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2014 World Series Preview
San Francisco Giants vs. Kansas City Royals

by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
October 20, 2014

It’s been nearly 30 years since the days of George Brett, Willie Wilson, Bret Saberhagen, and Dan Quisenberry, and nearly 30 years since the Kansas City Royals last played in the postseason. They haven’t been to the World Series, or even back to the playoffs, since their 1985 seven game classic victory against their cross state rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals brought that long 29-year postseason drought to an end by winning one of the two American League Wild Card spots. Their improbable march to the World Series then began after erasing a 7-3, eighth inning deficit against the Oakland A’s in the Wild Card tilt, followed by a stunning 3-game sweep of the team with the AL’s best record, the Los Angeles Angels. They then swept the Baltimore Orioles out of the ALCS to reach the Fall Classic in undefeated fashion.

Their opponent in the World Series will be looking to win their third World Championship in the past five seasons after failing to win the Series even once since 1954 and the early days of the Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays. It will also be the first all Wild Card World Series since the Giants came within five outs of winning the 2002 Series against the Angels.

After backing into the second Wild Card spot in the National League, the San Francisco Giants began another trek through Orange October by shutting out the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 in the NL play-in game. They proceeded to knock off the Washington Nationals, who possessed the NL’s best regular season record, in a commanding three games to one NLDS. San Fran then secured their third pennant in five years by handling the Cardinals in a five game NLCS, highlighted by unlikely hero Travis Ishikawa’s three-run walk-off home run, the first homer to propel the Giants into the World Series since Bobby Thomson’s famous Shot Heard ‘Round The World against the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 1951.

Although it will be the first time these two teams have ever met in the postseason, thanks to Interleague play, it will just be the first time these two teams have faced each other since early August, when the Royals trounced the Giants in a 3-game set at Kauffman Stadium.

In the first game of that series, the Royals got a serviceable start from Jason Vargas (5 IP, 2 R) and then saw their vaunted bullpen lock down the late innings to overcome a complete game effort from Madison Bumgarner and win 4-2. Game 2 saw Big Game James Shields shut out the Giants, while Alex Gordon homered off of Tim Hudson in the 5-0 win. Gordon homered again the next day to back Danny Duffy in a 7-4 rout of Tim Lincecum, again secured by Greg Holland and crew, helping Kansas City complete a dominant series sweep.

Back on August 8, however, when that series started, these two teams were headed in completely different directions. San Francisco was reaching the end of a 10-game road swing, and had lost 9-of-14 games on their way towards losing 14-of-20 overall. The Royals, on the other hand, had won four in a row, 7-of-8, and 12-of-their-last-15, in the midst of a 24-6 run.

Team Breakdown

Team Pitching – San Francisco 3.50 ERA (t-10th in MLB), Kansas City 3.51 ERA (12th)

Starting Pitching – San Francisco 3.74 ERA (16th), Kansas City 3.60 ERA (t-10th)

Relief Pitching – San Francisco 3.01 ERA (5th), Kansas City 3.30 (10th)

The Giants and Royals ranked 10th and 12th in baseball in earned run average, separated by just .01 in overall ERA. The Royals starters outranked their Giants counterparts in composite ERA, but the Royals’ hard-throwing pen ranked only 10th in the majors while the Giants underappreciated pen ranked 5th overall. While the Royals relievers were ranked 11th overall in opponents’ batting average (.235), the Giants relief core were tops in all of baseball with a stingy .217 mark.

In the postseason, the two bullpens have been nearly equally effective, with the Giants’ relievers compiling a 1.78 ERA and .164 opponents’ batting average in 35.1 innings and the Royals posting marks of 1.80 and .179 in 35.0 innings. The difference has been in the starting pitching, where the Giants starters’ collective ERA is a mere 2.40 in 63.2 innings, while the Royals have posted a 3.80 ERA in 45.0 innings. Overall, the Giants staff has allowed three quarters of a run fewer per nine innings pitched (2.18 to 2.93) in the playoffs.

Oddly, the Giants have surrendered 12 home runs in the playoffs, yet all 12 have come with the bases empty.

Team Batting

San Francisco – Batting Average (.255 - 10th), On Base Plus Slugging (.699 - 14th), Runs (665 - 12th)

Kansas City – Batting Average (.263 - 4th), On Base Plus Slugging (.690 - 17th), Runs (651 - 14th)

The similarity between the two clubs remains apparent when you at the offensive results, though there are some distinct differences, too. Neither team is going to club you to death, with the Giants ranking 17th in MLB during the regular season with 132 home runs, adding just five more in the postseason. The Royals hit the fewest home runs in the majors this season, with just 95 round trippers, although in the postseason they’ve gotten eight in eight games, including four from third baseman Mike Moustakas, who batted just .212  with 15 longballs during the regular season.

The real difference between the two clubs is speed. The Royals led the majors in stolen bases with 153 and in stolen base percentage at 81%, despite also leading the league in attempts (189). Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain each stole at least 28 bases during the regular season, while the club also carries the rookie speedster Terrance Gore as a late-inning pinch running threat. The Giants stole just 56 bases during the regular season at 67% success rate, the second fewest stolen bases in the majors. Both teams specialize in manufacturing runs; they just go about it different ways, with the Giants’ method being described by Gregor Blanco after Game 3 of the NLCS as “ugly, but it works.”

 

Team Fielding

San Francisco – Defensive Runs Saved (-3 – 15th), Ultimate Zone Rating (2.9 – 15th)

Kansas City – Defensive Runs Saved (41 – 4th), Ultimate Zone Rating (61.1 – 1st)

Traditional fielding statistics paint the Royals and Giants as very similar defensively, with San Francisco committing 100 errors on the year for a .984 fielding percentage, and Kansas City committing 104 miscues, resulting in a .983 rate. Advanced metrics, however, give the Royals a big advantage, due in no small part to their tremendously gifted defensive outfield.

Positional Breakdown (Stats are 2014 Postseason Combined)

Catcher:

San Francisco – Buster Posey – 13-for-43: .302/.354/.302 – 0 HR, 5 RBI

Kansas City – Salvador Perez – 4-for-34: .118/.143/.118 – 0 HR, 2 RBI

Although Buster Posey has yet to collect an extra-base hit in this postseason, 2014 saw him become the Giants’ all-time postseason leader in hits with 42, and his 3 RBI in Game 4 of the NLCS gave him 19 for his career, two behind Barry Bonds on the franchise leaderboard. Salvador Perez has had a quiet first postseason at the plate, but it was his base hit in the 12th inning against Oakland that broke an 0-for-5 night and brought home the winning run in the Wild Card matchup. Posey gets the nod based on experience on the big stage, but he’ll need to be ready to contain the Royals explosive running game from behind the dish.

Advantage: Buster Posey

First Base:

San Francisco – Brandon Belt – 10-for-35: .286/.409/.371 – 1 HR, 6 RBI
Kansas City – Eric Hosmer – 13-for-29: .448/.556/.759 – 2 HR, 8 RBI

After losing a fair portion of his regular season to injuries, Brandon Belt has had a solid postseason run, including the game winning home run in the 18th inning of Game 2 in the NLDS, but his postseason has paled in comparison to the monster line Eric Hosmer has put up thus far in the Royals’ run. Belt had the better regular season line, out-homering Hosmer by three in over 300 fewer plate appearances.

Advantage: Brandon Belt

Second Base:

San Francisco – Joe Panik – 11-for-46: .239/.271/.348 – 1 HR, 5 RBI

Kansas City – Omar Infante – 6-for-29: .207/.294/.207 – 0 HR, 1 RBI

The rookie Joe Panik hasn’t torn it up, so to speak, in October, but he’s picked his spots and had tough at bats in the two-hole for San Francisco, delivering a huge 2-run homer in Game 5 of the NLCS and a big walk against Jordan Zimmermann in the NLDS. He plays with the confidence of a veteran. Omar Infante, on the other hand, has been there before, playing with Detroit against the Giants in the 2012 World Series. He’s solid defensively and contributes a strong veteran presence, but has yet to produce many runs this October.

Advantage: Joe Panik

Third Base:

San Francisco – Pablo Sandoval – 14-for-43: .326/.396/.419 – 0 HR, 1 RBI

Kansas City – Mike Moustakas – 7-for-29: .241/.267/.655 – 4 HR, 5 RBI

While he hasn’t gone deep yet this October, Pablo Sandoval has stretched his franchise record of consecutive postseason games reaching base to 23. And while he’s only driven in one run this postseason, that one was a big one, tying Game 2 of the NLDS versus the Nationals in the 9th inning and sending that game on its way to 18 innings of history. He’s also played outstanding defense the entire season, a testament to his weight loss regimen that gives him much greater range. Mike Moustakas had a rough regular season, but has come up big in October, belting four home runs, two of which came in extra-innings. He’s just 3-for-25 with one walk the rest of the time, however.

Advantage: Pablo Sandoval

 

Shortstop:

San Francisco – Brandon Crawford – 8-for-38: .211/.279/.342 – 1 HR, 5 RBI

Kansas City – Alcides Escobar – 10-for-36: .278/.297/.417 – 1 HR, 3 RBI

Alcides Escobar had an excellent season for Kansas City, putting up strong numbers at the plate, and solid numbers in the field. He stole 31 bases during the regular season, and he’s one of the many speedsters Posey will need to keep his eye on. While Brandon Crawford’s overall line isn’t impressive, he has had a few big moments this October at the plate, including his Wild Card game grand slam against the Pirates. He has also played outstanding in the field.

Advantage: Alcides Escobar

Left Field:

San Francisco – Travis Ishikawa – 7-for-26: .269/.345/.462 – 1 HR, 7 RBI

Kansas City – Alex Gordon – 6-for-27: .222/.400/.444 – 1 HR, 9 RBI, 3 SB

Although the Gold Glover Alex Gordon led Kansas City in home runs (19) and RBI (74) during the regular season and leads all Royals with 9 RBI this postseason, it has been Travis Ishikawa, owner of three big league starts in left field prior to the playoffs, who has delivered the biggest hit this October, propelling the Giants into this Series showdown with his dramatic home run against Michael Wacha and the Cards. Ishikawa also happens to lead all Giants hitters with 7 RBI this postseason.

Advantage: Alex Gordon

Centerfield:

San Francisco – Gregor Blanco – 7-for-44: .159/.229/.182 – 0 HR, 3 RBI, 1 SB

Kansas City – Lorenzo Cain – 12-for-34: .353/.378/.441 – 0 HR, 4 RBI, 2 SB

Lorenzo Cain was the MVP of the ALCS by hitting .533 (8-for-15) against the Orioles, and is not only one of the top defensive centerfielders (+26 DRS) in the game, but he also becomes one of the top defensive right fielders (+16 DRS) when Jarrod Dyson (+23 DRS in CF) enters the game for speed and defense in the later innings. Blanco has struggled mightily at the plate this October; it would serve the Giants well if he could get hot in the Series.

Advantage: Lorenzo Cain

Right Field:

San Francisco – Hunter Pence – 10-for-39: .256/.341/.333 – 0 HR, 3 RBI, 2 SB

Kansas City – Nori Aoki – 7-for-27: .259/.344/.259 – 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1 SB

Although the Giants’ charismatic off-the-field spiritual leader has slumped in October, Hunter Pence is seemingly always on the verge of breaking out and could be a dark horse MVP candidate for the Series. Nori Aoki stole 17 bases during the regular season and is yet another guy to watch when he gets on base.

Advantage: Hunter Pence

Designated Hitter:

San Francisco – Michael Morse – 2-for-4: .500/.500/1.250 – 1 HR, 1 RBI

Kansas City – Billy Butler – 6-for-27: .222/.303/.296 – 0 HR, 5 RBI

Billy Butler’s lackluster 2014 regular season performance, coupled with his soft postseason line, have left it doubtful whether the Royals will pick up his 2015 option. He should not be overlooked, however, and is always dangerous, as Bumgarner learned back in August when Butler’s 2-run, 7th inning, tie-breaking shot was the difference in a 4-2 Royals victory. Michael Morse hasn’t played much since August due to an injured oblique, but his game-tying pinch-hit homer in Game 5 of the NLCS left no doubt the impact his bat could have upon the Giants lineup.

Advantage: Billy Butler

Rotation:

San Francisco – Bumgarner, Peavy, Hudson, Vogelsong

Kansas City – Shields, Ventura, Vargas, Guthrie

The two teams will face off in Game 1 with their big guns: Big Game James Shields against Madison “Snotrocket” Bumgarner. While Shields carries the “Big Game” moniker, his career ERA in 50 1/3 postseason innings is just 5.19, including 5.63 this year. The 25-year old Bumgarner, on the other hand, earned the NLCS MVP by allowing just three runs in two starts against the Cardinals. He also has a career postseason ERA of 2.67 in 67.1 innings pitched, not to mention an active 15 inning scoreless streak in the World Series.

Perhaps key to this series could be the health of young gun Yordano Ventura, who had to leave Game 2 of the ALCS with tightness in his throwing shoulder after 5 2/3 innings. He matches up against veteran Jake Peavy in Game 2 of the World Series. The 23-year old Ventura has allowed 7 runs in 13 postseason innings. Peavy has been solid for San Francisco, allowing just 2 earned runs in his two October starts, albeit in only 9 2/3 innings.

Game 3 presents another good matchup, likely with lefty Jason Vargas facing the suddenly very left-handed Giants lineup (Blanco, Panik, Belt, Ishikawa, and Crawford -plus Pablo Sandoval struggles from the right side). Tim Hudson will get the Game 3 start in the first ever World Series appearance of his stellar 16-year career.

Before struggling in his Game 5 start against St. Louis, Ryan Vogelsong had the 3rd lowest ERA in postseason history (min 5 starts). Despite his struggles in that game, he gets the start in game four against the Royals, though he’ll be backed up by the Giants not-so-secret weapon Yusmeiro Petit, who tossed a combined 9 shutout innings of 2-hit relief for the Giants this October, in a performance reminiscent of Tim Lincecum circa 2012. Jeremy Guthrie has pitched just once in the playoffs, but tossed a solid five innings of 3-hit, 1-run ball against the O’s. He likely gets the start, unless KC goes back to Shields on short-rest.

Advantage: San Francisco

Bullpen:

San Francisco – Casilla (Cl), Romo, Lopez, Affeldt, Petit, Machi, Strickland, Lincecum

Kansas City – Holland (Cl), Davis, Herrera, Frasor, Collins, Finnegan, Duffy

The Kansas City formula for manager Ned Yost has been to get a lead through six and hand it over to the pen. Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera have been outstanding when the Royals have a lead. Brandon Finnegan, who was pitching in the College World Series earlier this year, has been a fantastic addition. It will therefore be a key for the Giants to get to the Royals starters. The Giants’ core four relievers, closer Santiago Casilla, setup man Sergio Romo, and lefties Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt, who have all played a big role in the Giants postseason success since 2010, have combined to allow just one run, a Kolton Wong home run against Romo to win Game 2 of the NLCS, in 19.2 innings this October. That’s in addition to Petit’s nine scoreless relief innings.

Advantage: San Francisco

Bench:

San Francisco – Arias, Susac, Duffy, Perez

Kansas City – Dyson, Gore, Willingham, Kratz, Colon

Jarrod Dyson and speedy Terrance Gore are the Royals’ two big threats to wreak havoc in the late innings, Gore tying Gordon for the postseason lead in stolen bases with 3. When the series shifts to San Francisco, the Royals will add Butler off the bench to pinch-hit, along with Josh Willingham. The Giants’ bench, already thin, will be even more so when the Series goes to KC, though you’ll likely continue to see Juan Perez in for Ishikawa for defense late in the game.

Advantage: Kansas City

 

Managers:

San Francisco – Bruce Bochy

Kansas City – Ned Yost

Ned Yost has proven a lot of doubters wrong this season, and has shown a Bruce Bochy-like ability to stray from the script this October when it comes to his bullpen. Bochy has proven himself a master of October managing, leading the Giants to a 30-11 record (.732) in the playoffs since 2010.

Advantage: San Francisco

The Final Word

The Royals have had a fantastic October, cruising to the World Series on an 8-0 run while looking stronger every step of the way. Yet they are up against a seeming team of destiny in the San Francisco Giants, led by Buster Posey, who many have anointed the next Derek Jeter of October baseball. But the Giants are much bigger than Posey; they are 25 guys united in one common goal: win today. They are skippered by one of the best in the game. They are experienced on this stage. They are determined to become a dynasty.

This series isn’t going back to Kansas City for Games 6 or 7, it’s going to end in five, with the fans in San Francisco finally getting to celebrate a World Series Championship in the City by the Bay, in the ballpark on the Bay, AT&T Park. It’s going to end with the Giants’ third World Series Championship in the last five seasons.

Prediction:

San Francisco Giants over Kansas City Royals: Four Games to One


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at richard@baseballevolution.com.

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