Written & Media by Joe Hubbs
When the postseason schedule was put together at the beginning of October, two slots remained TBD. Those slots were the AL and NL Wild Card spots in the playoffs. In 2012 the MLB implemented a new rule in which two wild card teams in each league would compete in a one game playoff to see who continued into the postseason. Both the Royals and the Giants won their respective wild card games, and somehow continued to roll on through the division series and league championship series. Since a wild card spot was added to the playoffs in 1994, only five times has a team won the World Series as a wild card team, the last being the Cardinals in 2011. Only once before these 2014 playoffs have both teams in the World Series been wild card teams (2002, Angels vs Giants). Through all of the strange and wild games occurring during the 2014 playoffs, it is only fitting that the two Wild Card teams are competing in the fall classic. The Royals compete in their first World Series since beating the Cardinals in the 1985 Series, and the Giants make their third World Series appearance since 2010, beating Texas in 2010 and sweeping Detroit in 2012. If you love underdog stories, you could make the case that both teams are the underdog in this series. However, Kansas City has not lost a single game in the postseason and own home field advantage, and the Giants have relied on a little bit of luck, so you might see the Royals as the team to beat. Let’s take a look at both teams, position by position, and see who has the edge in our 2014 World Series.
Royals: Eric Hosmer has been a disappointment for the Royals thus far in his career. Although he missed four weeks with a fractured finger, the man who was drafted to anchor down the first base power position only finished the season with nine homeruns and 58 RBI’s. The playoff magic has struck him hard though. He is hitting .445 with two homeruns and eight RBI’s and blasted a game winning homer in game two of the ALDS against the Angels. Might Hosmer finally be blossoming in the most pivotal point of the season?
Giants: The way Brandon Belt started the season, San Francisco thought he would lead their team in every power statistic. However a thumb injury and concussion symptoms limited Belt to 61 games on the season and he managed to finish with 12 homeruns. In the post season we have seen hints of his power resurging. In the long 18 inning game against the Washington in the NLDS, he hit the game winning homerun to end the madness. Hitting .286 in the postseason, his on base statistics aren’t as eye popping as Hosmer, but he already has some World Series experience under his belt (pun certainly intended).
Royals: The oldest position player in the Royals lineup, Omar Infante does not put up stellar offensive numbers. As a second baseman his 66 RBI’s on the season were pretty
good, but in the playoffs he is only hitting .207 and has not been a huge part of the Royals offensive surge. However, the veteran will take his walks and is a slick fielder up the middle.
Giants: The Giants struggled finding a second baseman this season. Brandon Hicks played several games with nothing to show, and they even picked up the struggling veteran Dan Uggla for a while. Finally, rookie, Joe Panik took over the spot for San Francisco and hit over .300 in limited games this season. Although the young second baseman hit a homer in the deciding game against the Cardinals in the NLCS, don’t get used to seeing a lot of power from him. In the playoffs he is hitting .231, but the youngster has not learned to take walks like Infante.
Royals: Mike “Moose” Moustakas, like Hosmer, had been a disappointment to the Royals and even spent some time in the minors this season. He finished the season with 15 homeruns and 54 RBI’s but hit a measly .212. In the playoffs he is still struggling to get on base consistently, but he has popped four longballs and is coming up with timely hits. He hit the go ahead homerun in a 3-2 victory over the
Angels in game one of the ALDS. Despite his power, Moose continues to hit ninth for the Royals and we should not expect any change in the World Series.
Giants: Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is a force for the Giants. The big guy looks overweight, but he can field the hot corner and swing the bat as well as any third baseman in the business. In 2012 he was the Giants World Series MVP after crushing three homeruns in one game off the Tigers. His only RBI this postseason came from a game tying double in the ninth inning of game two of the NLDS. His power has not shown up yet in the postseason, but he is hitting .326 and he could put a ball in the seats at any time.
Royals: The Royals leadoff hitter, Alcides Escobar, stole 31 bases for Kansas City this season and hit .285. The durable Escobar started all 162 games for the Royals this season and is a decent fielder for the Royals. He hit an uncharacteristic homer in game one of the ALCS, but look for him to be the one scoring most of the runs for Kansas City.
Giants: Brandon Crawford may be one of the best fielding shortstops in the game. He did hit 10 homeruns during the season and his grand slam against the Pirates in the Wild Card game marked the first time a shortstop had ever hit one in postseason history. He has slowed down quite a bit since then, only hitting .211 in postseason play. However, he probably saves more runs than he produces, and this makes him an asset to the Giants.
Royals: Salvador Perez was a pleasant surprise for the Royals this season with 17 taters and 70 RBI’s. He did hit the game winning single in the Wild Card game, but other than that his postseason has been quite abysmal. Since then Perez has only hit .118 and added but one RBI. He has potential power, and he is just waiting for the magical Missouri beast to possess his bat.
Giants: Buster Posey since joining the Giants in 2010 has left his mark in baseball. He was the 2012 MVP and already has two World Series rings with the Giants. The Giants backstop hit 22 homers and drove in 89 runs in the season and is hitting .302 in the playoffs. Like Perez, the postseason power has not showed up just yet, but it is not his first rodeo.
Royals: Alex Gordon got off to a slow start this season and still finished with 19 homers and 74 RBI’s. The All-Star is the Royals most consistent hitter, and anchors the lineup. In
game one of the ALCS he hit a homerun in the 10th inning and provided four RBI’s for the Royals in an 8-6 win over the Orioles. A sub .300 batting average does not do justice for the leadership or Alex Gordon in the Royals lineup, and he has made great play after great play in left field.
Giants: Travis Ishikawa? Injuries in the Giants outfield have forced them to use firstbaseman Travis Ishikawa in the corner outfield spot. Ishikawa hit the walkoff homerun off the Cardinals to send the Giants to the World Series, so he certainly has some momentum heading to Kansas City. He hit .385 against the Cardinals with seven RBI’s over five games, and it’s tough to deny that he has found his stroke at the plate. He may just feast on Redbirds pitching however, because he hit under .200 until the NLCS and during the season he hit .252 in limited at bats. He certainly does not boast the glove in left field like Gordon, as he is just getting used to the position, so it is hard to put him above Gordon.
Royals: Lorenzo Cain is a relatively unknown ball player unless you are one of the few loyal Royals fans. Cain tore up Orioles pitching in the ALCS going 8-15 with a .533 batting average. Cain is one of the Royals speedsters, always a threat to steal a bag, and playing a solid center field. He stole 28 bases on the season and drove in more than 50 runs. A multi-tooled player in center is what every team is looking for, and other than a shortage in power, Cain provides that for Kansas City.
Giants: Gregor Blanco, like Cain has stellar range in the outfield. The Giants leftfielder has been forced to play center with the injury to regular Angel Pagan, and has filled his shoes to a subpar standard. He has made some plays in center, but with a .159 postseason average he is struggling at the plate. The leadoff hitter for the Giants provides much needed speed to compete with the sprinters on the Royals, but his hitting woes may make him a nonfactor in the World Series.
Royals: Nori Aoki is a lot like Cain in that he is fast and covers a lot of ground in the outfield. Aoki stole 17 bases on the year and drove in 43 runs. He is not menacing at the plate, but his Ichiro-esque approach gets him on base. As a role player for the Royals he is having a quiet, yet pleasant postseason with a .259 average and two runs plated.
Giants: Hunter Pence is quirky, fidgety, and lovable. The high-socked right fielder gets his fair share of jokes, but his 110 percent effort on the ball diamond makes him a fan favorite everywhere he goes. Pence, who hit 20 homeruns and brought in 74 runs in the regular season, has slowed down a little in the playoffs with just three RBI’s. His nonstop effort outweighs the stats though, and his leaping grab in the NLDS to rob Jayson Werth of extra bases will be repeated on the Giants replay board until this marathon is over.
Royals: Billy Butler is your classic portly, ball smashing American League DH… That being said, if you look at his numbers you must think I am playing a dirty trick on you. Butler only hit nine dingers on the year, and in the playoffs he has yet to touch them all. The big guy has provided five RBI’s for the Royals this postseason, but has been a letdown all year for a Royals lineup that finished last in the league in homeruns.
Giants: Most likely we will see Mike Morse as the DH for the Giants during their road trips. Morse hit the game tying homerun off the Cardinals in the clinching game of the NLCS. Morse, dealing with a strain to his right oblique, missed the end of the season for the Giants and has only had four at bats thus far in the playoffs. The outfielder hit 16 homeruns when healthy during the season, and since he is healthy enough to at least swing the bat, the Giants will utilize him. A dangerous hitter, I would not be surprised if San Francisco does some shifting in their order for games in Kansas City.
Royals: The Royals will have a rotation of James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie. Shields, the Royals ace, has struggled mightily in in the playoffs. He made it through only five innings, allowing four runs in both the Wild Card game and his only start in the ALCS. His strikeout numbers are not there either, but the Royals are sticking with him in game one. Ventura, a rookie out of the Dominican Republic burst on to the scene this year with 14 wins. He has a fireball that can reach 102 and also boasts an electrifying curve. Ventura’s dominant performance in the ALDS consisted of five strikeouts over seven innings in which he gave up one run. He got rocked in the ALCS, but he has good enough stuff to keep the Giants lineup in check. The last two guys in the rotation have been the real surprises in the postseason. Vargas struck out six Orioles over 5.2 innings in his LCS start for a win, and Guthrie, a 13 game winner in the regular season, went five innings in a no decision, allowing one run.
Giants: Everyone knows about Madison “Madbum” Bumgarner . When the Giants ace is on the mound, runs are few and far between. In the Wild Card game he went nine innings for a complete game shutout in which he struck out 10 Pirates. Now he did suffer a loss in the NLDS allowing one run over seven, but in two starts against the Cardinals he came back to form with one win and 12 strikeouts over 15.2 innings. The Giants other starters, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong, have all been a bit shaky. Hudson pitched a great game two against the Nationals in the NLCS with eight strikeouts over 7.1 innings, but was tagged by the Cards for four runs in the NLDS. Vogelsong struggled most of the season and had a good showing against the Nationals as well, but was also blown up by Cardinals hitting for four runs and lasted less than five innings in the NLCS. Finally Peavey who was acquired in the trading deadline from the Red Sox has also been back and forth.
Royals: It has been stated that the Royals 7-8 and 9 guys are the best in the business, possibly ever. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland represent the back end of Kansas City’s bullpen. The Royals trio all had ERA’s below 1.50 in over 60 appearances each this season. According to MLB.com that is the first time a team has ever had even two players in their relief core with such a feat. All three of them also had at least 50 strikeouts on the year. With these kinds of guys in the pen, it is no wonder Kansas City generally only sends their starters out for six innings. Holland has converted 6-6 saves in the playoffs and struck out 10 hitters. In eight games he posts a 1.13 ERA. Davis, the Royals setup man, has also struck out 10 and owns a superb 0.96 postseason ERA. Herrera struck out 10 batters as well. If the Royals have a lead late in the game, the Giants are going to have some issues finding a comeback.
Giants: The Giants relievers in the postseason are also putting up good numbers. Closer, Santiago Casilla is yet to allow a run in a postseason in which he has saved four games with five strikeouts. Eight inning guy Sergio Romo has allowed one run in 4.2 innings with a 1.93 ERA, and Yusmeiro Petit has proven to be a horse as a long man, going nine innings in two games without giving up a run.
Even if you’re not a fan of either wild card team, you have to admit this is going to be one exciting series. The Royals have played in four extra inning ball games and still have not been beaten since the playoffs began. Can the Giants be the first to win a game against this hot team? Will Madbum shutdown the Royals at home to start the season… This is certainly the most excited I have been to watch a World Series in which my favorite team was not a participant. I am going to say Royals win it in five games. Do you think I am wrong? Watch the games on FOX, starting Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 7 pm.