The Kansas City Royals’s unblemished run through the playoffs has been amazing. A group of hard-nosed ball players with no real superstar has captured the imagination of the country by returning to the postseason and World Series for the first time since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.
These Royals have done the unthinkable. They’ve made small-ball work in the slugger-centric American League. Kansas City finished dead last in home runs this season yet they play just four wins away from a world championship. Their story has been incredible. Their playoff run has been scintillating. But, unfortunately for Ned Yost and company, the Royals have finally met their match.
While Kansas City has shown it’s mettle and magic this season better than any club around, their World Series opponents have mastered October wizardry. Not too long ago it was the San Francisco Giants who played the lovable underdog. Not many thought the Giants would take it all in 2010 with powerhouses Atlanta and Philadelphia standing in their way. But they cruised through the National League and went on to bury the Rangers in the Fall Classic. Two years later, with a ring on their collective finger, the Giants still appeared as the upstarts. Again, they shined. Kung Fu Panda and friends dispatched the Reds, the mighty Cardinals, and the Tigers to grab their second crown in three seasons. Before 2010, the Giants hadn’t been on top of the baseball world since 1954. Now after a brilliant Bruce Bochy-powered run, the team is right there with St. Louis, Boston, and the Yankees as the class of Major League Baseball. For their troubles, the Giants now wear the black hats, literally and figuratively.
Because of the Royals’s previous playoff drought, lunch pail approach, and likeable roster, San Francisco assumes the role of villain in this best of seven. Everyone loves the new guy. Everyone roots for the “story.” We’ve seen this before. On the heels of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints were the darlings of the NFL in 2006. All the prognosticators picked the Saints to win the NFC Championship game in Chicago even though Vegas favored the top-seeded Bears. Emotions took over. But after all of the hype, the Bears went on to top the Saints. Similarly, in 2001, the Yankees were the national darling. Following the events of 9-11 fans (begrudgingly outside of New York) rooted for the Pinstripes. The Arizona Diamondbacks had other ideas, topping Mariano Rivera and the Bombers in seven games. This Royals run has no human tragedy attached to it. It’s purely a great baseball story, but the sentiment is the same. KC is the good guy and the Giants, through no fault of their own, are not.
The Royals have barreled through the postseason thus far, eliminating Oakland, Los Angeles, and Baltimore in a perfect AL run of 8-0. But now the lights get a little bit brighter. The eyes grow a little more fixated. Can Kansas City handle it? Maybe they can. By all indications, they are ready; but we just don’t know. We do know what the Giants are made of. The moment will not bother them.
Another question mark is how will the Royals respond after a loss? Barring a sweep, Frisco will hand KC their first postseason setback of the season. How will Yost and his squad react? We’ve seen the Giants come back before. In 2012, they rallied from a 3-1 deficit and outscored the Cardinals 20-1 over the final three games to win the NLCS 4 games to 3. Kansas City has been playing from ahead. We don’t know what they’ll do.
We do know this much: Madison Bumgarner is the ace pitcher in this series. The big lefty is going in Game 1 which means if they need him, he could pitch three times for the Giants. That right there gives the Royals a very unenviable task. We also know the manager of the Giants has a knack for pushing the right buttons again and again. While Yost has had a great run in his first eight contests as a playoff skipper, Bochy has two titles and a rapport with his guys that is tried and true. He’s taken three teams to the World Series. One with Tim Lincecum as his ace, one with Lincecum as a vital member of the bullpen, and this edition with Lincecum nowhere to be found. Bochy can adapt and make things work. During the course of a regular season, a manager may win or lose you a handful of games at most, but in the postseason the pilot is pivotal. We saw deer-in-the-headlights mistakes from young managers like Brad Ausmus and Matt Williams hurt their respective clubs this postseason. Bochy brings the Giants that steady hand of intelligence, confidence, and poise. He will matter in this series.
The Royals bullpen Big Three are impressive. Not since the Yankees teams with Nelson, Stanton, and Rivera have we seen such arms back to back to back. Before that you’d have to look at the 1990 Reds trio of Charlton, Dibble, and Myers. But for the pen to be effective the Royals will have to have the lead heading to the seventh inning. Not so easy against a Giants lineup including two-time champs Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. Plus, you have to score on Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Jake Peavy. Doable? Yes. Slam dunk? No way.
If you like baseball you have to like the run the Royals are on. They are playing baseball station-to-station and it’s working. They’re a Major League team that could serve as a textbook for Little Leaguers–baseball the right way if you will. One giant problem. San Fran does the same things and to paraphrase LL Cool J they’ve been doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well for some time. So basically we have a matchup of the Royals against a team that used to be the Royals to many fans.
Remember when the Patriots won the Super Bowl after the 2001 season? They were America’s sweethearts. A few more titles and New England became Evil Empire II to many fans. Winning does that. Fans grow fickle. Many who rooted for the Giants in 2010 are now hoping for a Royal flush of the G-Men. In many ways San Francisco is being penalized for success. The Royals on the other hand are being lauded for winning this year but also because they’ve been terrible for almost three decades since.
Kansas City can certainly win this series. Anything can happen in today’s baseball postseason set-up. It would not be a surprise in the least bit if the Royals do pull this off. They’ll just have to prove it. San Francisco has proven themselves and then some. They’re in position to win their third title in five years. Signs point to them doing just that. Giants in six.