Tuesday will mark the beginning of the 111th Fall Classic. It will feature the Kansas City Royals, a white-hot squad of young players that has won eight straight games to start the playoffs, taking on the Giants, a pitching-rich National League team that has all the makings of a dynasty. The story for Kansas City is an intriguing one that has been 29 years in the making. The Royals have lost a whopping 1,373 games since the start of the new millennium, an average of 98 losses per season. All of that losing has kept them out of the playoffs since 1985. However, an 89-win year coupled with a historically good postseason has Royals fans dreaming of ending their woes with a World Series title.
The Giants are the antithesis of Kansas City. World Series winners in 2010 and 2012, the postseason regulars have their sights on continuing the trend of winning it all every other year. Prior to 2010, the Giants had not captured a trophy since moving across the country from New York. However, the stoic yet brilliant manager Bruce Bochy, with rosters filled with precocious pitching, has turned the Giants into a postseason monster. In many ways this World Series will showcase a scenario of master versus student. The Giants, a rags-to-riches ball club that has transformed perpetual losing into sustained success, will play an upstart Royals squad that can only hope to become a frequenter of October akin to the Giants. For the Royals, the task at hand is simple but daunting: end the lean years by knocking off baseball’s best playoff team of the decade. The task for the Giants: cool down a scorching young team and solidify their reputation as a baseball dynasty.
Offense: Advantage Giants
Neither team is built to overpower the opposition, so any offense either team can muster will be important. For Kansas City, ALCS MVP Lorenzo Cain hit the cover off the ball during the series against Baltimore, while Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar continued their hot postseasons. However, with Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Michael Morse comprising the middle of the San Francisco order, the Giants pack a more powerful punch. San Francisco clubbed 132 regular season home runs, while the Royals ranked dead last in that category with only 95 long balls. While the Royals have shown a tremendous ability this postseason to get on base and steal at a high percentage clip, the Giants have a huge leg up in the power department, and in October, power trumps speed.
Starting Pitching: Advantage Giants
With the offseason addition of Tim Hudson and the key trade deadline acquisition of Jake Peavy, the Giants have surrounded young ace Madison Bumgarner with two veteran, cerebral pitchers. Behind number one starter James Shields, the Royals have youngster Yordano Ventura and journeyman Jeremy Guthrie. While both teams possess true playoff aces, the Giants have the depth to create advantages in the crucial middle games of the series. In order for the Royals to command the series, manager Ned Yost may be asking more than his middle-of-the-rotation guys can provide.
Bullpen: Advantage Royals
The Royals may possess one of the best bullpens in baseball history. Closer Greg Holland saved 46 regular season games and pitched to a 1.44 ERA and was perhaps the second-best pitcher in his pen. Setup man Wade Davis, acquired along with James Shields in the trade of Wil Myers, had a microscopic regular season ERA of 1.00 while setting up for Holland. The Giants have a proven playoff closer in Sergio Romo and a veteran arm in Jeremy Affeldt, but the Royals have an absolutely unhittable pen. The Giants must score early in this series or risk not scoring at all.
Defense: Advantage Royals
Gold Glover Alex Gordon and athletic centerfielder Lorenzo Cain have played lights-out defense this postseason. Defense is not the most easily quantified position, but with consistent excellence and occasional brilliance, the Royals have shown that they possess a tremendous advantage. The Kansas City defense has not only turned many hits into outs, but has also provided its pitching staff with a confidence that cannot be understated, and a confidence its staff will need when facing off against the Giants’ staff.
If I were to condense this series to one sentence, I would say that the Giants have the history while the Royals have the momentum. Analyzing deeper, the Giants possess pitching depth and power that the Royals lack, while Kansas City owns an overpowering bullpen and an impermeable defense. At the end of October, baseball will either have another dynasty or a Cinderella champion. The 2014 World Series: history versus momentum, starting pitching versus bullpen, power versus defense.
Photo: Dean Hoffmeyer/Richmond Times-Dispatch