Both the Royals and the Giants can pitch as well as anyone in the game. There are plenty of serviceable starters and some really nasty options in the bullpens.
Two critical differences. First, and no offense to James Shields, but Madison Bumgarner is the best pitcher in this series. The Royals will start four really good guys, but they have no one to match MadBum.
Second, the Royal bullpen is so, so good. They’ve been good all year. But, they deploy their weapons in a fairly rigid manner: Frasor (if needed in the 6th), Herrera in the 7th, Davis in the 8th, and Holland in the 9th. All of those guys are right-handed. There is very little mixing and matching, or deviating from that pattern (although Ned Yost did use Herrera for a few extra outs in Game 4 of the ALCS).
One of the things the Giants do so well is put extreme pressure on the opposing team to match up properly. Matheny got it right a few times in the NCLS, but he also got it wrong several times. Matt Williams got it wrong several times, and he got it wrong by going with the formulaic, “that’s out 7th inning guy,” thinking, when using his actual best pitcher would have been a much better move. That tends to be how Royals manager Ned Yost approaches games.
The truth is, the Royals guys are so good they may not need to do any mixing and matching. But, with a Giants lineup featuring 5 left handers (and I think Bochy will spread them out in Kansas City), there is going to be pressure put on Yost to figure out how to use guys in ways he didn’t have to against the Orioles (who used 6, 7, or 8 right-handed batters).
Meanwhile, Bochy is a genius at mixing and matching. He did not use his relievers in the same pattern in any of the 5 games in the NLCS. That backfired a bit in Game 2, but it also worked beautifully in the 4 wins. I’m sure Giants’s fans would take a similar result this time around.
Much like the Cardinals, the Royals are acting a bit out of character this postseason, hitting home runs at a much higher rate than the regular season. The Giants, on the other hand, are hitting home runs at a lower rate, even with the 3-home run breakout in the clinching Game 5 performance.
My initial thought here is that this favors the Giants. The Giants continue to score and win despite not hitting the long ball, and that always bodes well in the postseason. I also think it means they could be due to break out the home runs in the World Series. Posey, Sandoval, and Pence have yet to go yard in the playoffs. One would think that has to change.
The uptick in home runs for the Royals makes me think they are playing over their heads and have to come back down at some point. That could be in March, or it could be in this series.
I do think the power will be suppressed playing in two pitcher’s parks, but the Royals are able to score runs in a lot of different ways, and so even if the power disappears they can still put pressure on the pitchers and defense with their speed and contact game.
3. The Managers
Most people consider Ned Yost one of the worst managers in the Major Leagues. I don’t know if that is totally fair, and even if he is, he’s on a hot streak right now, and if you’ve ever played poker you know sometimes a bad player can beat you if they get the right cards. Yost may just have the right cards right now.
Most people consider Bruce Bochy one of the best managers in the Major Leagues. I tend to agree with that assessment.
The biggest issue (and I’ll say more about this in a moment) is that Yost hasn’t really had to second guess himself, nor has he been forced to deviate from his game plan. Bochy almost always seems to do better when he is forced off course. I don’t know that Yost has the ability to make those kinds of adjustments, especially if this series goes deep. I get the impression that he will just do the same thing over and over and hope it keeps working.
Bochy will never do that, and it’s his ability to adapt and change based on each series and each game that makes him so valuable in the postseason.
4. The Experience Factor
I haven’t really seen anyone write about this yet, although I’m sure someone will, but the Giants are far and away the more experienced club. Yes, they have more older players, but that’s not really what I’m talking about.
The Giants have 7 (8 if you count Tim Lincecum) players for whom this will be their third World Series in the last five years. Some of those guys are pretty young (Posey, Sandoval, Bumgarner). Those players are 8-1 in the World Series (which is a VERY good record).
Beyond that the Giants have another 7 guys (Ishikawa, Blanco, Pence, Belt, Crawford, Arias, and Vogelsong) who are playing in their second World Series with the Giants. (Plus Peavy who was just in the Series last year with the Red Sox). That’s 16 out of 25 guys with quite a bit of experience at this stage.
Then think about guys like Michael Morse and Tim Hudson who have never been here before and are old enough to realize they may never get back. That’s makes for one hungry, but experienced group.
This Giants’ team knows how to handle this, knows how to finish, and senses the opportunity to pull off the truly unbelievable feat of 3 championships in 5 years.
The Royals are young and hungry, but have only 2 players who has been here before (James Shields and Omar Infante, he of the losing 2012 Detroit Tigers).
Here, I am not referring to the mystical idea of destiny or that some teams get on a role, grab the moment right out of the air, and ride it victory (although there may be some of this with both teams).
But, what is most interesting coming into this series is that each team has been able to get ahead in its series and never let go. The Giants won the first game in both the NLDS and NLCS. The Giants got out to a critical 2-0 lead in the short series, and the critical 2-1 lead in the longer series. The Royals of course have won every game.
One of these teams, I can actually guarantee this, will start the series off with a loss and be in a 0-1 hole. Neither have had to face this predicament this postseason.
Both teams have been able to play out in front, put the pressure on their opponents, and then but the proverbial boot to the proverbial neck and end it.
Again, one of them will not be able to do that in this series and so will have to play catch up for the first time.
Playing catch up could benefit the Giants because they’ve done it before. The core of this roster has won 7 straight elimination games. However, the 2014 Giants seem to be following the script of the 2010 Giants: yeah it’s close and tense, but they are the aggressor putting their opponents on their heals and forcing them to be perfect (which they have not been able to do).
It would seem that it would continue to benefit the Giants to jump in front.
The Royals haven’t been behind much in this postseason either (the obvious exception being the Wild Card game). Since they’ve been so in control for so long it could really rattle them if they lose Game 1 and the Giants start turning the screws.
On the other hand, the Royals are young and loose and confident, and might be one of those teams that’s too dumb to know it should be scared. They may thrive on being behind.
My sense, though, is that Game 1 is huge, and whoever can jump out to the lead in this series is going to be well on their way to another party when it is all said and done.