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An Unlikely World Series

October 23, 2014

When you pick up this week’s FOCUS the World Series will likely be a few games old. In other words, we may have a clearer idea of who is going to win this year’s Fall Classic. I am asking you to trust that I wrote this and made my prediction prior to Game One. 

One thing that is clear is that we, with the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals, have a very unexpected World Series.

On July 28th, the Giants were four games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Royals were five behind the Detroit Tigers, and Vegas put their combined odds of winning the World Series at 4 percent. Neither was a preseason favorite to win the division, neither won the division, neither won 90 games, neither has an MVP candidate or a Cy Young candidate. Neither team’s manager will win manager of the year, and neither will be the favorite to win a division going into next year’s season.

Yet, they are a combined 16-2 against their postseason opponents. For you statistics nuts, this puts their combined odds of winning the World Series at 100 percent. The raw numbers for either lineup will not wow anyone. One thing San Francisco does well is hit with runners on base. Traditionally, this has been a strength for the Giants in recent years, especially in 2010 and 2012 when they won World Series titles. And they do not make mistakes, i.e., give away outs.

Photo: Madison Bumgarner

I love the following stat. Did you know that no other National League team made fewer outs on the bases. The Royals got this far into October by doing what they do well. Kansas City had the best base running team in the majors, by a factor of two; they put the ball in play, with the lowest strikeout rate; and they combined those two qualities in a way that made each play up, avoiding double plays, advancing extra bases, etc. They’ve been very aggressive on the base paths this postseason. Kansas City has stolen 13 bases in the playoffs. Every other playoff team has combined for 12 steals. The Giants had three of those thefts.

Even with their speed, the primary reason the Royals have swept their way through the playoffs is the long ball.

I’ve got another great stat for you. Did you know that Kansas City has homered every 35 at-bats this October, compared to every 58 at-bats from April through September. I have to give the starting pitching edge to San Francisco. I am basing this primarily on local product Madison Bumgarner. Though the former South Caldwell standout has already thrown 32 innings in this postseason, and his next inning will push him over 250 for the season, but there’s no sign yet that he’s wearing down. I see him winning game one for the Giants against James Shields of the Royals. 

Photo:James Shields

I also give the Giants a slight edge with the remaining starters. Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, and Ryan Vogelsong all have post season experience and all have thrown well of late. Both teams have great bullpens. Actually, I am starting to think that relief pitching is becoming more and more vital if franchises expect to make a run in October. Kansas City’s pen has carried them in the playoffs. The trio of Kelvin Herrera (7th inning), Wade Davis (8th inning), and Greg Holland (9th inning) have been virtually unhittable in post season play. They basically make games a six inning affair. If the Royals are up after six, lights out.

Just ask the Baltimore Orioles how they got swept by Kansas City in the American League Championship Series.

San Francisco counters with a solid pen led by closer Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo. Both teams throw out excellent defenses at you. Kansas City may get a slight edge here primarily due to its outfield and corner positions. The Royals have Lorenzo Cain in center field and he should get a Gold Glove as will Mike Moustakas at third base. Eric Hosmer may get one at first base.

The Giants best defensive player is catcher Buster Posey. It will be important for Posey to contain the speed of Kansas City. San Francisco is not as flashy as the Royals in the field, but they do not make many errors. I will give the manager edge to the Giants and Bruce Bochy. He has won titles with less talent before and may do it again. Bochy will be in Cooperstown five years after he retires. Ned Yost gets kudos for getting his team to peak at the right time. The talk all season long was that the Royals were underachievers. This was supposed to be the year but it did not look like it until now. 

Prediction time. It has been 29 years since Kansas City last made a playoff appearance. This is a team that is built to be a team that is very good when it is already ahead. It plays good defense that gets better late in games with the lead; it has three excellent relievers who come in with a lead. What we’ve seen has been what the Royals look like when they lead, and it’s great.

What do they look like when they trail? I think we will see them trailing early a few times against the Giants. It is tough to come from behind when home runs are rare. Stealing bases when down is also a tough way to go. 

I am going to go with San Francisco to keep its streak of winning a World Series every two years. I am basing this on starting pitching and experience. I could see it going six or seven games though. MVP will be our boy Madison Bumgarner.  

Cowboys Cut Sam 

Ever since the Dallas Cowboys signed defensive end Michael Sam to their practice squad, the media attention surrounding the NFL’s first openly gay player finally dissipated. That may change as Sam is back in the news this week as the Cowboys waived him from their practice squad.

The Sam release makes room for the team to sign linebacker Troy Davis, a second-year player out of Central Florida. Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams late in the seventh round, but he didn’t make the 53-man roster out of training camp. He was picked up by the Cowboys, and owner Jerry Jones later made it clear that the NFL had not asked him to do so. Jones spoke of it not being a secret that his team needed pass rushers and defensive linemen. Though they still do, considering the team only has seven sacks on the year, tied for 27th-best in the league, the fact that Cowboys are willing to part ways with Sam does not bode well for his future in the league.

Photo:Michael Sam







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