These San Francisco Giants have been here before. Twice recently, actually. Having won the World Series in 2010 and ’12, this team oozes postseason experience. No stage is too big for these guys, no spotlight too bright. In contrast, the American League champion Kansas City Royals have two players with World Series experience. James Shields made one start in the 2008 Series for Tampa Bay and tossed 5.2 scoreless innings. Second baseman Omar Infante had one plate appearance off the bench for Detroit in 2006, and was the Tigers’ full-time second baseman in 2012. The experienced Giants have eight players who were part of both the 2010 and ’12 champions. Another six players were part of one or the other. San Francisco had won 40 postseason games prior to this season since the Royals last played in October in 1985.
Before his arrival in San Francisco, manager Bruce Bochy led the San Diego Padres to the World Series in 1998. Bochy managed the Padres for 12 seasons and guided the team to four division crowns. He just completed his eighth season in San Francisco. Kansas City skipper Ned Yost is managing in the postseason for the first time this year.
Both teams feature terrific bullpens and win with determination and grittiness. Opportunistic is probably the best way to describe the offenses, and the Royals will create opportunities with speed, while the Giants won’t.
The experienced Giants will not likely beat themselves. They make very few mistakes in the field and on the bases. The young, brash Royals may be susceptible to a little overexcitement causing a few mistakes. With such good bullpens and both managers playing a conservative style, one mistake could cost a game.
San Francisco Giants
The quartet of Panik, Posey, Pablo and Pence anchors an opportunistic lineup that went through a stretch of scoring 13 of 20 runs in the postseason that weren’t produced by a hit. Specifically, it’s Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, the 2010 World Series MVP, that will carry the team. Travis Ishikawa led the Giants with seven RBIs in the NLCS, three of them coming on the final swing of the series. He won’t start against left-handed starter Jason Vargas, but Ishikawa could be a factor in late innings against the right-handed-heavy Kansas City bullpen.
The rotation begins with one of the best in baseball in lefthander Madison Bumgarner. The NLCS MVP won the wild-card play-in game and Game 1 of the NLCS. Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy have pitched well recently, but are basically six-inning pitchers. Should Peavy, Hudson or Game 4 starter Ryan Vogelsong falter early, expect a short leash with Yosmeiro Petit and Tim Lincecum available in the bullpen.
The Giants’ success rides on the relief corps. Lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez set up the late innings for Sergio Romo, the closer in the 2012 World Series, and Santiago Casilla, the current closer. With lefties Affeldt and Lopez, Bruce Bochy has more matchup options than the Royals. With the exception of allowing Jean Machi face Oscar Taveras in Game 2, Bochy pretty much controlled all the late-inning matchups in the NLCS.
There are few names most fans will recognize, but outfielder Juan Perez will see some time in left field vs. lefties and in the late innings, and Michael Morse provides serious pop off the bench as evidenced by his game-tying homer in the clinching game of the NLCS.
The Giants aren’t as spectacular defensively as the Royals, but they make all the plays and will not beat themselves. Brandon Crawford is a gem at shortstop.
Keys to Winning
The bullpen, no doubt, will carry a heavy load. Other than Bumgarner, Giants starters will not go deep into games. Bochy is a master at getting the matchups he wants, and the relievers know their roles. Catcher Posey must control the Royals’ running game, or Kansas City could create big innings.
Posey may be the most important cog for the Giants because he anchors the lineup and he’ll be responsible for thwarting the Royals’ best offensive asset — their ability to steal bases. Lefty reliever Lopez will face Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas with games on the line.
Kansas City Royals
Their recent power surge in the postseason belies the fact that the Royals were last in the majors in home runs this season. Their hallmark is the stolen base, not the long ball. KC defeated the A’s in the wild-card game with seven steals and no homers. Then they tagged the Orioles for four homers in four games with only one steal. Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain was named ALCS MVP and he must be involved in the offense. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler all can be streaky. Now is not the time for slumping.
Ace James Shields was acquired from the Rays in 2013 for this moment. He has been a horse and can go toe-to-toe with Madison Bumgarner of the Giants. Flamethrower Yordano Ventura will likely pitch Game 2 at home with vets Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas going at San Francisco. All the Royals ask is that these guys get a lead into the seventh inning.
There is no doubt that the pen is the strength of this team. Closer Greg Holland has saved six of their eight wins this postseason, including all four wins in the ALCS. He is reliable and can be dominant. Setup man Wade Davis is the best in the business and earned a pair of wins over Baltimore. Kelvin Herrera owns the seventh inning. The three each made 65 or more appearances with ERAs better than 1.50. No team in history has ever had two relievers accomplish that in the same season, let alone three.
Manager Ned Yost won’t use his bench to pinch-hit much, but he loves calling on speedsters Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson to pinch-run.
The only hint of weakness on defense is Mike Moustakas at third. Otherwise, Gold Glove candidates flash leather all over the field.
Keys to Winning
Similar to the Giants, the Royals will ask the pen to do some heavy lifting. The starters must keep the team in the game through five innings. Kansas City cannot afford to abandon the running game. Speed is the club’s best asset, and they must keep pressure on the Giants’ defense.
Starters Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas, who both pitched well at home in the ALCS, must step up on the road now. Lefty swingers Gordon, Hosmer and Moustakas will see a steady diet of lefthanders out of the San Francisco bullpen.
Giants in 5