By the time this column appears in print, the first two World Series games in Kansas City will be in the books. But my deadline is before Tuesday’s Game 1 opening pitch, so I’ll be previewing the Giants-Royals series.
For the first time since 2002 when the Angels and Giants faced off in a series that went seven, both World Series teams are Wildcards.
Although the teams’ mediocre regular season records nearly match — San Francisco was 88-74 while Kansas City went 89-73 — on paper the Giants are the better team.
But if baseball in October teaches us anything, it’s that what’s on paper doesn’t amount to much.
Kansas City was never supposed to be here.
The Royals’ organization has one other World Series appearance in 1985. For 29 years, the club never even made it to the playoffs.
Even this season, the Royals regular season performance portended nothing of October success. In late July, the Royals were under .500.
The squad is 14th in runs, 16th in on-base percentage, 19th in slugging percentage and dead last in home runs with 95.
The stats Kansas City does have going for them: No. 4 in batting average (including 33 bunts laid during the regular season exemplifying their small-ball tendencies,) No. 1 in stolen bases, and a sharp, fundamentally sound defense supported by a cold-blooded bull pen.
In October, the Royals have shown that if they get the lead in the seventh inning, the bull pen combination of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland is impervious against being rattled.
This coalescence of smart offense and shut-down defense as of October has made them, in Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s words, “A runaway freight train.”
For the Giants, appearing in their third World Series in five years, stopping the Royals will involve more than beating them on paper.
The Giants are 15-2 in their last 17 postseason games (World Series wins in 2010 and 2012) and Bochy is 30-11 in his postseason career. Second to only the Yankees, the Giants have 20 World Series appearances.
The Giants defeated St. Louis in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series with a flurry of bats to earn a spot in the World Series. San Francisco’s scores came on a Joe Panik two-run homerun, a pinch-hitter Michael Morse solo shot and a Travis Ishikawa three-run walk off homer that cleared the right-field fence.
Offense alone hasn’t cut the mustard for the Giants, though. Madison Bumgarner earned the NLCS MVP after retiring the last 13 Cardinal batters. Tuesday will be MadBum’s third time leading the Giants into the World Series. He’s pitched 15 scoreless World Series innings and won both of his starts.
But no team has been hotter than the Royals in October — even if they are just getting by.
Kansas City has won its past 11 playoff games, eight of which have come this year beginning with the play-in win over Oakland, a game that the Royals stole seven bases in. Six of these eight postseason wins have been by one run or in extra innings.
Scraping by is an understatement.
In the Royals 2-1 Game 4 American League Championship Series sweeping victory, all of Kansas City’s offense came in the first inning, a far cry from the high-powered home runs that won the Giants the NLCS. An infield single, a hit batter, a bunt and an error on a fielder’s choice was enough to beat an Orioles club that clinched their division by 10 games.
So throw the paper out the window.
The Royals simply find a way to manufacture runs and win ball games — just like they did when they swept the Giants in regular season play.
The history of a 1985 World Series win, the history of the 2014 regular season. Both will repeat themselves in the Royals-Giants series.
Kansas City with the sweep.