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5 Storylines to Watch in the 2014 World Series

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The 2014 World Series begins tonight in Kansas City, as two Wild Card teams meet in the Fall Classic for the first time since the 2002 Series that saw the Angels beat the Giants in seven games. The been-there-done that San Francisco Giants head east to take on the stout Kansas City Royals in Game 1 tonight at Kauffman Stadium.

Both teams were long shots at the beginning of the Postseason, having to overcome more heralded teams, and the Wild Card play-in game. Here are five storylines to watch as the World Series kicks off.

SHUTDOWN ‘PENS

Both the Giants and the Royals feature supreme pitching talent in their respective bullpens. Giants skipper Bruce Bochy is much more tactical with his bullpen maneuvers compared to that of Royals manager Ned Yost. Bocky isn’t afraid to mix up relievers in different innings to keep opposing hitters and managers guessing. Yost is much more concrete in his relief strategy. Kelvin Herrera will get the ball in the 7th, Wade Davis in the 8th, and Greg Holland in the 9th.

Even the pitchers themselves are contrasting in pitching styles. The Royals come at you with a “here it is, try and hit it” approach; while the Giants are much more analytical about how they pitch to a hitter. One thing both stables have in common, they are effective.

The combo of Herrera, Davis, and Holland has been outstanding, to be modest. The Royals as a complete bullpen unit have thrown 35 innings, yielding a .179 AVG and 1.80 ERA during the Postseason. Herrera pitched 8 1/3 of those innings giving up one run and posting a 1.08 ERA. Davis is even better in the 8th with a 0.96 ERA in 9 1/3 innings pitched, surrendering one run as well. The same story applies for Holland who has notched six saves (Four of those vs. Baltimore, tying Dennis Eckersley’s postseason record for saves in one series) and a 1.13 ERA in eight innings pitched, also giving up just one run.

San Fran’s veteran cohort of Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Segio Romo, and Santiago Cassila has all been here before, twice actually. All four of the Giants primary bullpen arms were with the club during their first two World Series runs in 2010 and 2012. The roles have changed but the names have stayed the same.

In his last 18 appearances, lefty vet Jeremy Affeldt, has not given up a single run. Lefty specialist Javier Lopez hasn’t surrendered a run either in his last 15 mound appearances. But no Giants reliever has been as potent as Santiago Casilla. Cassilla has only given up two hits in his seven Postseason appearances this year, and didn’t give up a hit for a month prior to those hits in Game 4 of the NLCS. Thus far, Casilla has put up zeros in the ERA, Runs, and Earned Runs columns.

The Giants pen hasn’t been as “dominating” compared to that of the Royals because of one glaring stat. The Giants have given up seven home runs thus far in the Postseason. Hunter Strickland was responsible for surrendering four of those, two to Bryce Harper. Strickland only appeared once in the NLCS against the Cardinals but still gave up a dinger. Strickland and Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum will be the wild cards out of the Giants pen. 21 year-old lefty Brandon Finnegan has been outstanding for Ned Yost and the Royals, and could be the ace in the hole for KC. Finnegan was the Royals first-round draft pick out of TCU this past July, and he clearly has the stuff to make hitters miss in The Show, striking out 10, posting a 1.00 WHIP and 1.29 ERA to go along with just one earned run and one hit in 4.1 innings of work.

ROYAL SPEED vs. BUSTER POSEY

Much has been made about the Royals’ blazing speed on the base paths, and for good reason, their speed is game changing. The Royals led all of baseball in stolen bases with 153 and proved time and time again just how dangerous their base stealing ability is throughout the Postseason as eight different runners have stolen a bag at some point this October.

Giants All-star catcher Buster Posey is more than adequate behind the plate but finds himself in the middle of the pack when it comes to catching base thieves. So far this postseason, Posey has only picked off one runner and allowed three to advance safely. Granted, that is a small sample size, but even his regular season numbers aren’t that great. During the 2014 season, Posey only threw out approximately 30 percent of all runners, allowing 59 steals, ranking him 12th in baseball in bases stolen.

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If speedsters Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and Alcides Escobar can get on base, look for Ned Yost to give his guys the green light to run on the former NL MVP.

ACES

We are all but guaranteed to see Giants lefty ace Madison Bumgarner and the Royals’ “Big Game James” Shields in at least two appearances this series as they both take the hill in Game 1 tonight.

Bumgarner earned his title as the NLCS MVP with fantastic performances all October long. In four postseason games this Fall, Bumgarner has given up just five earned runs, while striking out 28, and posting a 1.42 ERA, .170 AVG, and 0.76 WHIP in 31.2 innings.

Shields, on the other hand, hasn’t exactly lived up to his “Big Game” moniker. In 50.1 career innings of postseason work, Shields has put up a 5.19 ERA, and only reached the 7th inning once, way back in 2008 when the Rays went to the World Series.  If the Royals’ are aspiring for one more post-series champagne shower, they are going to need more from their veteran hurler.

BIG STICKS AND TIMELY HITS

Neither the Royals nor the Giants were known during the regular season for hitting the long ball. In fact, the Royals ranked last in all of baseball in homers (95), while the Giants were 17th (132). But October has brought out the big bats at all the right times.

Eric Hosmer’s October coming out party has been better than anything Kid ‘N Play could host at their parent’s house. Hosmer and his bat have propelled the Royals to their first World Series in 29 years, thanks to his .448/.556/.759 slash line, 2 HR, a double, triple, and and 8 RBI in eight games. Its not just how much damage Hos is doing, but when he is doing it. His one-out triple in the 12th in the AL Wild Card game sparked KC’s comeback over the As in one of the best baseball games you could ever hope to see. And his 11th inning jack in Los Angeles in Game 2 of the ALDS might have been the back breaker the Angels were dreading. But Hos isn’t alone in his offensive conquest. ALCS MVP Lorenzo Cain has been nothing short of remarkable with his timely hitting including 15 total bases, 12 hits, 9 runs, 3 doubles, 4 RBI, and 2 stolen bags in just 8 games this October, while Mike Moustakas has added four homers of his own.

The Giants haven’t been as fortunate at the plate, but have found ways to muster up runs, usually by capitalizing on other team’s errors. San Fran’s Postseason team batting average is a lackluster .244 with an OBP of .318. If the Giants are going to score runs, it will be much tougher against the Royals, one of the soundest defenses in baseball. The Giants may also need more home run heroics earlier in games because of the strength of KC bullpen in later innings. Buster Posey (.302/.354/.302) and Pablo Sandoval (.326/.396./406) have been the Giants most reliable hitters through the Postseason, amassing 27 hits, but only four went for extra bases, all of which belong to Sandoval.

For the Giants to raise the Commissioner’s Trophy one more time, players like Hunter Pence (.256/.341/.333), Brandon Belt (1 extra base hit), Michael Morse (4 at-bats, 1HR), and Brandon Crawford (.211/.279./342) will have to deliver when it matters most.

GIANT EXPERIENCE vs. ROYAL MAGIC

Both clubs are coming into the World Series scorching hot. The Royals have picked the perfect time to go streaking (“…through the quad, and into the gymnasium, and into the World Series…everybody’s doing it”), winning their last eight games against teams that were all better than them in the regular season. But October doesn’t care about what you did April through September. Of the Royals 25-man roster, only three players have ever played in the postseason. Judging from the way the Royals have made acrobatic plays in the outfield, stolen bases, and hit dramatic home runs, you never would have guessed it, but of the team’s 25-man Postseason roster, only three players have October experience. Maybe this team is just naïve enough to take on this tested, veteran Giants ball club.

The Giants have been here before, twice, actually. Bumgarner, Sandoval, Posey, Lincecum, Crawford, Belt, Casilla, Lopez, Romo, Pence, Affeldt, and Machi were all apart of the 2012 Giants team that won it all against the Detroit Tigers. Thanks in part to their stringent defense, reliable pitching, and polished at bats, the Giants are never out of a game. Someone always seems to step up for them at the right time, whether it’s Lincecum out of the bullpen, Sandoval smacking three homers in one game, or latest-additions Michael Morse and Travis Ishikawa hitting homers, the Giants typically deliver in October.

This Fall Classic matchup between the Royals and Giants has all the makings of a fantastic conclusion to yet another outstanding MLB season.

By Jake Rose