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San Francisco Giants
The Giants’ lineup isn’t stacked with big names, but it’s hard to find a real weak spot anywhere in the batting order. As has become expected, General Manager Brian Sabean has pulled a mixed bag of role players out of his hat at just the right time. Rookie Joe Panik has exceeded expectations at second base, and journeyman Travis Ishikawa sent the Giants to their third World Series in five years with a walk-off home run. Homegrown stars such as Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, and Brandon Belt should continue to provide the power for this team, and you could make an argument for giving the NL MVP award to free agent-signing Hunter Pence.
The Royals’ outfield has undoubtedly been deserving of all the media love it has garnered thus far. In the infield, however, the Giants may hold a slight advantage. In his third full season with the Giants, shortstop Brandon Crawford has provided gold-glove defence in the hole. While Pablo Sandoval might not be the most nimble third baseman, it’s not as though the Royals’ corner infielders are particularly agile themselves.
This Giants squad is almost unrecognizable from its 2010 and 2012 World Series-winning teams, but among the few familiar faces, nobody has played a bigger role than Madison Bumgarner. Just four years ago, we watched Bumgarner dominate the Rangers over eight innings in Game Four of the 2010 World Series as a rookie. After posting the best numbers of his young career in the regular season, Bumgarner has been the most effective ace of this post-season, building on his already impressive October resumé. If the Giants can push this series past Game 5 and get two starts out of Bumgarner, veteran starters Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy should be able to pick up the rest of the slack.
Like Kansas City, the Giants have two elite set-up men in the form of Jean Machi and Jeremy Affeldt. While their numbers aren’t as good as Kansas’ deadly duo of Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis, both posted earned run averages (ERA) under 3.00 and should be able to lock down the seventh and eighth innings. Unlike Kansas City, the Giants are sorely missing a reliable closer. The demise of Sergio Romo and his devastating slider forced Manager Bruce Bochy to hand the ninth inning to Santiago Casilla. He’s gotten the job done thus far, but he had previously been known for starting the season in the minor leagues after imploding in 2013.
Baseball analysts often omit the manager’s role in their assessment of a team, arguing that the boss’ effect is negligible. However, when a matchup between two managers is so skewed, it can be a major factor. While Ned Yost has become the first manager to win his first eight games in the post-season, he is widely panned by the sabermetric community for his rigid bullpen use and bunt-happy ways. Giants’ Manager Bruce Bochy, on the other hand, has finished in the top three in Manager-of-the-Year voting five times, and won the award in 1996. His wealth of playoff experience, and his uncanny ability to bring the best out of his players should provide an important edge for the Giants in this World Series.
Kansas City Royals
These Royals are fast. With 153 stolen bases this year, Kansas City easily led the American League in swiped bags. Despite this, they know the old baseball axiom: “You can’t steal first base.” The Royals supplemented their speed by finishing third in the majors in base hits and combining for the second highest batting average. They have truly mastered the art of ‘small ball’—pushing across runs on bloop hits and savvy base running. Kansas City finished dead last in the league in home runs this year, but their bats have suddenly come alive in the post-season, swatting eight home runs over eight games. If they can stay hot, this lineup has everything you need to take a seven game series.
From centre fielder Lorenzo Cain robbing extra base hits at the wall to third baseman Mike Moustakas diving over the dugout wall head over heels to grab a foul ball, this Royals team has plus defenders at almost every position. With Gold Glovers at first base, catcher, and left field, this defence continues to impress. The only possible weakness is Norichika Aoki, who is a replacement-level Major League right fielder.
The Royals turned heads two years ago with the now infamous trade that sent their top prospect Wil Myers to Tampa Bay for a package centred around James Shields. ‘Big Game James,’ as he’s known, has been terrific for the Royals over the past two seasons. His playoff appearances so far haven’t been dominant, but he’s given the Royals a chance to win in each of them. The rotation behind Shields consists of veterans Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie, who have both been solid in the playoffs, and flame-throwing Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Yordano Ventura, who led the rotation in ERA. They don’t have a true ace, but their rotation is deep and consistent.
The Kansas City bullpen is arguably the best in all of baseball. They’re so good that the triumvirate of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland has earned the nickname ‘The Three-Headed Monster.’ If the Royals have a lead going into the seventh inning, manager Ned Yost can hand the ball to Herrera, and from there, the game may as well be over, as a blown save is a rarity with this trio. Each reliever had an ERA under 1.50 on the year, and both Davis and Holland each struck out over 13 batters per nine innings. This team doesn’t tend to put lots of runs on the board— their dominant bullpen has been possibly the biggest key to the Royals’ success in this post-season.
This is a young team, and most of the players have no prior playoff experience. While this hasn’t been an issue so far in the post-season, they’ll be facing a team stocked with players who have invaluable World Series experience. To make the jump to World Series Champions, their three veterans—Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and James Shields—must step up and deliver. Gordon was the go-to guy in Kansas City this year, leading the team in extra base hits, RBI, and home runs. Butler had a down year, but the veteran designated hitter knows how to hit, and his experience could prove the difference in this matchup.