The Royals are the first team from the American League to make the World Series in a full season without hitting at least 100 homers since the 1959 White Sox. They had 95 this season, while the Giants hit 132. But at one point, San Francisco went six games in the playoffs (242 plate appearances) without a homer. The Royals’ speed has become well-known. They stole 153 bases, the most in baseball. The Giants swiped 56, the second-fewest in the majors. During the regular season, the Giants were 12th in baseball in runs (665), while the Royals were 14th (651). One area in which both teams have improved: taking a walk. In the regular season, the Giants walked in 7 percent of their plate appearances. That’s up to 8.8 percent in the playoffs. The Royals’ improvement went from 6.3 percent in the regular season to 9.1 percent in the postseason. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval is the Giants’ top stick in the lineup. He has reached base in 23 straight postseason games and is hitting .326 in the playoffs this year. Catcher Buster Posey is hitting .302 in the postseason but doesn’t have an extra-base hit. But he’s averaged 20 homers the last three seasons. Keep an eye on rookie second baseman Joe Panik, who hit .305 in 73 games. He could be a key to the Giants’ success. Both teams feed off opponents’ miscues, but the Royals’ speed can’t be matched, as their 15 infield hits attest.
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The Royals’ bench has 10 at-bats in the postseason, and just two hits. Both came in the AL Wild Card Game. But manager Ned Yost is right: Terrance Gore’s speed — and Jarrod Dyson’s — can be a difference-maker. With each team expected to scratch out runs, the speedy duo could swing at least one game. Michael Morse contributed a key home run in game five of the NLCS for the Giants and he is always capable of a long ball. He should be the DH for the Giants. After that, it’s thin. Matt Duffy can handle the bat, so he can get down a bunt and maybe steal a base.
Those infield hits the Royals have amassed in the postseason may be harder to come by in this series. San Francisco’s infield has saved 18 runs this season (according to BillJamesonline.com), but the outfield is a negative-3. The Royals’ defensive outfield advantage is their biggest edge. Travis Ishikawa is a first baseman playing in the outfield for the Giants, and that only widens the talent gap. However, ESPN noted that during the regular season, the Giants turned 76 percent of ground balls and bunts hit against them into outs, the second-highest rate in the league (3 percentage points above the major-league average). Posey has thrown out a solid 30 percent of would-be base stealers the last three seasons.
The Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and Jake Peavy had the best Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark among the starters in this series. FIP measures only a pitcher’s home runs allowed, walks and strikeouts, eliminating plate appearances that require a defensive play. Bumgarner’s FIP is 3.05 (his ERA was 2.98), while Jake Peavy (3.03 FIP, 2.17 ERA) has a career 6.42 ERA at Kauffman Stadium. Of course, those numbers are skewed a bit because of facing National League lineups (i.e., the pitcher’s spot). James Shields has a 5.63 ERA in this postseason and has pitched just 16 innings in three starts. The Royals hope to see the Yordano Ventura who pitched against the Angels (one run in seven innings) than the one who faced the Orioles (four runs in 5 2/3 innings). Tim Hudson and Jason Vargas both struggled in September, but pitched better in the playoffs.
The Giants’ bullpen has a 1.78 ERA during the postseason, which is just slightly better than the Royals’ 1.80. San Francisco closer Santiago Casilla, former closer/set-up man Sergio Romo and left-handers Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez are all in their third World Series, so no nerves to be expected there. However, nothing matches the the bullpen triumvirate of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera. In the ALCS, they threw 14 2/3 innings, allowed one run on seven hits and three walks and struck out 15. That’s an 0.61 ERA. Jason Frasor and Brandon Finnegan are so effective that Ned Yost needs just five innings out of his starters.
Six weeks ago, most baseball observers would have said this was an easy call. And while Bruce Bochy is arguably the best manager in the game today, Ned Yost has shown flexibility in his thinking. Yost changed his lineup, showed a willingness to have relievers pitch more than one inning and will pull a starter earlier than in the past. In short, he’s managing like it’s the playoffs. Still … Bochy just seems to push all the right buttons at all the right times.
Royals in six games