Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen.
The San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals will square off in the 110th World Series beginning Tuesday. The matchup is one of the most improbable in history, as both teams won less than 90 games during the regular season and needed to win winner-take-all wild card games.
Perhaps fighting for their playoff lives from the onset benefited both the Giants and Royals. The clubs played meaningful games down the stretch while battling for playoff berths, and the one-game wild card showdowns served as catalysts for bigger and better things.
The Giants dispatched the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League wild card game before defeating the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS and NLCS, respectively. San Francisco has gone 8-2 in the postseason.
The Royals, meanwhile, have been on an historic run, becoming the first team in MLB history to win eight straight games to begin a postseason. Kansas City’s World Series appearance is the organization’s first since 1985.
Will the Giants — champions in 2010 and 2012 — win their third World Series in five seasons, earning themselves a “dynasty” label? Or will the Royals complete their miraculous run with a title, perhaps even becoming the first undefeated champion in modern history?
Kansas City Royals
— 89-73 (second in AL Central)
— Defeated Oakland Athletics in wild card game (9-8)
— Defeated Los Angeles Angels (3-0)
— Defeated Baltimore Orioles (4-0)
When cooking up predictions, there’s typically an emphasis placed on teams’ pitching and offense, mainly because they’re two easily quantifiable areas. The Royals, true to the hard-to-fathom success they’ve experienced this October, are built on baserunning and defense.
The Royals swiped an MLB-best 153 bases during the regular season. They haven’t slowed down in the playoffs, swiping 13 more bags, which is far and away the most of any team. Kansas City’s baserunning prowess is apparent, with the team willing and able to take the extra base under any circumstance.
The Royals’ 61.1 UZR and 74.8 defensive score on FanGraphs’ scale were the best in baseball by a wide margin. Their stellar glove work has continued in the postseason, with guys like Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas emerging as standout defensive stars.
Above all else, the Royals’ bullpen is lights out. The trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland can really shorten a game. Brandon Finnegan has been important, too.
The Royals have eight home runs in eight playoff games. It’s a pretty astounding figure when one considers Kansas City belted an MLB-low 95 homers during the regular season.
The Royals also walked an MLB-low 380 times this year. They rely on putting the ball in play and making things happen with their legs.
Manager Ned Yost does things that make sabermetricians shake their heads in disbelief. Actually, he does things that make even casual baseball fans shake their heads in disbelief. So far, it hasn’t hurt K.C.
X factor(s): Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore
The Giants ranked 25th in the majors in throwing out would-be base stealers (69 percent). They’re a team that you can run on, and the Royals undoubtedly will look to exploit that matchup advantage.
Kansas City’s speedsters, Dyson and Gore, will find themselves inserted into some critical spots.
San Francisco Giants
— 88-74 (second in NL West)
— Defeated Pittsburgh Pirates in wild card game (8-0)
— Defeated Washington Nationals in NLDS (3-1)
— Defeated St. Louis Cardinals in NLCS (4-1)
Madison Bumgarner, who earned NLCS MVP honors, has been phenomenal. The Giants can feel good about handing him the ball.
The Giants aren’t a big power team, though their three-homer barrage in Game 5 of the NLCS might make you think otherwise. San Francisco, like Kansas City, is opportunistic. The Giants will put the ball in play and test the Royals’ solid defense.
The Giants’ bullpen also has been tremendous. Jeremy Affeldt (0.87 ERA in 20 2/3 innings), Santiago Casilla (0.98 ERA in 18 1/3 innings) and Javier Lopez (0.84 ERA in 10 2/3 innings) all have good postseason track records.
Experience isn’t everything. But it also can’t be overlooked. The Giants have been in this position before. They know what to do, and it all starts at the top. Bruce Bochy is one of the best managers in baseball.
The Giants’ bullpen has been very solid in the playoffs, but the unit was a potential weakness entering October. There’s still a chance it could implode, especially amid Kansas City’s late-game substitutions. Casilla has bent but hasn’t yet broken.
The opportunistic Giants have caught some breaks. They went 242 plate appearances without a home run before their late-game surge in Game 5 of the NLCS. The Royals’ defense likely will eliminate any free chances, thus adding pressure to the Giants’ offense.
X factor: Buster Posey
This shouldn’t come as any shock. Posey is the Giants’ best player. He’s also incredibly important in this series because controlling the Royals’ running game has been problematic for everyone.
Game 1 in K.C.: Madison Bumgarner, LHP (18-10) at James Shields, RHP (14-8)
Game 2 in K.C.: Jake Peavy, RHP (7-13) at Yordano Ventura, RHP (14-10)
Game 3 in S.F. TBD at Tim Hudson, RHP (9-13)
Game 4 in S.F. TBD at Ryan Vogelsong, RHP (8-13)
Who has the advantage?
Royals in six.
These teams are evenly matched. Kansas City’s strengths have the potential to exploit San Francisco’s weaknesses, though.
The Giants absolutely will need to jump on the Royals early in games. Otherwise, Kansas City’s sensational bullpen will swing the tide in its favor, helping the Royals squeak out late-inning victories.
Photo via Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images