Two teams that truly believe they are part of destiny collide in the World Series starting here Tuesday night.
The Kansas City Royals, nearly wiped out by Oakland in the Wild Card Game, arose from the dead that night and have swept through the playoffs since, going a record 8-0 in the postseason.
The Royals, making their first World Series appearance since 1985, have done so with some old-fashioned baseball — spectacular defense, speed on the basepaths and a suffocating, shutdown bullpen.
The San Francisco Giants simply expect to be here. As they aim for their third World Series title in five years, they will bank their hopes on timely hitting, experience, excellent starting pitching and a terrific bullpen of their own.
So how do the teams match up?
Neither team can be described as an offensive juggernaut, especially in the playoffs.
The Giants, hitting just .244 with a .313 OBP and five homers in the postseason, rely on veteran plate appearances from guys who have been there and done that — catcher Buster Posey, right fielder Hunter Pence and third baseman Pablo Sandoval (.814 OPS in the playoffs). And then there’s left fielder Travis Ishikawa, who blasted a walk-off homer in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series that got the Giants here.
Posey (.656 OPS in the postseason) and Pence (.674) have yet to sizzle in the playoffs, and the Giants have not gotten much up the middle from shortstop Brandon Crawford, second baseman Joe Panik and center fielder Gregor Blanco, although Panik and Crawford each has delivered a homer.
Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, who has six RBI and a .781 OPS in the playoffs, is a talented young hitter a bit like Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer.
The Royals, hitting. 259 in the playoffs, counter with speed (13 postseason steals) and a penchant for manufacturing runs.
But for a team that was last in baseball in homers (95) during the regular season, Kansas City also has delivered some rare punch in the postseason. Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas, both former first-round draft picks, are shining in the playoff spotlight. Hosmer is hitting .448 with a 1.314 OPS, and Moustakas leads all of baseball with four postseason homers (tied with Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals).
The top of the order — shortstop Alcides Escobar (.714 OPS), right fielder Nori Aoki and center fielder Lorenzo Cain (.820 OPS) — has done a decent job of table-setting. DH Billy Butler (five RBI) and left fielder Alex Gordon (nine RBI) haven’t been smoking the ball but have come through with clutch hits.
Catcher Sal Perez (.118 average) and second baseman Omar Infante (.207) have continued their dreadful late-season slumps into the playoffs.
Both teams are solid defensively and will have to be to defend two of the biggest ballparks in baseball. The Royals’ outstanding trio of Gold Glover Gordon, AL Championship Series MVP Cain and speedy Jarrod Dyson (a late-inning defensive replacement) will have to get used to the quirky dimensions of AT&T Park but has the speed to make up for most mistakes.
Ishikawa, Blanco and Pence can’t match the speed of the Royals’ outfield but are savvy defenders.
Giants Game 1 starter Madison Bumgarner (four playoff starts, two wins, 1.42 ERA) has been a horse in the playoffs, and clearly has been the best starter in the postseason. The Giants also are benefiting from a revived Jake Peavy (1.86 ERA) and can get a quality start out of veteran Tim Hudson (two starts, 3.29 ERA). Ryan Vogelsong (5.19 ERA) is the shakier option after that.
The Royals will counter in Game 1 with Big Game James Shields, who has wobbled mightily (5.63 ERA, 1.63 WHIP) in the postseason. Fireballer Yordano Ventura had one terrific start against the Angels (seven innings, one run) but also struggled against the Orioles, not getting out of the sixth inning. The Royals shoved left-hander Danny Duffy, perhaps their best starter in the regular season, to the bullpen after he suffered a late-season shoulder injury. He is fine now, but the Royals feel more secure with veterans Jeremy Guthrie (1.80 ERA) and Jason Vargas (2.38 ERA) after Games 1 and 2.
The back end of the Royals’ bullpen — the three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera (1.08 ERA in the playoffs), Wade Davis (0.96 ERA) and Greg Holland (1.13 ERA, six saves) — has been the talk of baseball, both during the regular season and now in the playoffs. Royals games typically are decided after six innings if they have the lead with Herrera owning the seventh, Davis the eighth and Holland the ninth. Rookie left-hander Brandon Finnegan has been effective in a variety of roles.
The Giants’ back end of the bullpen obviously has been no slouch, either. San Francisco has more versatility than the Royals with left-handers Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt. And the Giants’ quartet of Affeldt, Lopez, Sergio Romo and closer Santiago Casilla has experience — the foursome has been together since 2010. Long man/short man Yusmeiro Petit gives the Giants even more versatility. Among those five relievers, only one (Romo) has given up a run in the playoffs — and he allowed just one. Casilla has four saves and has been tagged for only two postseason hits.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy hasn’t had to go to his bench much in the postseason, other than with Michael Morse (2 for 4, one homer), and Bochy will use Morse in Kansas City as the designated hitter. Juan Perez (.154 average) is the fourth outfielder.
The Royals rarely pinch hit, though they likely will have veteran Josh Willingham if needed. But what manager Ned Yost will use is his speed and defense off the bench. Dyson usually enters the game in the seventh inning to replace Aoki, taking over center field while Cain moves to right. And speedster Terrance Gore (three steals) is a fabulous weapon late in games when the Royals are trying to manufacture a run.
The big question is how much San Francisco’s October experience will play into the Series. The Giants obviously know what this stage is like, having won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. There is something to be said about simply knowing how to win, and the Giants always seem to find a way. Throw in the fact that national observers consider this a managerial mismatch — Bochy over Yost — and the edge would seem to go to the Giants.
But not so fast. This Royals team has been feeling a bit invincible ever since their improbable comeback in a wacky 9-8 Wild Card Game win over Oakland. The Royals are an unprecedented 8-0 in the postseason and may simply be the charmed team right now. On top of that, they are built for the postseason with their elite defense, speed and bullpen — all crucial elements when trying to win close games.
Indeed, it’s time to party like it’s 1985.