Matchup: Guthrie versus Hudson

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
Game 3's starting pitchers is a battle of two veteran right-handers, Jeremy Guthrie of the Royals and Tim Hudson of the Giants. Jerry Crasnick writes on Hudson, who will be making his first World Series start of his long and distinguished career: He had gone 15 consecutive seasons without a losing record before going 9-13 this year, the second-longest streak in major league history.

While Hudson quickly rose to the majors as a sixth-round pick out of Auburn in 1997 and has spent his career pitching for good teams, Guthrie took a while to get settled in the majors, and he spent his early seasons with bad teams in Baltimore, twice leading the American League in losses. Cleveland made him a first-round pick out of Stanford in 2002 and after a few appearances with the Indians in three seasons, they cut him and the Orioles claimed him on waivers. The Royals acquired him from the Rockies in July 2012 in a steal of a trade for Jonathan Sanchez. Guthrie has gone 28-23 with a 4.08 ERA the past two seasons, topping 200 innings both years.

As the numbers indicate, he's a back-of-the-rotation workhorse. As a fly ball pitcher, he's certainly helped by the Kansas City outfield defense. I'm a little surprised he got the start over Jason Vargas, considering the Giants can run out six left-handed batters and Guthrie has had extreme platoon splits this season:

vs. RHB: .238/.287/.311
vs. LHB: .296/.348/.476

With that in mind, how Guthrie goes after the Giants' lefty hitters will be key. His fastball averages 91.8 mph and he throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer, although both tend to be thrown up in the zone. His changeup is his second pitch and he also has a curveball and slider. He uses the change more against lefties but also had success with it against right-handers (they've hit .176 against in 71 PAs ending with the pitch), so he may still throw it to Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.

Guthrie Heat MapESPN Stats & Info

While Guthrie prefers to work outside against lefties, note that he also tied for the league lead in hit batters with 14 -- with 13 of those coming on fastballs, all up in the zone. In other words, Guthrie will definitely pitch inside with a purpose to try and keep the hitter a little honest.

Considering that Madison Bumgarner's start looms in Game 5, I think Royals manager Ned Yost has to treat Games 3 and 4 with some urgency, especially this game. The Game 3 winner of a 1-1 World Series has gone on to win 71 percent of the time. Guthrie isn't a good match for this lineup so Yost should be ready to go quickly to one of his left-handers in the bullpen -- Danny Duffy, Brandon Finnegan, Tim Collins -- and not wait until the sixth inning, if Guthrie is looking shaky.

Hudson also had a platoon split this year, although not as large as Guthrie's:

vs. RHB: .258/.283/.384
vs. LHB: .281/.327/.428

As Jerry noted in his story, Hudson doesn't rely on his sinker as much as he once did:
Hudson's longevity is enhanced by his creativity and powers of reinvention. A decade ago, when he was pitching for the Athletics and then the Atlanta Braves, Hudson was content to throw sinkers 70 percent of the time, watch opposing hitters pound the ball into the ground and make a beeline for the dugout. This year, according to FanGraphs, he threw his sinking fastball 53.8 percent of the time and complemented it with a healthy mix of sliders, curveballs and splitters.

Hudson is the master at working the outside corner to both lefties and righties. Here's his heat map against left-handers:

Tim Hudson Heat MapESPN Stats & Info

The one to right-handers is similar, low and away. He pounds that corner with all of his pitches, which is why he annually ranks among the leaders in groundball percentage and doesn't allow many home runs.

After struggling in September (35 hits and 23 runs in 21.2 innings), Hudson has righted himself with two solid outings in the postseason, one run allowed in 7.1 innings against the Nationals and four runs in 6.1 innings against the Cardinals, with a combined 13 strikeouts and no walks. The extra days off between starts may have helped the 39-year-old and he'll be starting here on nine days of rest.

It's perhaps worth noting that in those two playoff starts he went back to his ol' bread-and-butter sinker more often, throwing it more than 60 percent of the time in both starts, which he hadn't done in any regular-season start (he maxed out at 59.5 percent in an Aug. 9 start against ... Kansas City).

Hudson has allowed 15 steals in 18 attempts this year, so look for the Royals to be aggressive in starting more baserunners -- either in straight steal attempts or hit-and-run players to help avoid double plays.

"Early in my career, I thought that I'd be here well before now -- there's no question about it," Hudson said Thursday. "But as your career creeps along and you're not able to get here to this big dance, you realize how hard it is. I've told some of these young guys who are rookies on our club, 'Soak it all in, man. Because you never know when you're going to be back.' "

SAN FRANCISCO -- Kansas City Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson has the confidence of a heavyweight prizefighter, a gunslinging Brett Favre of words.

When asked about the Royals becoming America's team, Dyson was quick to downplay the enthusiasm for his club: "We don't need no bandwagoners now," he said on Thursday's off day before Game 3. "But I guess we picked up some fans along the way."

With that kind of confidence -- Dyson also enjoyed talking about his 39-inch vertical leap he put on display last Friday when he dunked during an NBA exhibition game that took place in Kansas City -- it shouldn't be a surprise that Dyson isn't exactly awed by the quirky dimensions in right field at San Francisco's AT&T Park.

"It's a big ballpark, but we got a big ballpark as well," he said. "They just got that right-center over there that's kind of tricky. ... If the ball's hit to right-center everybody knows they have to go get the ball and back each other up. And we do a great job of backing each other up even when the play is made."

It's that large space of grass out there, however, that could get Dyson his first start since Sept. 20. Ned Yost has gone with the same starting lineup 17 games in a row, but he's already going to be without designated hitter Billy Butler, and as I speculated earlier, it makes sense to start Dyson in center and Lorenzo Cain in right to give the Royals their best outfield defense in Games 3 and 4, especially with fly ballers Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas starting.

Yost wouldn't reveal his lineup yet, but hinted a change was possible. "We're looking at all of our options, and that's the reason for it," Yost said. "Guthrie and Vargy are both fly ball pitchers in a big yard with some weird angles, so we're looking at all of our options." He also indicated Nori Aoki is the better pinch-hitting option than Dyson, which is kind of a strange reason not to start him, but at least it would get Dyson out there.

With that 421-foot angle in deep right-center that creates some odd rebounds in mind, Dyson was one of the Kansas City outfielders working with outfield coach Rusty Kuntz during Thursday's practice session. "Rusty just took me out there and hit me some balls and let me know 'Be careful,' there's a lot of sand out there on the warning track," Dyson said.

He said he's ready for the possible start, even if his plate appearances have been limited over the past month. "I prepare myself to start every day I show up here," he said. Yost doesn't alert players if they're going to start; he'll just post the lineup card. "He expects us to have our bodies ready to play," Dyson said.

* * * *

The Gold Glove finalists were announced Thursday, three players for each position in each league. While four Royals were finalists -- three-time winner Alex Gordon in left, reigning winner Salvador Perez at catcher, shortstop Alcides Escobar and first baseman Eric Hosmer -- conspicuous by his absence was Cain, who has showcased his phenomenal glove work all postseason.

[+] EnlargeRoyals
ESPN Stats & Information The value of the Royals' outfield defense
Cain was fourth among all outfielders with 24 defensive runs saved, trailing only Jason Heyward (32), Juan Lagares (28) and Gordon (27). So even though a sabermetric evaluation accounts for 25 percent of the vote (the managers and coaches account for the other 75 percent), Cain was left out, perhaps because he split his time between center (723 innings) and right (388 innings).

"I found out when I got here," Cain said. "Whoever's voting, that's fine, they didn't think I was deserving, so I say just move on from it. All I'm worrying about is winning the World Series."

Cain is a great story beyond the defense he's played in October. He didn't play much baseball until he was 14, wasn't drafted until the 17th round by the Brewers in 2004 and while he made his debut in the majors with Milwaukee in 2010, he didn't establish himself as a regular until last season and this was the first year he's had 500 plate appearances. He seems like a new kid on the block but he's 28, a player who has grinded out his baseball career through a lot of minor league games and a few injuries.

"I was just doing it for fun at first," he said of picking up the game as a teenager. "I didn't really think anything serious of it at first but as I learned more and grew as a player I took the game more serious over time. I credit a lot people, especially God and my mom, my family, all the coaches I've worked with. It's definitely been an uphill battle, but I stayed determined to become a good ballplayer."

Cain came to the Royals after the 2010 season, along with Escobar and Jake Odorizzi (who went to Tampa in the James Shields trade), in the Zack Greinke trade. Even though he was a key component in the trade and hit .307 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2010, the Royals were patient not to rush him and he spent almost all of 2011 at Triple-A Omaha, where he hit .312 with 16 home runs.

Then three different leg injuries wiped out most of 2012. It was a bumpy road to get here.

"Defense was something I felt I was always pretty decent at," he said. "The biggest obstacle for me was swinging the bat, trying to become a lot more consistent."

As for AT&T Park, Cain also alluded to the warning track. "Gotta be on your toes. Even the warning track is soft. It's kind of like beach sand out there."

* * * *

"Best I've ever seen, best I've ever seen," Royals veteran Raul Ibanez said of his outfield teammates. "Not just the best in covering ground and making plays, but the most disciplined in throwing the ball to bases. Rusty Kuntz is the best outfield coach I've ever seen. He teaches these guys, he stays on top of these things. I call it they never chase the rabbit down the rabbit hole. Guys going first to third, as an outfielder you always think you can throw that guy out, the competitiveness takes over, but the right play is usually to keep the double play in order."

Ibanez's eyes lit up as he talked about these guys. "I want them to experience [the World Series] for them," he said. "You'll never look at a regular-season game the same again," alluding not only to the magic and the intensity of the postseason but how the grind of the regular season is necessary to get to this point.

Even though he's not on the active roster, Ibanez is going for his first World Series ring as well, having fallen short with the Phillies in 2009. If he’s to get one, that outfield defense will have played a big role.
The consensus after Game 2 of the World Series: Bruce Bochy messed up the sixth inning, whether it was leaving in Jake Peavy too long or using the wrong relievers. Criticizing the manager has always been part of postseason lore, but in the age of Twitter, it's the managers who seem to receive more wrath than the players these days.

If Ralph Branca had served up Bobby Thomson's home run in 2014, everybody would have destroyed Charlie Dressen for using Branca since the Giants had already hit 10 home runs off him that season, not Branca for giving up the home run.

Some words from the interwebs ...

Jayson Stark,
But even though this game had just gotten away without three of his best relievers -- Affeldt, Sergio Romo or Santiago Casilla -- throwing a pitch, Bochy's troops leaped to his defense.

"I think he had the right guys in the right spots," Affeldt said. "We just happened to leave balls in spots where they could be hit."

Now, obviously, executing pitches will always be what decides these October bullpen duels. And there's no arguing with the lack of that execution by a pen that was having a great postseason until that inning. At the point Bochy waved for Machi, that Giants' relief crew had a 1.69 postseason ERA and hadn't allowed a run since Kolten Wong's walk-off homer in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, 10 days and five games earlier.

But now, contrast the way Bochy had to slalom his way through the Royals' lineup to the way the manager on the other side of the field was able to handle his own late-inning crisis.

When Ned Yost's starter, Yordano Ventura, put two runners on in the sixth, the next move required the manager to consult no spreadsheets, peruse no lineup cards and think through zero situations that might loom over the horizon.
Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports:

If I were Giants manager Bruce Bochy, I still would have lifted Peavy right then, after the first baserunner. I would have had relievers warming, including a left-hander for the hitter after Cain, Eric Hosmer. I surely would not have allowed a 2-2 game to disintegrate into a 7-2 defeat in Game 2 of the World Series, never!

Thing is, I’m not Bruce Bochy. None of us out in Second-Guessing Land is Bruce Bochy, or for that matter, Ned Yost. One thing is certain: The managers know their players better than we do. Doesn’t mean they always use sound logic. Doesn’t mean they’re all idiots, either.

Believe me, I’m not trying to serve as an apologist for Bochy, Yost, the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny and Nationals’ Matt Williams, all of whom I’ve strongly disagreed with at one point or another this postseason.

Second-guessing is part of baseball, a fun part. Second-guessing in real time is inevitable in this age of social media. And actually, this was the second time Bochy arguably stuck too long with a veteran starter this postseason — see Tim Hudson, Game 3, NLCS.

But one minute we’re talking about Bochy as a lock for the Hall of Fame, and now all of a sudden he’s a dunce? Sorry, count me out. It’s true for Bochy, it’s true for Yost, it’s true for all of ‘em: Managerial decisions only look bad when they don’t work out.
Ben Lindbergh, Grantland:
However, multiple factors were conspiring to keep Peavy in the game: He had thrown only 57 pitches, and the Royals hadn’t scored since the second. “Jake settled in,” Bochy explained after the game. “First two innings he was a little erratic, but he was right on. I mean, he really was throwing the ball well.”

Some important aspects of starting-pitcher performance aren’t intuitive. Most fans — and judging by their behavior, most managers — believe that how a starter has been pitching within an outing, and how many pitches he’s thrown, are good guides to his future performance within the same game. Research by Mitchel Lichtman, a prominent sabermetrician and coauthor of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, suggests that isn’t so. Lichtman’s work shows that how a starter has performed through his first x innings doesn’t predict how he’ll do in inning x+1: All starters suffer the same times-through-the-order effect. Nor does pitch count appear to matter. “I found around the same penalty … regardless of pitch count,” Lichtman told me via email. “In other words, if a pitcher sees a batter the third time, he probably has the same penalty whether he has thrown 75 or 85 pitches.” If managers have an ability to tell which starters are about to collapse and which will keep cruising, it’s difficult to see in the stats.
Joe Sheehan, from his newsletter (as always, worth the subscription):

For all we talk about managers having additional information, starting pitchers don't get taken out after retiring ten straight hitters. They don't get taken out after three shutout innings. They get taken out when batters start reaching base and runs start scoring. They get taken out based on game statistics, based on outcomes, based on a set of fairly rigid rules, and if that wasn't the case, we'd be talking about something else today.

Bochy let the game statistics make the decision for him and sent Peavy to the mound. Now, I could almost buy this starting the inning. Cain was due to lead off, so Peavy would pitch with the platoon advantage and regardless of the outcome, Bochy could bring in a lefty to face Eric Hosmer and, a batter later, Alex Gordon. It was after Cain singled -- on a slider -- that Bochy made his biggest mistake. He did not have Javier Lopez ready, and instead let Peavy face Eric Hosmer. As when Peavy faced Hosmer in the first, it was pretty clear the he did not trust his stuff against the lefty. Peavy threw three pitches -- fastball, cutter, slider, nothing above 89 mph -- off the plate, and eventually walked Hosmer.

Generally, starting pitchers lose a lot of their effectiveness the third time around the order. Jake Peavy, this year, was obliterated his third time around the order. Peavy's fastball was not a weapon for him last night, and his spent three innings pitching away from it. Bruce Bochy had all of that information, and nevertheless let Peavy face Eric Hosmer in a tied World Series game with the go-ahead run on first, nobody out, eight relievers available and an off-day following. That's where the game was lost. Blame Peavy for not throwing strikes, sure, but blame Bochy for asking his pitcher to do something -- throw his fastball for strikes without getting crushed -- that Peavy could not do last night.
Jeff Sullivan, FanGraphs:

Because of game theory, it’s almost impossible to reasonably criticize any given pitch or pitch sequence. A pitch comes with an n of 1, and stripped from context, you don’t know how many times that pitch would’ve been thrown in the same situation. Taking one pitch and only one pitch, you almost always have to conclude that, maybe it was fine. There’s no such thing as a pitch that absolutely should never be thrown, aside from the one noted at the beginning. This is frustrating, but sometimes sensibility frustrates. So the world can be.

And yet. I think this is against my better judgment, but there’s a pitch I want to criticize. It happened in Wednesday’s Game 2, and it was thrown by Hunter Strickland to Salvador Perez. I can’t declare absolutely that the pitch was a terrible idea, because of all the reasons, but this is about as close as I can get to believing that a pitch shouldn’t have been called. Perez, against Strickland, broke the game open. He did so against a pitch I think he knew damn well was coming.
Bruce Jenkins,

If the Giants are really prepared to bring home another world title — and nobody’s arguing to the contrary — they’ll be glad Game 2 happened. It was a character-builder, knocking down their mystique a notch or two. Real champions dust themselves off and get right back up.

Even manager Bruce Bochy will come under scrutiny after the four-reliever sixth inning that turned so disastrous and temporarily derailed the career of rookie Hunter Strickland. That’s healthy as well. Bochy will be a Hall of Fame manager, don’t worry about that. But it’s time to back off just a little, and stop heralding this world title until it happens.
Sam Mellinger, Kansas City Star:

The fans here are smart. They know what this means, and they continue to chant Butler’s name after he’s pulled for Terrance Gore, the miniature pinch runner. Butler got the first big hit of this game, too, a laced single past the shortstop that answered San Francisco’s early run and tied the score at one. The players and coaches in the dugout understand what this means, too. They hear the chants. They encourage him to take a curtain call. Who cares that it’s just the sixth inning?

“Your teammates say do it, you’re going to get up there,” Butler says. “It’s an exciting time. We took the lead, we know the bullpen’s coming in and we know what type of bullpen we have.”

With the World Series moving to San Francisco for Game 3 on Friday, Kansas City manager Ned Yost will have to get out of his comfort zone. He’ll lose his designated hitter, which means he won’t be able to use the same lineup he has run out there 17 games in a row.

He’s also moving to a park that has that huge area to cover in right-center field, and that spells trouble for right fielder Norichika Aoki, who has played right field like a puppy chasing a rubber ball all postseason. With Aoki a defensive liability -- both by the defensive metrics and the eye test--– it’s time for Yost to give Jarrod Dyson his first start in more than a month in center field and slide Lorenzo Cain over to right field from the beginning.

That gives Yost the stellar defensive outfield he likes to go to late in the game anyway. In fact, he inserted Dyson into center in the sixth inning of Game 2 with the game tied. Plus, factor in that the Royals’ Game 3 and Game 4 starters, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas, respectively, are both fly-ball pitchers, and the emphasis on stellar outfield defense is even more important.

[+] EnlargeJarrod Dyson
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesThe World Series games in San Francisco should be starting assignments for Jarrod Dyson.

The risk is that Dyson has had just 15 plate appearances since Sept. 20 (he’s 0-for-7 in the postseason), so he’s rusty at the plate. But it isn’t as if Aoki has been contributing anything on offense: He’s hitting .206/.282/.206 in the postseason. Dyson hit .274/.326/.327 against right-handers; so while he lacks power, he doesn’t project as an offensive zero. Plus you have his speed if he manages to get on base.

It’s the old Earl Weaver philosophy: Defense early and then offense late if you’re trailing. In fact, considering the strikeout rates of the Kansas City bullpen, defense is actually less important for the Royals later in the game because you get fewer balls put into play.

So what about the lineup? I’d move Alex Gordon, the team’s best hitter during the regular season, up to the No. 2 spot, which gets him more plate appearances and keeps the right-left-right thing going that Yost likes. And it makes it a little harder for Giants manager Bruce Bochy to play matchup with his bullpen. Here’s the lineup I’d use for Games 3 and 4 against right-handers Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong:

Alcides Escobar, SS
Alex Gordon, LF
Lorenzo Cain, RF
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Salvador Perez, C
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Omar Infante, 2B
Jarrod Dyson, CF

In Game 5 against Madison Bumgarner, Yost needs to get more right-handed bats in the lineup. If he’s willing to sacrifice defense, he could and perhaps should insert Billy Butler at first base for Hosmer and even consider putting Josh Willingham in right field. I’m not sure about that move, and he could always go back to Aoki, who hits left-handers. He really should bench Moustakas considering his feeble .172 average against left-handers in the regular season, but Jayson Nix is the only backup infielder on the roster, and he’s not really an upgrade.

We’ll see if Yost says anything about his lineup when he meets with the media later on Thursday.
And we have a series! For everyone worried about a San Francisco Giants sweep, the Kansas City Royals had something to say about that. It was great to see the Royals fans enjoying a victory -- a game much more tense and exciting than the 7-2 final score indicates. As manager Ned Yost said after the game, "Our fans were just rabid. They were into the game from the first pitch. ... I don't know [how] they keep their energy going, but they sure do. It's a fun atmosphere."

If you missed it, you missed a good one.

Here are five key moments:

1. Royals take the lead in the sixth inning.

As fascinating as the top of the sixth inning was, the bottom of the sixth was even more interesting.

Jake Peavy began the inning having retired 10 in a row, as he settled down after a shaky first two innings. But there was this relevant fact to consider: The third time through the order batters had hit .323/.387/.545 against him this year, a big increase from .229 and .224 the first time through the order. No. 3 hitter Lorenzo Cain was leading off. The bullpen was quiet.

Did Bruce Bochy wait too long? It's certainly easy to second guess the way the inning unfolded, but there was second-guessing going on before the Royals rallied. But even though Peavy had retired 10 in a row, it's a stretch to say he was dealing out there -- he had just one strikeout. There was also the fact that Bochy hadn't hesitated to pull Peavy in his two previous postseason starts, once after 5T innings even though he hadn't allowed a run (although he was at more than 100 pitches) and then after four innings in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Cain hit a soft line-drive single to begin the inning and only then did the bullpen get going, but it was too late to bring in a lefty to face Eric Hosmer, who walked on a 3-2 curveball after Peavy fell behind 3-0. Bochy then turned to Jean Machi, a ground-ball specialist, to face double-play prone Billy Butler, but Machi fell behind 2-0 and Butler lined a 2-0 fastball at the knees into left field, with the speedy Cain doing his best Usain Bolt impersonation to easily score the go-ahead run.

With two runners on and ahead in the count, Butler said he was looking fastball: "The last thing he wants to do is put another guy on there to load the bases up with nobody out. So I knew he was going to attack me with a fastball. ... So sometimes it works out that way. I could hit it at somebody as well in that one, but it worked out and [I] hit it hard."

OK, so Bochy messed up, right? Well, let's keep in mind that the players get the hits and give up the hits. I do think there were two or three different ways that Bochy could have attacked the inning:
  • Bring in Machi to start the frame to face Cain, Hosmer and Butler, meaning he'd face two right-handed batters out of the first three.
  • Bring in Javier Lopez, who started warming up after the Cain hit, to face Hosmer. I'm not sure he had enough time to warm up, but keep in mind that Lopez is a true LOOGY, a guy Bochy prefers not to use against right-handed batters, so you probably don't want him facing Butler. Although if he gets Hosmer, I'd probably take the chance to let him get through Hosmer and Alex Gordon. Or you could bring in Machi to face Butler and Jeremy Affeldt to face Gordon if needed. But then you're really burning through the bullpen and it's only the sixth inning.
  • The third option would have been to use Yusmeiro Petit, who has pitched nine innings this postseason in two outings and allowed just two hits. He could have started the frame and been a candidate to go two innings to bridge the gap to Lopez, Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla. On the other hand -- with the score tied and staring at the Royals' bullpen you had to have the possibility of extra innings in the back of your mind.

Anyway, it's easy to roast Bochy after the inning exploded, but it wasn't an easy inning to manage once Cain got the leadoff single.

2. The Hunter Strickland Experience.

Back to the rest of the sixth inning. After Butler's hit, Lopez came on and got Gordon on a fly ball to left. Bochy then went to the rookie right-hander Strickland, a September call-up who throws 100 mph and throws it very straight. As you can see from the stat above, hitters haven't had too much problem squaring up his heater this October. Bryce Harper tagged him for about 1,000 feet of home runs.

Anyway, Strickland threw a wild pitch and then Salvador Perez drilled a 97-mph fastball into the left-center gap for a two-run double and Omar Infante hit a 1-0 98-mph heater over the fence in left field, leading to a fracas between Strickland and Perez. As former major leaguers Curt Schilling and Greg Swindell tweeted, Stickland simply lost his cool.

"I think it was just frustration on his part," Bochy said. "He's a really intense kid. That's probably an area he needs to show some poise. ... These are some things we'll to talk to him about." We can probably assume we've seen the last of Strickland in an important situation, however. I'm not sure if Bochy can go to him again in a tight situation.

3. Kelvin Herrera gets out of a jam in the sixth inning.

Before all that happened, Herrera rescued Yordano Ventura and Yost by getting out of a two-on, one-out jam. I thought Yost waited a batter too long to go to his vaunted bullpen -- he has supreme faith in Ventura, that's for sure -- but Herrera entered and got Brandon Belt to fly out to left and Mike Morse to ground out to shortstop, Alcides Escobar making a nice play on a tough hop. The final score of 7-2 doesn't tell the story of how big those two outs were.

In the end, give Yost credit for going to one of his three ace relievers before the seventh inning. It's not exactly Dick Howser using six bench players in the ninth of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, but it's an important improvement from the way Yost managed the wild-card game.

4. Top of the fourth looms big. Sort of.

The inning began when Cain couldn't run down Pablo Sandoval's double to deep center -- a catchable ball, but with the wall looming, a tough play. Brandon Belt then lined a double into the right-field corner to tie the game. Then came a play you don't see too often -- in fact, Doug Kern of ESPN Stats & Information confirmed that we've never seen it in World Series play.

Fly ball to right field, not really all that deep, Norichika Aoki lets loose with a throw toward third base but it was off target, the ball bounced away from cutoff man Escobar, and Belt took a few steps too many off second, only to get caught as Ventura picked up the loose ball and fired to second to get Belt.

Just your routine 9-6-1-4 double play (although it wasn't technically ruled a double play since Aoki's throw was offline). A bad mistake by Belt and it cost the Giants an important out in a tie game.

5. Gregor Blanco leads off the game with a home run.

I looked it up, so trust me: Blanco has hit a ball 394 feet before. Just never one in such stunning fashion. Blanco hit the 19th leadoff home run in World Series history and the first since Dustin Pedroia in 2007. Considering Blanco had just 16 home runs in his career in more than 2,000 at-bats, it certainly was an unexpected jolt of power for the Giants.

However, a couple notes here. Four of Blanco's home runs this season came from Aug. 24 on, after he had become a regular in place of the injured Angel Pagan, so he had shown a bit more power of late. He also showed he can occasionally turn on a good fastball, like he did on Aug. 24, when he hit a Stephen Strasburg 95-mph heater out in right-center.

The other key: Ventura throws a lot of fastballs. I noted before the game how he had increased his fastball percentage from 68 percent in the regular season to 73 and 78 percent in his two previous playoff starts. He threw Blanco eight straight fastballs. Blanco fouled off three of them and then drilled the eighth one, a 98-mph heater that was middle up.


Remembering the 1985 Royals

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
Fun read today from Steve Wulf listing 29 reasons the 2014 Royals are similar to the 1985 Royals.

Here's an amazing fact about that team that shows how much the game has changed in 29 years: The Royals used six pitchers in the entire seven-game World Series.

Game 1: Danny Jackson (7 innings), Dan Quisenberry (1.2), Bud Black (0.1)
Game 2: Charlie Leibrandt (8.2), Quisenberry (0.1)
Game 3: Bret Saberhagen (9)
Game 4: Black (5), Joe Beckwith (2), Quisenberry (1)
Game 5: Danny Jackson (9)
Game 6: Leibrandt (7.2), Quisenberry (1.1)
Game 7: Saberhagen (9)

The Royals used 22 players in the series, so they were carrying at least 16 position players. Steve Farr pitched 6 /31 innings in the ALCS, so I assume he was on the World Series roster. Not sure who the other two players were, although I assume they had at least eight pitchers and probably nine. But the starters were so good the Royals barely needed their bullpen.

Carrying 16 position players -- compared to the 13 the Giants have this year and 14 for the Royals -- allowed the Royals to have that remarkable ninth-inning rally in Game 6, when they scored twice to win 2-1 (with the help of Don Denkinger's blown call). The Royals used six bench players that one inning. Here's what happened:

1. Darryl Motley pinch-hit for Pat Sheridan against lefty reliever Ken Dayley.
2. Whitey Herzog brought in Todd Worrell so Royals manager Dick Howser countered with Jorge Orta to keep the platoon advantage.
3. After Orta reached on a single (Denkinger's blown call) and Steve Balboni singled, Onix Concepcion ran for Balboni.
4. After Jim Sundberg bunted into a forceout at third, Hal McRae pinch-hit for Buddy Biancalana and was intentionally walked after a passed ball had moved up the runners.
5. John Wathan pinch-ran for McRae.
6. Dane Iorg pinch-hit for Quisenberry and hit the game-winning, two-run single.

Six bench players in a single inning. You won't see that in today's game.

Matchup: Peavy versus Ventura

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
Game 2 of the World Series features an intriguing matchup of 33-year-old Jake Peavy of the Giants against 23-year-old rookie Yordano Ventura of the Royals. Peavy was once a hard-throwing youngster like Ventura; now he’s the crafty veteran who throws a lot of cutters and sinkers. The slightly built Ventura has the gift of a right arm that touches 100 mph on the radar gun.

Peavy won a World Series ring with the Red Sox last year. But when Boston fell out of the pennant race this year -- in part because Peavy was 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA in 20 starts -- the Red Sox traded him to the Giants, making him a hired gun for the second straight season. Including the postseason, he's gone 7-4 with a 2.14 ERA for San Francisco.

What's been the change in San Francisco from his four months in Boston? When digging into the numbers, one thing that jumps out is he's been throwing his cutter a lot more often. He threw it 14 percent of the time with Boston, and he's thrown it 20 percent of the time since coming to the Giants. And that percentage ramped even higher later in the season: Since the beginning of September, he's thrown his cutter 29 percent of the time. Here's where that pitch goes:

Peavy MapESPN

In those seven starts since he started using it more, it's been an effective weapon, as batters have hit just .143 against it with two extra-base hits in 49 at-bats ending with the pitch. It isn’t necessarily a big strikeout pitch; but as with Mariano Rivera's famous cutter, the goal is to induce weak contact.

If you've seen Peavy pitch recently, you know you'll see the opposite of the stone-faced Madison Bumgarner. The Jake Peavy Face has become a favorite on Twitter, as he's often seen yelling or screaming on the field.

"I think any of you all that know me, you know I'm passionate about everything, even the way I speak about anything in life," Peavy said Tuesday. "At the end of the day, I don't feel bad. I don't apologize for showing emotion, and I think it shows my teammates and the fans, so to speak, how emotionally invested you are in this and how much it means to you."

Peavy's four-seam fastball now tops out in the low 90s; he'll throw that along with a two-seam sinking fastball and mix in a curve, changeup and slider. In other words, the whole kitchen sink. But look for him to throw that cutter a lot to the Royals' left-handed batters, trying to jam Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas inside and hope they aggressively go after a pitch that often moves out of the strike zone.

Peavy has walked three batters in each of his two postseason starts, so the Royals might want to consider being a little more patient. Also, don't expect Peavy to go deep into the game. He went 5.2 scoreless innings against the Nationals and four innings against the Cardinals.

While Peavy is demonstrative on the mound, Ventura pitches with the poise of a veteran.

"He's a kid with tremendous composure," Royals manager Ned Yost said after the Game 1 loss. "He's a tremendous competitor, even for as young as he is. I can't recall too many pitchers in my career that have his type of composure, his type of confidence and his type of stuff at that young an age."

That stuff includes that high-octane fastball. Ventura threw fastballs 68 percent of the time in the regular season, but that figure has increased to 73 and 78 percent in his two playoff starts. Certainly a key to his performance will be his success against San Francisco's left-handed hitters:

Ventura mapESPN

There's nothing too fancy going on here. Ventura does throw two fastballs, a four-seamer and a two-seamer with a little sinking action, but even the sinker averaged 97 mph during the season. One thing to keep an eye on: Ventura's average fastball velocity was 95.1 in his ALCS start against the Orioles, his lowest of the season. Yost assured everyone Tuesday that Ventura’s shoulder, which may have been bothering him against the Orioles, is fine.

The two key batters for Ventura may be Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence. Sandoval has hit .317 against fastballs this season; Pence has also hit .317.

Considering the state of the series for the Royals -- down 1-0 with another Bumgarner start looming on the horizon -- there is certainly a sense of urgency to tonight's game. That could -- and probably should -- mean a quick hook for Ventura, with Yost likely trying to get four or even five innings from a combination of Brandon Finnegan, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. There was no need to use those guys last night; but with an off day Thursday, Yost has to absolutely maximize the innings from those relievers.

Wednesday chat wrap

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22

After a postseason that has given us game after game of late-inning drama, I guess we were due for a game such as this one. You feel bad for Royals fans who were so excited and pumped up before the game. Although the team that won Game 1 has gone on to win 22 of the past 26 World Series, Royals fans can perhaps take consolation in remembering the 1985 Royals lost the first two at home before they recovered and won that series in seven games. Some will inevitably blame the Royals' long layoff as one reason for the loss, but as Royals manager Ned Yost said after the game, "I don't think the layoff had anything to do with tonight's game. I think Madison Bumgarner had something to do with tonight's game."

Five key moments from the Giants' 7-1 victory in the opener:

1. 106 pitches for Bumgarner.

And the legend grows. Bumgarner improved to 3-0 in three career World Series starts, though he has now allowed one run in 22 innings after Salvador Perez homered in the seventh inning Tuesday. But Bumgarner stretched his record streak of scoreless postseason innings on the road to 32 2/3 and lowered his 2014 postseason ERA to 1.40.

Bumgarner wasn't completely on in the early going -- he had 53 pitches through three innings -- but after pitching out of a jam in the third inning, he settled into a nice groove and threw just 43 pitches over his next four innings. He helped himself with three nice fielding plays and showed why many consider him to be the big difference-maker in this series. The Giants are now 9-2 in this postseason and a big reason for that is Bumgarner has started five of those 11 games.

"It's all about making pitches," Bumgarner drawled after the game. "I know that's a boring answer, but that's really what it's about."

Giants manager Bruce Bochy had another explanation for Bumgarner's postseason success: "He just keeps that maniacal focus you like."

Royals fans are left pondering this fate: They now have to win four of the next six games to take the crown. One of those six games will be started by Madison Bumgarner. Good luck.

2. Giants explode out of the gate.

Royals fans waited 29 long, mostly miserable years to get back to the World Series and were greeted with an unfortunate series of events in the top of the first inning, when the Giants jumped out to a quick, crowd-silencing 3-0 lead that could have been worse.

Gregor Blanco started things off innocently enough, with a blooper to center that even Lorenzo Cain couldn't get to. As Jayson Stark pointed out, Shields has struggled all postseason with the leadoff batter: Nine of 18 against him to that point had reached. Blanco then smartly tagged up on Joe Panik's drive to deep left-center, and Buster Posey lined a sharp single to left field, with Blanco holding up at third base against Alex Gordon's powerful arm. Pablo Sandoval then doubled into the right-field corner to score Blanco, but for some reason, third-base coach Tim Flannery waved home Posey, who runs like we expect catchers to run, and he was easily thrown out by 10 feet (he didn't even bother to slide), despite Norichika Aoki's looping relay throw from right field.

But the big blow came from Hunter Pence, who drilled a 3-2, 93-mph fastball over the fence 403 feet away in right-center. Pence had fouled off the previous fastball, but this one was pretty much right down the middle. Major league hitters don't miss that pitch too often. It was bad enough for the Royals that it gave them an early 3-0 deficit, but that hit could also help get Pence's bat going. It was just his second home run since Sept. 2 and his second home run in 32 career postseason games. He had entered the game hitting just .192/.271/.262 since the beginning of September.

Shields threw 32 pitches in the inning, and there was the onslaught of predictable "Big Game James" jokes on Twitter (a reminder that the nickname was given to him in the minor leagues and not for his actual performance in big games).

3. Bumgarner works out of big jam in the third inning.

After Brandon Crawford booted Omar Infante's groundball and Mike Moustakas doubled into the right-field corner, it looked like the Royals would get to Bumgarner, who hadn't looked sharp through the first two innings. With Bumgarner audibly grunting (at least on the Fox TV broadcast), he struck out Alcides Escobar and then Aoki -- Escobar on a high fastball, Aoki on a curveball on which he tried to check his swing. After falling behind in the count 0-2 to load the bases, Cain worked a walk, but Hosmer swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second base to end the inning.

Hosmer has hit .280 against both lefties and righties (including the postseason), but you got the feeling Bumgarner was being careful with Cain with first base open. After four straight balls to Cain, Hosmer might have been expecting a first-pitch fastball. Instead, he got the slider. Credit Bumgarner for a good pitch there more than you blame Hosmer for not taking a strike.

"I was really impressed with the way he fought off our aggressiveness and worked up the ladder," Yost said of the fateful third.

Bumgarner was at 53 pitches after three, but you wondered at the time if the Royals had blown their one chance to get back into the game.

4. Giants flash some leather in the first inning.

Bumgarner flagged down a soft liner from Aoki, and then, at the warning track in right-center, Blanco ran down a sharp line drive off Hosmer's bat, a really nice play that he made look easy.

When I talked to Blanco on Monday, he told me how he signed with the Giants in the 2011-2012 offseason after picking them over the Reds and Marlins, and how thankful he is to be "part of the Giants family." He'd been the Giants' fourth outfielder for much of the season but was thrust into the postseason spotlight in 2012, when he replaced the suspended Melky Cabrera in left field and played outstanding defense throughout that title run. This year, he's starting in center field in place of the injured Angel Pagan. He said his dream as a kid wasn't just to play in the World Series but to play center field in the World Series. So he gets to do that and makes a great play in the first inning. How cool is that?

5. Shields knocked out in the fourth.

After four straight rocky starts in the postseason, the big question looming for a potential Game 5: Does Shields even get the start? It appeared to be a legitimate question after Danny Duffy came on and tossed three hitless innings. That said, he did walk two of the first three batters he faced, the second with the bases loaded to give the Giants a 5-0 lead.

It seems unlikely you'd go away from Shields and his role as the Royals' staff leader, but his recent track record -- if you want to emphasize such a thing -- suggests he's perhaps hit the wall after a heavy workload all season. Yost confirmed after the game that Shields would start Game 5. There was no hesitation in his answer.

"He's very competitive," Yost said. "He's a guy who, when his stuff is right, he can dominate. ... You have to know James. He has the ability to make adjustments."

Anyway, Duffy proceeded to allow two more runs in the seventh inning, as Joe Panik tripled past a diving Aoki in right-center. Duffy finished with 59 pitches, which means the Royals will be without a long man for Game 2. It's probably not a big deal, but it could potentially lead to a situation in which Yost has to leave Yordano Ventura in too long, when he should go to his pen early, even if it's using one of his late-game relievers.

Umm, about that nickname ...

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- OK, here's the important thing to know: James Shields earned the nickname "Big Game James" in the minor leagues because he was a fan of the Lakers and James Worthy, who went by that moniker. Unfortunately, with a nickname like that comes the inevitable fallout on Twitter when you don't deliver the goods.

Shields hasn't delivered in the postseason. Before his World Series Game 1 start, he had a career postseason ERA of 5.19 in nine starts. He's now allowed 28 hits and 15 runs in 19 innings this postseason, after his early exit Tuesday.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Every World Series has a great pregame spirit, but it was hard to top Tuesday’s atmosphere outside Kauffman Stadium. For one thing, the weather was gorgeous -- sunny and mid-70s, the sort of weather we too rarely see at the World Series. For another, you had cheerful fans, in blue T-shirts (not winter coats and gloves), who have been waiting for this and enduring the misery of relentless losing seasons for nearly three decades. There was even a season-ticket holder driving a monster truck with moose antlers in honor of Mike Moustakas.

Most importantly, of course, you had great Kansas City barbecue.

"There are a lot of people who aren't even coming to the game," Mark Heflin said while savoring a meal of rib eye, grilled peppers and onions, twice-baked potatoes and stuffed Anaheim chili peppers with bacon wrap. "They're just here for the atmosphere."

With so many urban ballparks, there are limited opportunities for tailgating at baseball games. Among the best parks for tailgating are Milwaukee, Oakland and Kansas City. KC has an advantage over all the others, though, because this city knows its barbecue.

"Smoked meat [is the key]," Joe Rybnick said while working one of the many grills outside the stadium. "In some places, they just slather the barbecue sauce on it, and in Kansas City, we smoke it. So we've got ribs -- well, we had ribs, but they're gone. Ribs, pulled pork, Italian sausage from southeast Kansas."

He pointed to the pulled pork.

"Do want to try some of this?"

Do you really have to ask?

Among those enjoying the tailgating atmosphere were Josh Lawson and Chris Polsak. Lawson has waited nearly his entire life for the Royals' return to the World Series. Although just 5 years old at the time, he vividly remembers the 1985 World Series, which was when his family upgraded to what was then the height of media technology: a 27-inch color TV.

Lawson lives in South Carolina now, but he wasn't going to miss the Royals' return to the World Series, even though he had to fly and pay $850 for a ticket to the game.

"My wife told me, 'You're going. It's been 29 years. If you don't go, you're not coming home,'" he said. "So I said, I better roll."

Heflin grew up a Royals fan, with his childhood home just a couple miles from the stadium. But when the 1994 strike canceled the World Series, he went on strike against baseball.

"I said I would only go back if the Royals were in the World Series," he said. "My son comes up here and volunteers at games all the time. I wouldn't come. 'No, they took away my World Series. It's like apple pie!'"

Or worse, taking away Kansas City barbecue.

Said Rachel Van Zant: "The fans here have been through a lot."

But after 29 years, the World Series is back in Kansas City. And Royals fans are savoring it as much as slow-smoked meat in a sweet sauce.

* * * *

The Royals even have their own super fan, or as he bills himself, the Super Fan. SungWoo Lee is a South Korean man with a corporate job who somehow became obsessed with the Royals in the 1990s. He apparently visited Kansas City for the first time in August, and then the Royals went on a 9-1 streak, which led fans to believe he was a good luck charm for the club.

He was back for Game 1 of the World Series, which apparently had many fans convinced this World Series is already over. As fans waited outside the stadium for the gates to open three hours before the game, Lee was posing for photos. He even went on the local sports radio station, though his English is a little spotty. As he walked up to the radio booth, he paused to wave to the crowd and do a 360-degree turn as he took some selfies.

And he was on the field while the Royals took batting practice:

* * * *

There were scalpers looking to buy tickets to turn around and sell. There were fans looking to buy tickets. There were fans in George Brett jerseys and Salvador Perez T-shirts and "Take the Crown" paper hats. There were fans with pumpkins painted blue and mysterious, blue, liquid refreshments. They were all dressed in blue, except for the rare orange-clad Giants fan.

Then there was Anthony Warner wearing his local Knights of Columbus badge. He was trying to sell a 1985 Royals World Series satin jacket for $500.

"It's been in the family for a long time," he said.

We don't know if he was able to sell it, but if he did, it was certain to go to another family member: The Royals family.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jerry Crasnick previews Game 1 of the World Series here, Jonah Keri and Ben Lindbergh of Grantland have five keys for each team here and Buster Olney writes about the importance of Madison Bumgarner holding on Royals baserunners here (basestealers were just 7-for-17 against Bumgarner this season, as he's worked to improve in that area).

I wanted to add a few words on the Bumgarner-James Shields matchup.

An obvious advantage for Bumgarner is that he's left-handed. Seven of the eight home runs the Royals have hit in the postseason have come from left-handed batters: Mike Moustakas (4), Eric Hosmer (2) and Alex Gordon (1). Right-handed hitting Alcides Escobar smacked the other one. Left-handed batters have hit a meager .221/.249/.296 against Bumgarner during the season with just two home runs -- one in the regular season and one by Matt Adams in the NLCS.

Bumgarner works off his fastball -- he throws it 54 percent of the time against left-handed batters -- and if Moustakas, Hosmer and Gordon are to do any damage against the fastball, they'll have to look up in the zone:

Madison BumgarnerESPN Stats and Info

You can see why Bumgarner is tough on lefties, considering most lefties like the ball down in the zone. Here are the ratio of home runs hit in the bottom of the zone from these three:

Moustakas: 15-of-19
Hosmer: 8-of-11
Gordon: 8-of-20

So Gordon is the high-ball hitter here. However, 19 of his 20 home runs were pulled to the right of center field with the 20th just barely to the left of center. Considering Bumgarner works that fastball up and away, Gordon will have difficulty doing much against that pitch. Both home runs by lefties against Bumgarner came against his curveball, but he doesn't throw that pitch as often as his fastball or slider.

With the lefties unlikely to do much damage, the Royals' right-handed batters will have to get on base. Against the Cardinals, Bumgarner pounded right-handers inside:

Bumgarner GraphicESPN
Lorenzo Cain was the Royals' best righty hitter against inside pitches from lefties, hitting .286/.355/.482. Salvador Perez has hit just .195 against such pitches and Billy Butler .191, so look for Bumgarner to continue attacking inside.

As for Shields, he's known for his great changeup, but you still have to look for the fastball.

"You have it in the back of your mind that it's there," Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said on Monday. "But he's still a power pitcher, so you have to work off his fastball. He has other good pitches, so you can't sit on anything."

The Giants will send up six left-handed batters against Shields. Check out his fastball location against left-handed batters:

James Shields heat mapESPN Stats & Info

Lefties have done some damage against that pitch, hitting .271/.347/.453. The key for Shields is keeping the hitters guessing with his four-pitch arsenal. He throws his fastball 40 percent of the time against lefties and his changeup 25 percent of the time, but as Belt alluded to, Shields also has a cutter and a curveball. Still, Shields' fastball generally sets up his off-speed stuff, so look for the Giants hitters to be aggressive against the fastball early in the count and try to avoid those two-strike counts where Shields can throw his changeup.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With his mop of curly hair, pants hiked up above his knees and energetic style of play, Hunter Pence is a fan favorite not just in San Francisco but across the country. Fans in out-of-town cities began bringing clever Hunter Pence signs to the ballpark and posting tweets under the #HunterPenceSigns hashtag.

But during Monday's World Series media session, Pence also showed that he's an aspiring poet and philosopher. Check out some of his words of wisdom:

Each player's family
the coaches
the fans
who have invested so much time
it's a tremendous accomplishment
and something the whole organization is a part of
so that's where it's way bigger than any one individual.

Being there
It's really big but at the same time
it can be really small
because I'm sure a lot of people
in other parts of the world
that have no idea what's going on.
So don't make it any bigger or lesser than it is.
It just is.

I'm very grateful that I get to do something that I love.
When you really, truly love something
and you remember how much you love it
because sometimes distractions can make it seem harder
and make it tougher on you
but when you back right down to the core of playing the game
that it is a game
I think acting off the emotion of love makes you better at what you do.

Take it all in moment by moment.
Yeah, it's easy to love the game
when you get to this stage
but when you're going through the losses
and going through the tough months
when there's so much doubt
to me, I take on that challenge
like how can you see victory
even when others see nothing.

Because it's funny.

I learn different things
about different cities
because a lot of them are unique to their city.
I remember one in particular here:
"Hunter Pence thinks he's in Kansas."
I was like, "We're not?"

Being called a dynasty is kind of a perspective thing.
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.

KANSAS CITY -- I know what some of you are thinking: "Hey, aren't you the idiot who just called this the worst World Series ever? So what's up with this piece, pal?" Well, yes, the headline was admittedly a little provocative and it certainly stirred up a reaction. Obviously, a lot of the people offering their feedback didn't actually read the column, but one type of comment did bother me a little: Those who suggested I must not love baseball to write such a piece.

That, of course, is the furthest thing from the truth. I easily watch a couple hundred games a season and parts of countless others. I blog more hours a week than I should. I'll take my dog out for a walk and have a game on my phone. I'm pretty sure I've watched every World Series game since 1976 -- maybe I missed one or two in the mid-'90s covering a high school football game -- and I've been lucky enough to cover five World Series in person, and now six.

And for you San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals fans out there: I had Willie Mays and George Brett posters hanging in my room as a kid.

Believe me, I love this game -- the best game we have.

Every World Series is interesting and full of subplots, but this one is particularly ripe with great stories. So here are 10 reasons to love this World Series.

1. The Giants go for their third title in five years. Only five times has a team other than the Yankees won three titles in five years: the Red Sox did it twice early in the 20th century, the last time from 1915 to 1918; the Oakland A's from 1972 to 1974; the St. Louis Cardinals from 1942 to 1946 and the Philadelphia A's from 1910 to 1913. So that's impressive company.

Is it fair to call the Giants a dynasty if they do win it all again? I kind of agree with Giants outfielder Hunter Pence on this. "Being called a dynasty is kind of a perspective thing," he said Monday. "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."

Indeed, that's kind of what makes the Giants so unique and wonderful. They're different from those other dynasty-like teams in that this 2014 team is much different from the 2010 team. That squad was led by starters Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, neither of whom are in the playoff rotation this year. The only position-player regulars still around from 2010 are Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. It's a testament to the organization that the team has remained so competitive while replacing various parts in each playoff run.

Still, three in five would be pretty awesome.

2. The Royals go for the perfect postseason and first title in 29 years. Only one team in the divisional era -- since 1969 -- hasn't lost in the postseason. The 1976 Big Red Machine of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and George Foster went 7-0 to cement their legacy as one of baseball's all-time great teams. The Royals might not have a roster full of future Hall of Famers, but they've already surpassed the Reds with an 8-0 start in the playoffs. It's really been a streak of beauty, a combination of speed, defense, starting pitching and dominant bullpen, with some surprising power and, of course, the timeliest of hits.

Can the Royals keep this up? Here's one way to look at it. Let's say the Royals had a 50 percent chance of winning each of those eight games. You can argue about the actual odds, but let's keep this simple: What are the odds of tossing a coin eight times and having it come up heads each time? One in 256, or less than one-half of one percent. How can you not love that?

The Royals are unlikely to go 12-0, but that would be one of the greatest stories ever told if it does happen.

3. Madison Bumgarner's claim on history. Joe Sheehan had a great newsletter on Monday, touching on a similar theme I did in that "Worst World Series" post. Anyway, Joe makes a good point here about the wild-card system making the regular season less important: "It's been two decades of wild cards, two decades of new baseball fans having no real idea that there was once a different system, two decades of new baseball fans used to the idea that the postseason, not the regular season, is where legends are born. Two decades of the message that October is infinitely more important than September."

Bumgarner has had a great postseason so far, going 2-1 with a 1.42 ERA in four starts, including two scoreless outings. He won the wild-card game, he started the clinching Game 5 of the NLCS and now, he'll start Game 1 of the World Series. He's made two previous World Series starts in his career and has allowed just five hits and no runs in 15 innings. If Bumgarner has a couple outings similar to those, well, as Joe wrote, that's how legends are born.

[+] EnlargeRoyals
ESPN Stats & Information The value of the Royals' outfield defense
4. That Kansas City outfield defense. I always like to say that if you go to a minor league game you can see pitchers throwing 95 mph and you can see a few players who can hit the ball a country mile; the biggest difference between the majors and minors is the caliber of defense played in the majors. It reminds of a column written years ago by the great baseball writer Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post. He described watching a baseball game with a British friend of his who had never seen baseball in person before. The British chap wasn't so much impressed with the pitchers or the hitters as he was with the defenders. That's how I feel watching Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and, when he comes in the game, Jarrod Dyson. Those three are something to watch out there and could very well play a huge factor, as they did against the Angels and Orioles.

5. Bruce Bochy and the Hall of Fame. Maybe Bochy is already a Hall of Fame lock with his two World Series titles and long, 20-year tenure in the majors. He's one of 12 managers to manage 20 seasons with an overall winning record and at least two World Series titles, and 10 of the other 11 are in the Hall of Fame -- Ralph Houk being the exception. However, not all managers with two World Series titles are in the Hall of Fame: Besides Houk, there is Cito Gaston, Tom Kelly, Danny Murtaugh and Bill Carrigan, plus Bochy and Terry Francona. So if Bochy is a borderline guy now, you have to think a third title will cement his case.

On the field, the Bochy-Ned Yost matchup should be intriguing, especially when the series shifts to San Francisco and Yost has to get out of his American League comfort zone. Bochy always seemed one step ahead of Mike Matheny in the NLCS, but Yost's bullpen weapons are much more imposing than what Matheny had. Since Yost's bullpen machine sort of operates itself, at least while leading from the seventh inning on, and since the Royals don't really pinch hit for their starters (which will allow Bochy to get the matchups he wants), it could be the most important decisions each manager makes during the series will be when to pull the starting pitchers.

6. Gregor Blanco. I remember talking to Blanco after the Giants won the World Series in 2012, the joy on his face as he told his story of not playing in the majors in 2011 and playing winter ball that year, hoping to catch the eye of the right team. He signed with the Giants and was thrust into the spotlight in the postseason when he became the starting left fielder after Melky Cabrera was suspended. This year, he's the starting center fielder in October, replacing the injured Angel Pagan.

On Monday, he told me how he ended up signing with the Giants that winter. He also had offers from the Reds and Marlins. "My friend told me, 'If you ever become a free agent, sign with a good team because they'll give you more chances.'" If you think about, it makes sense. Bad teams tend to have more roster turnover, always looking for a quick fix, and the guys at the bottom of the roster can get churned through in rapid fashion. Sign with a good team and you might have a more defined role or a management that is smart enough to believe in your abilities. Blanco is a great fourth outfielder who is good enough to start when needed.

"Growing up in Venezuela, my dream wasn't just to play in a World Series but to play center field in a World Series, and now I get to do that," Blanco said. "I just feel blessed to be part of this team and part of the Giants family."

Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens said one of the things that makes Blanco special is "he's always upbeat, even when he's struggling." It's one of the great things about baseball: Gregor Blanco gets just as many plate appearances as Buster Posey or Hunter Pence, and thus the same opportunity to influence the game. We focus on the biggest names, but the overlooked guys often decide the World Series.

7. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. I wrote about the Royals' bullpen trio the other day. When I asked Blanco about those three guys, he smiled. When I asked Meulens about those three guys, he smiled. "You have to sit on the fastball and adjust to the off-speed stuff," Meulens said, while acknowledging it's not exactly so easy to do that. The late-game drama of those three facing the heart of the Giants order should present some of the most exciting, tense matchups of the series.

8. Tim Hudson. The 39-year-old right-hander, in his 16th season in the big leagues, is finally in the World Series after pitching in six previous postseasons with the A's and Braves. He's the active leader in wins with 214. He's been on the wrong end of many playoff heartbreaks in his career. He's a good story to root for.

9. One-run drama. While the series in the first rounds were short -- none went the distance -- they didn't lack for excitement. So far, 14 of the 25 playoff games have been decided by one run; at 56 percent, that total easily trumps the 39 percent mark of 1995 as the highest percentage of one-run games. Eleven of the 25 games have been decided in a team's final at-bat (not necessarily a walk-off, but the winning the run scoring in a team's final at-bat), which ties 1995 and 2004 for most in a single postseason. Considering this should be a tight, low-scoring series, I expect more one-run and late-game drama.

10. Because you never know. Maybe the heroes will be Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey or James Shields and the Royals bullpen. But maybe the heroes will be Travis Ishikawa or Lorenzo Cain or even Kansas City pinch runner Terrance Gore stealing the base of a lifetime. Baseball, more than other sports, is unpredictable. That's what makes every World Series so fun but this one particularly so: The Las Vegas sportsbooks have this one split right down the middle. This is truly the most unpredictable of World Series. I can't wait to see what happens.
Diane Firstman of the wonderful Value Over Replacement Grit blog has her World Series preview up, full of fun and random facts about players on both teams. Check it out!