The Kansas City Royals are in the World Series.
Read that sentence again. Its beautiful, isn't it? I'll give you two a moment.
The American League Champion Kansas City Royals will face the San Francisco Giants in the 110th Fall Classic, and the first for the Royals since they won it all in 1985. The Giants will be playing for their third championship in five seasons, but these aren't quite the same Giants that won it in 2010 and 2012. This year's Giants won just 88 games, sneaking into the playoffs as the second Wild Card, a thing that didn't even exist when they won their first championship in San Francisco in 2010.
The Giants looked like world-beaters to begin the year, getting off to a scorching start. They won 43 of their first 64 games, and had the best record in baseball on June 8. But they dropped 16 of 26 in the month of June and fell behind the Dodgers for the division lead in late July.
In early August the Giants came to Kansas City for a three-game set to cap off a long ten-game road trip. McCovey Chronicles does a good job summarizing the series here. In the first game, a pair of misplays by first baseman Michael Morse cost Madison Bumgarner a win in a 4-2 Royals victory. In the second game, James Shields dominated for a four-hit complete game shutout in front of a packed house including Royals Review writers and Sung Woo Lee. In the finale, the Royals jumped on starter Tim Lincecum for four runs in the first inning, including an RBI double by Billy Butler and a two-run home run by Alex Gordon en route to a 7-4 win.
The Giants were able to clinch a playoff spot easily after the Brewers epic collapse, but with a pythag of just 87-75, they did not seem to be a very likely candidate to win their third pennant in five seasons. But they easily defeated the Pirates in Pittsburgh for the Wild Card, then made quick work (well, if you can call an 18-inning game quick) of the Washington Nationals, before beating the St. Louis Cardinals in five games.
As you might expect, the Giants are a very average-to-above-average club in most statistical categories. They were fifth in runs scored at 4.10 per game, and were seventh in on-base percentage, and sixth in slugging. They finished seventh in home runs, smashing 37 more dingers than the Royals, but no player on their team had more than Buster Posey's 22 home runs. Speaking of Posey, a lot of attention will be focused on his ability to stop the Royals running game. Posey for his career has been quite average, throwing out 28% of would-be base-stealers.
Like the Royals, the Giants don't strikeout much, finishing with the fifth fewest strikeouts, and they don't walk much either, finishing with the fifth fewest walks. Unlike the Royals, the Giants don't steal much at all, finishing dead last in the league with just 56 steals.
The Giants are missing regular center-fielder Angel Pagan, out with back injuries, as well as backup catcher Hector Sanchez and reserve infielder Brandon Hicks. They are left with a very thin, inexperienced bench, and have been pressed into starting journeyman Travis Ishikawa in left-field. Ishikawa, who had the game winning walk-off home run in the NLCS against St. Louis, is frequently replaced in late innings by Juan Perez for defensive reasons. Mike Morse has also been battling an oblique injury, but should be available for hitting duties.
The Giants have some big name pitchers, and while Madison Bumgarner put together a fantastic season, the Giants pitching staff as a whole was quite ordinary. They finished sixth in runs allowed and had the third-fewest strikeouts. The Giants were struck hard by the loss of starting pitcher Matt Cain, who missed much of the year with bone chips in his elbow. Jake Peavy was acquired mid-season from the Red Sox and was exceptional down the stretch, although he has a 4.97 ERA against the Royals in fourteen career starts.
No bullpen in the National League struck out fewer hitters per nine innings than the Giants. Overall they were still rather effective with a 3.03 ERA, good enough for third in the league. All-Star closer Sergio Romo lost his closing duties in late June, giving way to Santiago Casilla, who put up good numbers despite a lack of "swing-and-miss" stuff. Yusmeiro Petit, a former prospect signed as a minor league free agent a few years ago, put together a fantastic season for the Giants. In 117 innings this year out of the rotation and the bullpen, he struck out 133 hitters, while walking just 22.
The Giants and Royals may be one of the "worst" World Series in terms of pure quality of opponents, but it might very well be one of the most entertaining. The two teams seem evenly matched, with a different approach to playing the game. With home field advantage, and an edge in pitching staffs, the Royals probably have a slight advantage. However the Giants will have experience on their side, and if we've seen any trends in this post-season, its that a short series is completely unpredictable.