Depending on your point of view, the 2014 World Series matchup between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants is either everything you wanted — or nothing like you imagined.
If the latter fits, you’re certainly not alone.
Independent statistical analysis based on Wins Above Average shows the Royals were just the sixth-best team in the American League this year, while the Giants were the fourth-best National League team. This is the equivalent of two 9-7 teams playing in the Super Bowl, as for the first time in MLB history, neither Fall Classic participant won 90 games in the regular season.
If unpredictability is was you like, you’re happy as a clam right now — but if you live anywhere but Kansas City and San Francisco, you’ve probably moved on to the NFL, college football and the NHL by now.
Both the Giants and the Royals got here by playing mistake-free baseball in the first three rounds, defeating “better” teams with sounder fundamentals and good fortune. San Francisco knocked off Pittsburgh, Washington and St. Louis to get here, while Kansas City eliminated Oakland, Los Angeles and Baltimore.
Don’t let anyone suggest that neither team deserves to be here: with 16 wins and only two losses combined in the postseason, these two teams have played better for the past two weeks than the other teams — even if they didn’t come near playing as well in the prior six months.
That’s the beauty and horror of the MLB playoffs now: Bud Selig’s wild-card brainchild keeps more cities and fans interested in the game into September, but it alienates more cities and fans much faster now in October. It’s a tradeoff that continues to divide purists and progressives.
We’ll look more closely at both teams before Tuesday’s Game One in Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium. But for now, let’s review the individual MVPs of each team on their path to the World Series.
Kansas City Royals
The offensive MVP for the Royals has to be Eric Hosmer. The first baseman struggled during the season with just nine home runs and a .716 OPS. In the postseason, however, he’s been on a tear. Hosmer has hit .448 with a 1.314 OPS, two home runs and eight RBI. That’s quite a jolt for the offense.
The pitching MVP for Kansas City is the three-headed monster at the back end of the bullpen. They were all outstanding in the regular season, but righty Kevin Herrera, lefty Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland have been even better in the playoffs. The trio has surrendered just three runs in 25 2/3 innings, while Davis has two wins and Holland six saves.
You don’t want to fall behind the Royals after the sixth inning; that’s a surefire method for losing. Just ask the Angels and the Orioles.
San Francisco Giants
No single San Francisco hitter has been as dominating at the plate as Hosmer; it’s definitely been more of a team effort. Just look at the spreading of the wealth so far: Shortstop Brandon Crawford hit a huge grand slam in the first game of the playoffs, and second baseman Joe Panik hit a big home run in the last game of the NL Championship Series. Oh, and don’t forget Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off shot, either.
If you’re struggling to figure out who those guys are, you’re not alone — especially Panik and Ishikawa. They joined a long list of “average guys” who stepped up in October for the Giants over the last handful of Octobers. But overall, the offensive MVP award can go to first baseman Brandon Belt — he missed a lot of the regular season with health issues, but his six RBI lead the S.F. team this postseason.
On the pitching side, Madison Bumgarner has assumed the top spot of a decimated rotation (no Matt Cain, no Tim Lincecum, etc.). He’s 2-1 with a 1.42 ERA this postseason, giving up just 19 hits in 31 2/3 innings so far. The rest of the rotation is somewhat spotty, so MadBum’s anchoring of the staff has been huge for the Giants.