World Series Preview: Will the Giants or Royals Win the Wild-Card Team Showdown?

For the first time in the new playoff format, two wild-card teams have made the World Series. Who will emerge victorious?

The World Series is upon us. When the two best teams in baseball prove who is the best of the best. Only this year is a little different.

The Royals were the first-seeded Wild Card team and have ripped off 8 wins without a loss in their first playoff trip since 1985. The Giants are the first number-two Wild Card seed to make it to the World Series, coming in the infancy of the new playoff format.

At season's end, the Royals ranked 16 in nERD, meaning they were below-average according to our metrics. Their actual nERD score of -0.09 indicates that our algorithms would have expected them to lose to an average opponent by that margin.

The Giants were 7th in nERD with a score of 0.48.

There is a similar divide in individual talent as well. Alex Gordon is the Royals’ offensive leader in nERD (1.14), trailing well behind the Giants offensive leader, Buster Posey (2.15). Posey leads all Giants in nERD, while Gordon trails four of the team’s five starting pitchers, including James Shields, who leads the team at 2.03. Shields has the best nERD between both staffs, with Madison Bumgarner only trailing him by 0.02.

This is only the second time that two Wild Card teams have made it to the World Series. The other occurance came in 2002 when the Troy-Glaus-led Angels beat a very different Giants team than what we see today. Since the Division Series was instituted in 1995, 10 teams have made it to the World Series from that slot, excluding both teams this year. Throughout those nine series, the Wild Card team has won four times.

This year makes it 12 teams and 5 World Series wins, now we just have to wait to see who will win: the boys from the bay who’ve won two of the past four World Series or the Cinderella Midwest squad that America has fallen in love with.

Let’s find out what the numbers think.

How the Giants Got Here

The Giants took down the Pirates at PNC Park in the Wild Card game fairly easily behind Bumgarner’s complete game effort in an 8-0 routing.

Next came the Nationals, the team most expected to win the World Series given they had the one of, if not the, best pitching staffs in baseball. Each game was a grind, in particular Game 2, which went 18 innings. San Francisco had one hiccup in the series but all-in-all made quick work of Washington.

Most recently came St. Louis, who had been in the NLCS for the fourth straight time. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the only team that had beaten them in the NLCS in the previous three tries was San Francisco. Well, the Giants' never-say-die attitude propelled them back into the World Series for the third time in five years.

Bumgarner won the NLCS MVP honors after posting a 1.72 ERA in 2 starts. Over 15.2 innings he struck out 12 batters, walked 3 and had a 0.77 WHIP. Despite not getting the win in Game 5, he kept the team in the game just enough for some amazing heroism from Mike Morse and Travis Ishikawa.

How the Royals Got Here

The Royals were on their deathbed just as their first playoff trip in 29 years began. It was 7-3 after six innings, then seven, but when the eighth rolled around, things started to shift. The stars began to align for this Roayls team and in the bottom of the 12th, Salvador Perez, who was off-and-on the disabled list throughout the year, catapulted his team into the division series with his single to left, scoring Christian Colon.

Riding high from defeating the A’s, the Royals continued their interesting path, beating the Angels in the first two games in extra-innings contest. In Game 3, Kansas City decided to play the standard nine innings and complete the sweep of top-ranked Los Angeles.

Then came Baltimore. The team with the most home runs up against the team with the least. The Orioles were the only team to hit over 200 homers in 2014, and the Royals were the only one to hit fewer than 100. The first two games were decided by two runs, with the next two by just one in each. With their sweep of the O’s, the Royals are the first team to win eight straight playoff games in one postseason.

While Lorenzo Cain was the rightful MVP of the ALCS for his stellar play, the Kansas City bullpen has been the story of the entire postseason. They have a 1.80 ERA in 35 innings and a 1.00 WHIP. The only team to trump those numbers: the Giants. The Royals do have a slight advantage in K/9 (9.3 to San Francisco’s 7.6), but either way it is going to be a dogfight from the seventh inning on given that Kansas City never allowed a run from that inning and afterwards in the ALCS. In the four games, the team only gave up one run in the sixth, as well.

Keys to Victory for the Giants

With Kansas City having home field advantage, San Francisco has the chance to utilize the designated hitter slot. Most likely, Morse is going to bat in that role since he has recovered from his oblique issue that has plagued him this year. In his first year as a Giant, Morse hit .279 with 16 home runs and 32 doubles in 131 games. He played in one September game after being a staple of the squad’s lineup all year. Now after losing his spot in the scrappy lineup, he has a chance to help San Fran from start to finish, providing a little extra pop in the order.

Pablo Sandoval lives for the World Series. In 2012, he hit .500 with 3 home runs and a double, en route to his World Series MVP honors. Panda is hot right now, too, hitting .326 this postseason, .400 in the NLCS, and smacking 4 doubles.

Posey didn’t fare as well against St. Louis, only hitting .200, without any extra-base hits. Posey has always done well in the World Series, and the Giants are really going to need him to step up if they expect to get an edge.

The Royals bullpen has been all the rage in October. However, the Giants have been a bit more effective, and will need to continue that in order to stick with their opponents. Santiago Casilla and company are not receiving as much hype because they let up four runs from the seventh to the ninth in the NLCS.

The secret to their bullpen success is Yusmeiro Petit, who has thrown nine innings in two relief appearance, not allowing a run to cross the plate. He came up big in the marathon game against the Nationals, shutting down the opposition from innings 12-17. Then he bailed out Ryan Vogelsong in Game 4 of the NLCS, pitching 3 innings, striking out 4 and only allowing a hit and a walk.

Petit's entrance is a sign that things are close to getting out of hand, but he has shown that he can put out any fire that comes his way.

Now he’ll have to prove he can do that against the Royals.

Keys to Victory for the Royals

Well their bullpen is very important, no groundbreaking news there. The Royals have been able to put up high run totals in the playoffs, but they’ve only won one game by more than three runs. It’s tougher to win by such a wide margin in the playoffs than in the regular season, which is one of the major reasons there is such heightened awareness with regards to their bullpen.

Let’s just look at a few stats from their three go-to guys:

Kelvin Herrera78.11/11026
Wade Davis89.11/11025
Greg Holland881/11053

Each of these guys averaged over 95.5 mph on their fastballs according to FanGraphs this season. They have been consistent, reliable and fun to watch. Now, they just have one more test to pass.

While the Giants get to use Morse for, potentially, four games, the Royals will most likely loose Billy Butler for three of them, instead of Eric Hosmer. In the ALCS, Butler hit .286 with 2 doubles and 3 RBIs, after going hitless in the ALDS. Butler has been one of the consistent pieces in the Royals lineup this decade and will get his chances at Kauffman Stadium.

However, Cain, Hosmer, Gordon and the rest are going to have to make up for his whole in the gameplay when Kansas City's pitcher must bat at AT&T Park.

The Royals also need to continue their base-stealing ways. The Royals stole the most bags in the majors and were third in stolen base percentage, trailing the first place Nationals (81.5%) by 0.5%. Their threat of stealing does a few things. First, it turns singles into doubles and doubles into triples. The other effect, is that the baserunners are keeping constant pressure on the fielders and, more importantly, the pitchers. Having to focus on time to the plate and general cadence before delivery can make pitchers lose concentration and their location can suffer.

One Left Standing

Well, this is a tough call to make. Neither team was really expected to make it this far.

However, our numbers show that San Francisco has a noticeably better shot at winning (59.08%) than does Kansas City (40.92%).

But teams have scrapped their way to this point, and what is most likely hasn't been the story of the playoffs. The Royals have been perfect, and the Giants have had to right out of a few tight spots. In the end, this is going to be a tight series during which one mistake could be pivotal.