As they always say in baseball, the postseason is a whole different animal, a new leaf, a fresh beginning. Nothing that happened in the last six months matters, its about who is better now. On-paper predictions are falsified and the favorites go home. This has never been more true than in 2014, as the two teams facing off on the biggest baseball stage are two teams that few, if any, predicted in April.
The Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, the winners of both Wild Card spots, square off in the winner-takes-all event that leaves 28 other teams burning with envy. It’s a strange sight to see, but certainly a welcoming one to a fan of the sport, watching a constantly underrated team make its third World Series appearance in 5 years and a playoff-starved franchise whose players can run almost as fast as they raced through the competition.
Already making MLB history with their unprecedented 8-0 run to start the postseason, the Royals have nothing else on the checklist but four more victories. Anchored by veterans Alex Gordon and “Big Game” James Shields, ALCS MVP Lorenzo Cain, and their flame-throwing bullpen, Kansas City has conquered every challenge thrown at them. A seemingly fool-proof combination of speed, defense, and relief pitching has allowed them to emerge from late-game struggles victorious.
The Giants in their own right have exceeded expectations as well. It’s hard to call any team who has just secured their third World Series berth in five years an underdog, but San Francisco is. Few expected them to compete with the likes of the highest payroll in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the team whose name is most likely in the dictionary as a synonym for “October” in the St. Louis Cardinals. The Giants’ philosophy has been simple: wait for the other team to make a mistake, and capitalize. In the NLCS, seemingly every time the normally-steady Cardinals’ defense committed an error, the Giants tacked on a run. In the end, the Giants’ play simply outlasted their opponents.
These two franchises create an interesting matchup, as both teams are similarly composed. Two teams that pride themselves on their defense and smart play rather than flashiness certainly set the bar high for quality baseball.
Kansas City will have the luxury of starting their ace, James Shields in Game 1, having only pitched in the first game of the ALCS. The Giants will most likely have no such luxury, as their respective ace, Madison Bumgarner (NLCS MVP) took the no-decision in his solid start last night. Because the Royals can re-start their rotation early in the series, they have the upper-hand in the first two games, with the scale tilting in the Giants’ favor in the next two. However, it will ultimately come down to which team can win the games where the starting pitching matchup is not in their favor.
Taking into consideration the pitching match-ups, team makeup, and baseball philosophy, the Royals have the edge in this year’s Fall Classic. Their scrappy, sound play creates an issue for a team that capitalizes on the other team’s mistakes. Simply put, San Francisco may not have many mistakes to work with. There’s little doubt that this series will turn out to be a closely contested one, but even that tilts into the Royals’ favor, as they have shown an uncanny ability to win close games. The Giants’ bullpen has looked shaky at times, while the Royals’ “Big Three” of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Greg Holland have posted a 1.08 ERA so far in the postseason. Even if Madison Bumgarner does manage to pitch twice in the series, the Royals have conquered a playoff-tested ace before (Jon Lester). The fan-favorite Kansas City Royals will win the 2014 World Series in six games, riding the back of World Series MVP “Big Game” James.