The 2014 World Series features two teams with their own sense of destiny.
The Kansas City Royals have ended a 29-year playoff drought in style, coming from way behind in the Wild Card game and winning their first eight games this postseason. They began their historic run by going extra innings in four of their first five, taking the lead in three of those games and using both small-ball and home-run ball.
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The San Francisco Giants limped into the playoffs and then went 8-2, capped by a walkoff blast by feel-good-story journeyman Travis Ishikawa. This makes their third trip to the Fall Classic in five years and continues their recent run of even-year World Series visits. Both teams are as hot as can be, and have won games in thrilling fashion.
Youth vs. experience
The Giants and Royals aren’t as opposite on paper as the Orioles and Royals appeared (an appearance that turned out to be somewhat misleading, as I noted earlier) to be. But one difference does stand out: The Giants are an experienced team led by seasoned veterans, while the Royals are led by exuberant youngsters who feel like their time has finally come.
Ryan Vogelsong has emerged as a postseason ace at age 37, combining experience, two dominant pitches and fiery competitiveness to come up big. The Giants have an array of veteran players with playoff experience, including nine players who’ve been there for all three of their recent World Series appearances.
In Kansas City, twenty-somethings Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez have come into their own at the same time. Meanwhile, Cinderella stories like Jarrod Dyson are winning games by shrinking the field on defense and applying pressure on the bases.
Not exactly by the book
Both managers have managed by eschewing conventional wisdom and standing by their decisions, even when the results are potentially disastrous. Ishikawa’s walkoff was on a 3-0 count, a move almost certainly authorized by Bruce Bochy.
Royals manager Ned Yost is known for his emphasis on up-tempo swashbuckling on the bases and hunch-based strategic moves. Had the Royals not recovered from the widely ridiculed insertion of Yordano Ventura against the Athletics, Yost might already be out of a job. Now, his supporters laud him as a misunderstood genius.
Calm, cool and collected
The Giants and Royals have shown great composure all postseason. This is less surprising from the been-there-before Giants, who’ve come through injuries, adversity and naysayers to make it back to the final series. It’s more striking from the youngsters in Kansas City, who never seem to be rattled or stressed.
Down one or down four, these Royals stay calm and keep plugging away. Unsung superstar Alex Gordon maintains his meditative aura whether he’s hit in the neck by a fastball (which actually happened this postseason) or hitting a game-changing blast (which he did in the very next at bat). Both teams are playing as if no game or situation is too big.
Posey and Pablo
Along with Vogelsong’s emotional energy and lights-out pitching, the Giants have won because Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey have come up big. The now-svelte Big Panda has shown agility at third base and presence at the plate, batting .326 with six runs scored this postseason. Posey, one of the best catchers of his generation when healthy, has hit .302 this postseason while driving in five runs. When Posey and the Panda are hot, the Giants can score in bunches.
Hosmer and Gordon
The hottest player this postseason continues to be Eric Hosmer. He’s locked in, seeing the ball well and hitting .448 this postseason with eight RBIs. He seems to make pitchers pay for every mistake. Gordon isn’t putting up huge numbers, but he’s come up huge in key moments. He’s also played a stellar left field, finally showcasing his quadruple-threat ability on the national stage. Before this October, Alex Gordon might have been the most elite under-the-radar player in the major leagues. Not anymore.
Who wins the 2014 World Series?
The Giants and Royals are two wild card teams that are a combined 16-2 this postseason. They’ve used all phases of the game to get here, and both teams have won nail-biters. These two balanced, confident teams of destiny seem poised to cap an exciting postseason with an exciting World Series. The difference here will come down to home field advantage and the Royals’ slight edge in relief pitching.
Prediction: Royals in seven