World Series Preview: If You Like Pitching, Defense, Drama, This Royals vs Giants Series Is For You, Plus Picking A World Champ, With Straub Going San Francisco, Carroll Picking Kansas City

October 21, 2014

By Matt Straub

 

I’m not one to give up in life. When something goes wrong, I try and come back the next day and make it right. If I’m not good at something, I try and get better. I’m nothing if not persistent. If I get crushed in poker, I want to play again. Lose a bet, let’s make it double or nothing. I’m like John Cena, I’m not going away even if some people would prefer it.

 

With that in mind, I’m writing a World Series prediction column.

 

If you followed my picks so far, you know I’ve gotten just about every series wrong. I got the Cardinals through the first round, but just about everything else I saw coming failed to materialize. The Tigers’ bats went silent, the Angels wilted, Baltimore’s toughness waned. The Cardinals’ experience didn’t matter.

 

If you told me in September I’d be better at college football picks than I was with forecasting baseball I’d have thought you were crazy. Thankfully I have one final chance to redeem myself by picking a champion, even if it will be a different one than I called for a month ago.

 

Whoever you picked or were rooting for, this year’s baseball playoffs have been outstanding. While many of the series have been one-sided, some of the games were epic. The two teams remaining in the World Series aren’t big-name franchises who will draw ratings, and this year’s Series could be one of the least-watched ever, but I hope not because there is going to be some interesting baseball being played over the next week or so. The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants are both tough, versatile teams who win in exciting ways. The old days of home run derby are dead in baseball, and fundamentals and strategy have come back into the game. Now a clutch hit matters more than the last hit. Defenses matter more than they have in years, as outfielders no longer have to stand in the 10th row to catch balls, and shifts have lowered batting averages to such a degree that hitting is difficult.

 

Pitching will matter. Pitching changes and the timing of them will matter. Lineup moves will be scrutinized.

 

If you grew up on home runs, this series might not be for you, though the Royals have been finding ways to hit clutch home runs in the postseason, something they didn’t do in the regular season. If you like pitching, defense and drama, however, I’ve got a series for you.

 

Let’s break it down by going over each phase of the game.

 

OFFENSE

The Royals hit the fewest home runs of any team in baseball during the regular season. But sometimes teams get hot at the right time. Kansas City’s bit hitters have picked the right time to find their power strokes, and their physically imposing players now seem imposing at the plate as well. Not only do the Royals suddenly hit homers, but they now are the most clutch team in baseball. I know sabermatricians around the world will cringe when I say that, but it’s true. Kansas City has four extra-inning home runs in their eight postseason wins.

 

But the Royals are much more than a team which is on a hot streak at the plate. They put exceptional pressure on the other team’s defense, whether it’s through their base stealing, their penchant for taking the extra bases and forcing throws, and their exceptional bunting. They make the defense throw the ball, which forces quick decisions and quality execution. The more the Giants keep the Royals in the ball park, the tougher their job becomes. They would almost prefer the Royals score their runs with solo home runs since they wouldn’t create opportunities for mistakes and extra runs.

 

The Giants aren’t exactly Murder’s Row either, but they have a deep lineup which won’t give Kansas City’s pitchers any breaks. They have some speed, they have some contact hitters, and they have some power. Michael Morse gives them something many NL teams haven’t had in the World Series, a capable DH. Any bench player is better than having a pitcher hit, but Morse is more than a replacement, he’s a capable hitter who will get to avoid the field for four games and help the Giants lineup, which is already better than the Royals’.

 

Finally, a point which can’t be overlooked: The Giants have been here before. Twice in the last the last four years before this season in fact. They know what the World Series is about and won’t have stage fright. I’m not saying the Royals will, but they are more likely to feel some nerves tonight than the Giants will.

ADVANTAGE

PITCHING

The Giants rotation is set. Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong will throw the first four games unless the Giants trail 3-0, in which case they’ll almost certainly bring Bumgarner back for Game 4.

 

I mention this because the Royals’ rotation is not yet set after the first two games. James Shields, the Royals’ big acquisition and a big reason the team is here, throws in Game 1 with young Yordano Ventura taking the ball in Game 2. The Royals have some options for the middle game of the series, but they don’t have a clear cut hierarchy the way the Giants do.

 

This matters. When you’re in the postseason, eliminating variables is important. It’s entirely possible the Royals come up with pitchers who throw gems in games 3 and 4, but the fact that the Giants know who they’re using and have faith in their top four pitchers is a huge weight off their shoulders. The Giants are prepared, have a plan and the players to execute it. The Royals are either using the Patriots plan of secrecy or are winging it. Neither approach screams confidence. The Royals aren’t scared, but they don’t seem really ready, either.

 

To make matter worse, their star pitcher, Shields, has a terrible career record in the playoffs. He’s 3-4 with a 5.19 ERA, a far cry from the name "Big Game James."

 

What helps the Royals is they don’t need starters to go too deep into games. Kansas City has one of the best bullpens in baseball with Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera. The Royals are stacked, and the Giants might only have six innings to score before the Royals shut the games down the way the 1998 Yankees or 2004 Red Sox did.

 

The Giants have shown flexibility in their bullpen. A win here gives them three titles in five years with three difference closers. Santiago Casilla is tough, but Sergio Romo (in a new role than in 2012) and Javier Lopez are strong behind him. The Giants don’t have the flashy bullpen, but they have lefties, righties and experience, giving Bruce Bochy an option in any situation. Combine that with the far superior rotation, and the Giants get the edge in pitching.

ADVANTAGE

MATT STRAUB'S PREDICTION

Remember the 2007 Rockies? They were all the rage after rolling through the postseason on the way to the World Series like the Royals are. They won a one-game playoff to get into the playoffs, just like the Royals did this year. They had some solid pitchers but no superstars.

What happened to that team? It got swept away by a better team which had been there just a couple of years before. The same thing happens here. The Giants have a better rotation, more hitters and experience. The Royals have some excitement and could make things interesting if they can create the kind of chaos they’ve become famous for, but at some point talent takes priority over smoke and mirrors.

GIANTS IN 5

BRAD CARROLL'S PREDICTION

Matt's comparassion of the Royals to the 2007 Rockies is spot on, and one of the big reasons I thought the Orioles would beat Kansas City in the ALCS. But I was wrong there, and I'm not going to make the same mistake again. The Giants have the better team, from offense to pitching to managing, but who am I to put an end to a run of magical proportions. The Royals, as corny as it is to write, are a team of destiny, ready to not only win a world championship, but make a statement that a small market team can win in today's Major League Baseball world. Starting with two games at home makes all the difference for Kansas City, and a world championship will be celebrated by everyone who isn't a Giants fan.

ROYALS IN 6

WORLD SERIES SCHEDULE

Tuesday, Game 1

Giants at Royals, 8 p.m., FOX

Bumgarner (18-10) at Shields (14-8)

Wednesday, Game 2

Giants at Royals, 8 p.m., FOX

Peavy (7-13) at Ventura (14-10)

Friday, Game 3

Royals at Giants, 8 p.m., FOX

TBD at Hudson (9-13)

Saturday, Game 4

Royals at Giants, 8 p.m., FOX

TBD at Vogelsong (8-13)

Sunday, Game 5

Royals at Giants, 8 p.m., FOX

* if necessary

Tuesday, October 28, Game 6

Giants at Royals, 8 p.m., FOX

* if necessary

Wednesday, October 29, Game 7

Giants at Royals, 8 p.m., FOX

* if necessary

 

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