((HT: BASTA/Ben Leonard))
The Giants and Royals meet in the 110th edition of the Fall Classic, with Game One starting at 5:07 PST on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The recent legacies of these two franchises could not be any more different. The Giants are in their third World Series in five years, while Kansas City has been a marker of futility, with this year marking their first trip to the postseason in twenty-nine years. With the Royals being labeled as the favorites in the series, riding an eleven game postseason winning streak and home field advantage, there would seem little reason to give the Giants a chance. However, the Royals are not as infallible as they might seem:
1. Ned Yost is an awful manager
Ned Yost, the Royals’ oft-criticized manager, deserves his share of censure. He insists on bunting, sabermetrically: the worst thing a team can do to consistently score more runs, unless the pitcher is “hitting”. Yost does not have this excuse, as he manages in the American League. He also hits Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot, who is a great defensive shortstop and basestealer, but holds a career .286 wOBA. Would you rather have the light-hitting, low on-base skilled Escobar get extra at-bats, or have unknown superstar Alex Gordon take them? Clearly, Yost lives in the past as a manager, and is infatuated with traditional baseball ideology, not what will win games.
Managers ultimately do not have much influence in the postseason or the regular season, but he almost cost his team the wild card game against Oakland. He pulled James Shields in the sixth, which was justified, but for reasons unknown, put in Yordano Ventura, who was battling elbow problems, and is not accustomed to pitching in relief. Yost’s move backfired when Ventura immediatly gave up a three-run homer to Brandon Moss, at the time essentially ending Kansas City’s hopes to win. Only a miraculous rally, coming independently from Yost’s decisions, let them advance. Yost is average at best as a manager, and his mediocrity will come to haunt Kansas City at some point in the series.
2. “Big Game” James Shields does not live up to his billing
James Shields, who has been hyped as “Big Game” James Shields by the national media, has been a far cry from that in his postseason career. He deceptively pitched well in the playoffs for the Rays in 2008, posting a 2.88 ERA in four starts, but was the beneficiary of good luck, as evidenced by his 4.43 xFIP. Here are the rest of his unimpressive postseason numbers:
Year Team G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
2010 Rays 1 1 4.1 4.15 0.00 2.08 0.214 43.5% 57.1% 16.7% 8.31 6.54 5.23
2011 Rays 1 1 5.0 10.80 0.00 0.00 0.471 30.0% 47.1% 0.0% 12.60 1.83 2.83
2014 Royals 3 3 16.0 8.44 2.81 1.69 0.360 74.6% 34.0% 15.8% 5.63 4.82 3.85
The first cousin of ex-Giant Aaron Rowand seems to share the set of genes for mediocrity, especially when it comes to meeting high expectations. The Royals need an ace to compete against Madison Bumgarner in this series, who has been absolutely filthy this October.
Bumgarner will be too much for “Big Game” James Shields to handle, and the Giants will take Game One of the series handily, swinging the series in their favor.
3. Inevitable regression
The fact that the Royals have won eight straight postseason games ironically makes them all the more susceptible to regression, as their fluky streak cannot continue forever, especially with a long break in between series. Contributing to this inevitability is that six of eight games they have played this postseason have been decided by two runs or fewer. This may be a testament to Kansas City’s stellar outfield defense or dominant bullpen, but it can also be used to show that the Orioles, Angels, and Athletics have been perennial chokers when it comes to the postseason, as they (besides Oakland) don’t have the pitching to succeed in the postseason. The Royals have had advantageous opponents and have played outside of their usual selves, hitting eight home runs in eight games when they were last in the majors in home runs in the regular season. Among these eight homers, four came from Mike Moustakas, a once highly-touted prospect who was sent to Triple-A earlier in the season because he was below replacement-level. The Royals are clearly due to regress, and the Giants will play them at just the right time to meet this regression.
4. The Giants hold runners (unlike Jon Lester)
Buster Posey throws out runners exceptionally well, fifth in the major leagues among qualified players in throwing out 29.8% of potential base stealers. The Royals have rode small ball, including thirteen stolen bases in their road to postseason dominance. They ran all over Jon Lester in the Wild Card Game, who has not picked off a runner at first base since June of 2013 (This is not a joke). Chris Iannetta, the Angels’ catcher, was 38th among non-qualified catchers in stolen base percentage. Madison Bumgarner, the Giants’ Game One starter, allowed just seven base runners to steal on him in seventeen attempts, a measly total for an entire regular season, a testament to his ability to hold on runners. The Royals’ prowess on the base paths is real, but has been greatly accentuated by weak competition. The Giants will be able to ground the Royals’ running game, limiting their firepower, coupled with the aforementioned foreseeable power outage.
5. San Francisco’s “it” factor
The Giants simply have the magic touch when it comes to the playoffs. Every ball seems to bounce their way, including this incredible bunt from Gregor Blanco in 2012.
The Giants know how to overcome adversity when it matters, contributing to their title runs in 2010 and 2012. San Francisco has become legendary in the postseason, and they simply have more experience than Kansas City. The little things always seem go their way, including how Matt Adams and the Cardinals forgot how to play defense in the NLCS. The Giants are seemingly the team of destiny once October comes around, and there is no reason for that to change any time soon.
For all of these reasons, the Giants will take the series with relative ease despite playing in tight games, the trademark of their torturous postseason success. Madison Bumgarner will give the Giants an easy win in Game One, and Jake Peavy will cruise take Game Two, helping to steal two games in Kansas City, giving the Giants an easy road to the title.