The World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants features two teams that were pretty good in the regular season but have been played either excellent (the Giants) or almost flawless (the Royals) baseball during the postseason. The two teams, neither of whom managed to win 90 games in the regular season, also have dramatically different recent histories. The Giants have won two of the last four World Series and will be representing their league for the fifth time in the last 25 years in the World Series. The Royals, for their part, have not appeared in the fall classic since 1985. The Royals have a great underdog story going into this World Series, while the Giants are close to being viewed by fans of other teams as another perennial powerhouse like the Yankees, Cardinals or Red Sox.
The teams have very different styles of play as well. The Royals rely on extraordinary outfield defense, three dominant relievers and speed on the bases, as well as occasional power. The Royals ace, James Shields, has not been good in the postseason, but the rest of their rotation is very comparable to the Giants' rotation. The Giants offensive strength is obscured by their home part, which dampens hitting numbers. Nonetheless, they are a strong offensive team with many decent, but no great, power hitters, and very few base-stealing threats. Unlike the 2012, and particularly 2010, Giants World Series teams, this year's model has a relatively weak starting rotation. That rotation has looked better since the regular season ended not least because ace Madison Bumgarner has started 40 percent of the team's postseason games. The Giants bullpen is strong, but whereas the Royals have built their bullpen around hard throwers Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, the Giants rely on a group of pitchers including Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt who, for the most part do not throw very hard by today's standards. The Giants bullpen is also bolstered extensive mid-inning changes and other efforts by manager Bruce Bochy to get the matchup he wants.
There is a clear path to winning for both teams. For the Royals, if their number one starter James Shields can pitch as well as Madison Bumgarner in at least one of the two match ups between them, that will put them in a good position. Similarly, if the power shown in the postseason so far by Eric Hosmer, two home runs, and Mike Mousakas four home runs, continues the Royals offense will be much stronger. The other side of that is that the Royals need to stop the Giants from hitting home runs. Obviously Kansas City needs to get a lead to their bullpen in the sixth or seventh inning, but this will not be easy against a deceptively strong offensive team like the Giants.
Royals DH Billy Butler has been terrible in the postseason so far hitting .222/.303/.296. The regular season was also one of the worst of his career, but Butler has been a good hitter in the past. If he starts hitting again, the Royals lineup will seem much longer in Kansas City and in San Francisco, when there is no DH, Butler will provide his team with a weapon off of a bench where there are few other good pinch-hitting options.
The Giants will need to get ahead early against the Royals because it will likely be difficult to come back against the Royals dominant bullpen. This means their power hitters, including secondary home run threats like Brandon Crawford and Travis Ishikawa, could be key to San Francisco's success. Mike Morse's pinch hit home run in the eighth inning of game four of the NLCS changed the course of that game, but also is evidence that Morse could be healthy enough to be an impact hitter in the World Series. That would be a big help for the Giants offense.
The Giants have relied on Bumgarner throughout the postseason, and the World Series will be no different. If Bumgarner continues to pitch as well as he has in this postseason and in his two previous starts, the Royals could find themselves behind quickly in the best of seven series.
If, however, recent (and not-so-recent) World Series history tells us anything, it is that anything can happen this week. The Royals' bullpen could blow three leads; Bumgarner could get roughed up in the first inning of game one. The Giants could continue to score runs on wild pitches and errors by the pitchers as they did against the Cardinals. A light-hitting middle infielder like Joe Panik or Alcides Escobar could hit a big home run or two to win a game. The kvetching that these are not the best two teams in baseball, whatever that means, notwithstanding, this should be a fun World Series with lots of interesting stories and players, but the way each team got to this point is a reminder that predicting what will happen next is a mug's game.