One of the reasons I've been wrong in almost all of my postseason predictions (I did guess that the Orioles would beat the Tigers) is that neither of this team's finalists, the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants, have played true to form:
- The Royals scored 4.02 runs per game in the regular season, below the AL average of 4.18. The league leader was the Angels, with 4.77. In the postseason, when the quality of pitching is above-average, the Royals have scored 5.75 runs per game, about a run per game more than the best-scoring team in the league during the regular season. And, as I've pointed out, they've done it not with speed, but with the homers, walks, and strikeouts that they avoided during the regular season.
- San Francisco's best starter, Madison Bumgarner, is unimpeachable. But the No. 2 starter, Jake Peavy, had a 4.72 ERA with Boston before joining the Giants via a trade in late July. He had a 2.17 regular season ERA with the Giants and a 1.86 postseason ERA. The No. 3 starter, Tim Hudson, had an 8.72 ERA over five starts in September and a 3.29 ERA in the postseason. The No. 4 starter, Ryan Vogelsong, was almost as bad as Hudson in September (5.53 ERA) and had a strong start against the Nationals (5.2 innings, four baserunners, one run) before a weak one (four runs allowed in three innings) in a game the Giants won anyway. That four-man rotation has put Yusmeiro Petit in the bullpen, where he's allowed two hits and no runs over nine innings. He had a 4.40 ERA in September.
One of these trends will break down. Either the Royals will stop hitting so well, or the Giants starters after Bumgarner will stop pitching so well. They can't both continue like this.
Both teams have strong bullpens. The Royals, as I noted in my Championship Series preview, had the best record in the American League in games they led after six innings, 65-4. That, of course, is attributable to Kelvin Herrera (usually their seventh inning reliever, 1.41 ERA), Wade Davis (eighth inning, 1.00 ERA), and Greg Holland (ninth inning, 1.44 ERA). But the Giants weren't slouches either, going 62-6 in games they led after six, fourth-best in the National League and sixth-best in the majors.* But these teams were also among the most successful at coming back from deficits after six innings: the Giants were fifth-best in the majors (13-60) and the Royals seventh-best (11-58) in games they trailed going into the seventh inning.** Still, the Royals' trio has combined for a 1.05 ERA in the postseason, giving the Royals, in my mind, an edge in games that they lead.
The question is whether they'll get there. Given my initial premise--that the clock's going to strike midnight for either the Royals' offense or the Giants' rotation--I'm more skeptical of Kansas City, which ranked last in the majors in walks and homers in the regular season. I've made it clear that I'm biased in favor of small-market low-payroll teams, and the Royals' $89.3 million payroll (17th in the majors) is almost 40% lower than the Giants' $145.1 million (sixth). But if I had to make a guess, I'd expect the Royals to wind up on the short end of a low-scoring World Series.
*Top six won-lost records in games leading after six innings: Padres (!) 60-1 (!!), Royals 65-4, Nationals 72-6, Dodgers 81-7, Twins 52-5, Giants 62-6.
**The Nationals were 14-54 in games they trailed after six innings, the only team to win over 20% of such games. But the bottom of the list is more interesting. The Braves were trailing 63 games after six innings, and came back to win only three--a winning percentage of less than 5%. And the Dodgers were even worse, going 2-54 in games they trailed after six. Dodgers fans have a reputation for leaving games early to beat the traffic, and in 2014, it seems, they were justified, as the team went on the win 92% of the games they led after six while losing 96% of games they trailed after six.