim Lincecum was the Giants ace during their 2010 run, a bullpen ace during 2012, but has been invisible this postseason, not appearing in a single game so far. Lincecum pitched his second career no-hitter earlier this year. Bochy has hinted that their might be a role for Lincecum at some point during the World Series.

Offensively, neither one of these teams hit for much power. The Royals were last in the American League in home runs, hitting only 95 all year. Alex Gordon led the team with 19 homers, and only Moustakas and Salvador Perez hit over 10. Oddly enough, the Royals have won games in the postseason because of their power. The Giants are a team of sluggers compared to the Royals. They were seventh in the National League with 132 home runs this year. Buster Posey led the club with 22 bombs, and Hunter Pence had 20. Pablo Sandoval, Morse, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt all were in double digits.

Speed and defense has been the Royals blueprint to win games this year. A great bullpen helps, too. Kansas City led the American League with 153 steals this year. Jarrod Dyson led the team with 36 stolen bases, and four other players were in double digits. Perez is one of the best defensive catchers in all of baseball, and the Royals version of Yadier Molina. Hosmer won a Gold Glove at first base for his defense last year. Escobar is considered to be one of the better defensive shortstops in the game. Cain showed how big of an impact his glove can be in the ALCS this year. When Dyson replaces Nori Aoki, the Royals have the best defensive outfield in the game with Gordon, Dyson, and Cain. Gordon has won three Gold Gloves in a row.

Royals fans have been sold on Hosmer and Moustakas being the foundation of their rebuilding efforts the last few seasons. Both players have had their highs and lows since coming up in 2011. Moustakas was even sent down earlier this season, and only hit .215 this year. Hosmer has played much better, but hasn't hit for the power that was expected of him. Hosmer has had a huge postseason, batting .448 with 2 home runs at 8 RBI's. Moustakas has hit 4 home runs this postseason, which has led to the catch phrase of "the Moose is Loose." These guys may or may not live up to the hype, but Royals fans will remember their big time performances this postseason for years to come.

The Giants are experts at grinding out victories. They have scored 12 runs this postseason without getting a hit. The Giants are a team that will capitalize on errors by there opponents. The way they grind out victories in October is reminiscent of the Yankees from 1996-2001. They may not be quite as talented or deep, but they have the will to win, and find a way to get it done. With Derek Jeter retiring, Posey may find himself being one of the big icons in the game now.

Posey, Sandoval, and Pence have been the leaders for the Giants, but this team has had contributions from it's entire roster. Belt and Crawford played a big role in their 2012 championship, and are big parts in 2014. Gregor Blanco filled in for suspended All Star Melky Cabrera in 2012, and has now filled in for Pagan at center field this year. Travis Ishikawa was a back up first baseman for the 2010 championship team, and has bounced around since then. Ishikawa has returned for the stretch run this year, and found himself starting left field in Morse's absence. Ishikawa rewarded the Giants by hitting a series clinching home run in Game 5 of the NLCS. For the Giants it isn't just about the star players, it's guys like Blanco and Ishikawa who step up.

Ned Yost has used the same lineup in all 8 playoff games. It's a lineup that puts his best hitter (Gordon) batting sixth, and Perez seventh. Yost's lineup also puts light hitting speedsters like Escobar, Aoki, and Cain at the top of the lineup. This lineup may be unconventional, but it has worked very well this October. I wouldn't expect Yost to tinker with it, if it keeps working. The Giants are likely to stick with their lineup as well, although Morse will be more of a factor for the team. Morse may or may not be healthy enough to play left field, but will DH in games at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals have won all of their 8 postseason games this year. They have been on a roll. One has to wonder if the layoff will affect them in the World Series. The Giants wrapped up their series a day after KC did, so it might not be a factor. The Giants previous playoff experience most likely won't make the layoff an issue. That been said, postseason experience is sometimes overrated. It didn't affect the Royals against the Athletics, Angels, or Orioles. Their has been other teams lacking postseason experience and well know stars that have won it all, the 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, and 2005 White Sox are examples of that. There has also been examples of teams that the long layoff hurt them, like the 2006 Tigers or 2007 Rockies. The Giants are favored by some experts to win it, but Vegas has the Royals as slight favorites. It should be an exciting World Series, and I expect the Royals to take the crown.

Prediction: Royals in 6


Royals (89-73 regular season, 8-0 postseason)

Catcher: Salvador Perez, Eric Kratz
Infielders: Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon
Outfielders: Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki, Josh Willingham, Jarrod Dyson, Terrance Gore
Designated Hitter: Billy Butler
Starting Pitchers: James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie
Relief Pitchers: Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvim Herrera, Brandon Finnegan, Jason Frasor, Tim Collins, Danny Duffy

Giants (88-74 regular season, 8-2 postseason)

Catcher: Buster Posey, Andrew Susac
Infielders: Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Joaquin Arias, Matt Duffy
Outfielders: Travis Ishikawa, Gregor Blanco, Hunter Pence, Michael Morse, Juan Perez
Starting Pitchers: Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong
Relief Pitchers: Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Hunter Strickland, Jean Machi, Yusmeiro Petit, Tim Lincecum

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