Written by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
Edited by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)
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After 162-regular season games and multiple divisional and league championship series wins, it is finally that time of year again. October is almost in the books and it is down to the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants as they fight for the right to call themselves World Series champs. Even though both of these teams came in as Wild Card winners, it has been a tale of two different stories that has made up this year's fall classic.
San Francisco Giants
When the 2014 season first started, many people believed that the San Francisco Giants would be in the hunt for their third World Series title in the last five years. The stage looked to be set with Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence holding down the fort at the plate while the trio of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum led the way in the San Francisco rotation. The Giants were one of the best/hottest teams in baseball leading up to the All-Star break, but as the second half of the season began, San Francisco started out 5-7 and in a tight race with the Los Angeles Dodgers to end the season, the Giants only went 13-12 in the month of September. Now, the clubhouse did take a hit with the loss of Matt Cain and Angel Pagan for the rest of the season due to injury, and even with the addition of Jake Peavy at the trade deadline, it was all the Giants could do to barely reach the postseason.
Since making the playoffs, the Giants have went 8-2 in series victories over Pittsburgh, Washington and St. Louis and the main reason for their dominant resurgence is all on the arm of their young, yet established ace named Madison Bumgarner. On the season, Bumgarner kept the San Fran season alive with an 18-10 record, 219 strikeouts and an ERA of .298. Since the start of the postseason, the 25-year old from Hickory, North Carolina is 2-1 with 28 strikeouts and an absurd ERA of 1.42 in just four starts. With the loss of Cain and the irrelevancy of Lincecum, Bumgarner was given the task of taking the reigns of this Giants rotation and with his phenomenal efforts this season; the lefty has propelled Bruce Bochy and his Giants back into the World Series. Final note on Bumgarner, even though he is just 25, this is his 3rd World Series appearance with a postseason record of 5-3 and a combined ERA of 2.67. Not bad for the young pup.
San Francisco Giants X-Factor: Travis Ishikawa
As much as I love Madison Bumgarner, my x-factor for the Giants is Travis Ishikawa. Playing for his fifth team in the last two seasons, Ishikawa has been on an unprecedented high during the entire playoffs. After signing Ishikawa to a minor league deal back in April, the Giants put him out in left field to fill the void left by the injury to Pagan. During the postseason, Ishikawa has batted .269 with eight walks, seven RBI and a game-winning homerun that sent San Francisco back to the World Series. No matter who the player is, if he is playing out of his mind, you have to ride that momentum. None of us saw this coming out of Travis Ishikawa, and if he keeps it up; the Giants will be world champs once again.
Kansas City Royals
The last time the Kansas City Royals were even close to sniffing the playoffs was back in 1985 when George Brett and company won the World Series. Since then, Kansas City has been one of the worst teams in baseball, and as an Indians fan, I never had to worry about them. Now that it is 2014 and Kansas City’s General Manager, Dayton Moore, has secured young talent like Salvador Perez, my nemesis Eric Hosmer (story for a different day), Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, while trading for one of the best arms in baseball, James Shields, the Royals are back to being relevant again.
As predictions were being made for 2014, nobody expected Kansas City to be here. We all kind of knew that there was something brewing out in KC, but not many thought it would happen this fast. The Royals ended the regular season at 89-73 and after sweeping Oakland, the LA Angels and Baltimore, one of the most improbable playoff runs in league history has allowed the Royals a chance at baseball’s biggest prize.
While I pointed out Bumgarner as the main piece to San Francisco’s puzzle, I can’t do that with Kansas City. This has been a complete group effort. Of their eight-straight postseason wins, four of them have come in extra innings with late game heroics coming from Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon. All but one of their playoff victories has come by a margin of three runs or less, and while that would worry most teams, the Royals and Ned Yost have one of the most dominant bullpens in the game to hand a lead over to.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it takes strong outings from Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Yordano Ventura and Jason Vargas to use your bullpen correctly, but between Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, they have been the closest thing to a sure thing in this postseason. Since the start of their remarkable playoff run, the likes of Herrera, Davis and Holland have combined for a 1.34 ERA, 30 total strikeouts and only three runs allowed. ALL POSTSEASON! Those numbers are riding a fine line of absolute stupidity and while it takes good pitching and clutch hitting to get to the fall classic, it is a strong bullpen that can win it all.
Kansas City Royals X-Factor: Mike Moustakas
Just like Ishikawa, Moustakas spent part of the season in the minor leagues because he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Moustakas ended the regular season batting a so-so .212, but once he reached October, Magic Mike let loose. As one of the hottest hitters left in the playoffs, Moustakas is batting .241 with five RBI and four homeruns. Taking nothing away from the amazing efforts of Hosmer and Cain, the battle-tested season and emotional high that Moustakas is currently on makes him a very dangerous person at the plate for the opposing Giants. Like the old baseball adage says, don’t put away a hot bat.
Regardless of the outcome, this is going to be an amazing series between two well deserving teams. In my opinion, the first game on Tuesday night will tell the story of how this series goes. If Bumgarner comes out electric, the Royals may not have a chance. But if “Big Game” James comes out firing, that might be all the momentum that Kansas City needs to stay on their winning-streak. As well as the Giants have been playing; I can’t help but stick with the red-hot Royals as I pick Kansas City to put away the Giants in six games, 4-2. No matter who you are rooting for, be sure to enjoy the World Series for what it truly is, the fall classic of America’s pastime.
Curt’s World Series Pick: Royals in 6 Games over the Giants (4-2)
Matt's World Series Pick: Royals Trump Giants in 5 Games (4-1)