To show how quickly the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants have emerged as pennant winning teams, one needs to think back to three weeks ago.
It was a time when both teams faced uncertain futures, not because of poor seasons but regular-seasons that were not quite good enough to earn automatic bids into the postseason. By winning less than 90 games, the Royals and Giants had to earn their way in by playing one more game.
It was the dreaded one-game elimination game and the Royals proved it was “easy” by rallying from a four-run deficit in the eighth inning to eventually outlast the Oakland Athletics in 12 innings. The Giants made it look easier by getting a grand slam from shortstop Brandon Crawford in an 8-0 rout of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Perhaps knowing they can win those games gave the Giants and Royals the confidence to win seven more games or perhaps it already existed.
The confidence became results and now they are in the 2014 World Series starting on Tuesday.
The Giants are trying to have a mini-dynasty going with their third championship in five years while the Royals are going for their second title and first since 1985.
“Being called a dynasty is kind of a perspective thing,” Hunter Pence said to reporters Monday at media day. “It’s an opinion. It can never really be true. What can be true is this team could win it this year. We made it this far, so just focus hard on that. I don’t think we’re playing now for an opinion on dynasties. We’re playing now for the guys and the work and everything that’s put into this year that’s completely unique and separate from years past.”
It’s the World Series that few predicted but one that offers many plot twists. Can Buster Posey stop the Royals’ running game? Can the Giants hit their fly balls to spots the Kansas City speed team in the outfield can’t get to (if such area actually exists)?
Pitching often rules the postseason and this is no different.
The Giants are ruled by their starting pitchers, especially Madison Bumgarner, who has not allowed run in 15 World Series innings and no runs in his last 27 innings in postseason road games.
The Royals are ruled by their three-headed monster in the bullpen with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, who combined for 30 strikeouts in 25 innings. Teams often talk about the formula of six innings with a lead and then going to the bullpen and the Royals will hope to do that.
The Royals pitch well, play solid defense and get timely hits. The Giants can be described as doing the same three things.
The differences may lie in the lineups.
The Giants have someone who should be the next face of the game in Posey considering how much he has done in the postseason so early in his career. They also have Hunter Pence, whose unique personality seems to be the emotional cord of the Giants and don’t forget Pablo Sandoval, who can hit the worst pitches and belted three home runs in Justin Verlander two years ago.
The Royals have crashed the party with a lineup of former prospects who have clicked over the last three weeks. Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler were all former first-round picks and each delivered big moments in the first eight games.
If the Giants can get the four wins, they’ll become the sixth team besides the Yankees to win three championships in five years. That would match what the Red Sox did twice in the early 20th century, the A’s from 1972 to 1974 and 1910 to 1913, and the Cardinals from 1942 to 1946.
If the Royals can pull off the sweep, they will become the second team since 1969 to go undefeated in the postseason. The other was the 1976 Reds and that is considered one of the best teams in baseball history. The Royals aren’t likely to go unbeaten but if that did happen, it would be a remarkable story to go from one inning away from elimination to unbeaten World Champion.
“We definitely take a lot of pride in it,” James Shields said to reporters Monday. “I think this city has been waiting for this for a long time, and the fact that we’re doing it in the fashion that we are is tremendous. I mean, it’s definitely a special, special moment for us to be able to do that.
And then there’s the managerial matchup.
Bochy’s previous opponents did not quite have the bullpen arms that Yost does and if the Royals have the lead through six it’s pretty established who gets used. It’s just a matter of determining the right time to use that bullpen.
Both teams reached the ultimate stage in baseball by winning close games, which is why few people minded the short series. It’s hard to complain about brevity of series when 14 of 25 games have been decided by one run less.
The best thing about the playoffs is that sometimes you never know.
Just like: who expected the Royals and the Giants to be the last two teams standing.