By the middle of next week, the 2014 World Series Champion will be crowned. Either the Giants will have put a stamp on the most underwhelming and strangest dynasty in baseball history or the Royals will have snapped their 29-year playoff drought in the most incredible way imaginable. Either way, it will be a strange addition to the post-millennium champions list: D-Backs, Marlins, White Sox, both Cardinals teams and the middle team in the Red Sox worst-to-first-to-worst stretch.
It’s a genuine surprise either is here. The Giants finished with the fifth-best record in the National League, well behind both the Dodgers and Nationals, and had to play the one-game Wild Card on the road in Pittsburgh. The Royals finished the season out with a mediocre 10-10 run. They were able to hang onto a Wild Card spot only because of 16-30 and 5-12 late-season stretches by the A’s and Mariners, respectively.
But they are here. And one team will walk away as champions. What team that is depends on a number of factors.
The Royals will win if…
1. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas keep up the production:
Moustakas, despite his draft billing, has never produced consistently at the major league level. Through more than 500 career games, his OPS is .668. He’s been something of a disappointment. So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that he’s got just seven hits and one walk in 30 postseason at bats. What is surprising is that four of those hits have been home runs, giving him a slugging percentage of .655.
Hosmer, who was also a very highly-touted prospect, has shown more flashes throughout his career. During the 2014 regular season, however, he was terrible. He posted a .270/.318/.398 batting line and stole a career low four bases. Yet he’s hit .448/.556/.759 in the postseason.
The Royals greatest weaknesses (aside from their uphill battle against history and the evil forces that have conspired to keep them out of the playoffs) in the regular season was power hitting. Moustakas and Hosmer suddenly remembering how to hit is a major plus for Kansas City.
2. Big Game James can live up to his ludicrous nickname:
James Shields, he of a 5.54 career postseason ERA, will take the hill for Game One. Through three starts this postseason, he’s pitched 16 innings and allowed 21 hits and 10 runs. Although he played a large role in getting the Royals to the postseason, they’ve mostly won in spite of him since they’ve gotten there. The defense has been excellent as always, the offense has been surprisingly good and the bullpen is unhittable. If Shields (and Yordano Ventura, for that matter) can put forth solid efforts in Games One and Two, the Royals will have an excellent chance to take the series.
3. They remain on close terms with Lucifer or whomever:
Not to take anything away from the Royals or Dayton Moore, who’s done a fine job putting together a unique team, but the past two weeks have been hard to believe. They’re 8-0 despite playing into extra innings four times and seemingly being tied or trailing late in each game. The clinching Game Three against the Angels was the only game that didn’t involve extra innings or a score within two runs. They’ve been at their best late in games and in clutch situations. That’s not really a sustainable skill, but in the small sample size of the playoffs, that doesn’t really matter.
The Giants will win if…
1. The starting pitching performs as it should:
Madison Bumgarner is the best pitcher left in the postseason. He’s already pitched 31 2/3 innings and allowed just five earned runs. Jake Peavy, who has a sub-two ERA in his two starts this postseason will take the mound for Game Two. Tim Hudson will be a more-than-capable Game Three starter. Three gems that put San Francisco up 3-0 is a distinct possibility.
2. The “random guy” quota is filled:
The Giants of the 2010’s have had quite a few star/prominent players: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey etc. Yet Cody Ross (2010 NLCS), Marco Scutaro (2012 NLCS) and a far past his prime Edgar Renteria (2010 World Series) have all claimed series MVP honors. While Bumgarner and Posey might seem like logical choices for this type of honor if the Giants win, don’t be surprised if Joe Panik or Travis Ishikawa walk away with the award.
3. There’s something to the even-year pattern:
There’s probably not, but there’s something poetic about them rising and dying. Comedy legend George Carlin made the point that life is a series of rises and falls, not the constant forward progression we are led to believe it is. The Giants are the perfect embodiment of this philosophy. Twice they’ve won the World Series, failed to address issues plaguing the team and faltered the next year. Then they rise again.
As for the even-year thing, check back with me in 2016. That is, if baseball hasn’t been cancelled yet due to a decline in interest after the Royals win out indefinitely. Royals in four.