The Kansas City Royals have long been an afterthought in Major League Baseball.
Tonight, they will be one of the only thoughts on the minds of baseball fans around the world.
The Royals last World Series win came in 1985, when names like George Brett and Bret Saberhagen were the kings of Kansas City. Since ‘85, the Royals did not win another postseason baseball game – because they didn’t make the playoffs once in that nearly 30 year span.
For all the pain Royals fans have felt during that inglorious span, their patience has finally been rewarded, as the Royals improbable run to the 2014 Fall Classic has been nothing short of spectacular. A remarkable use of small-ball earned the Royals a thrilling Wild-Card victory over the Oakland Athletics and that alone might have been enough to satisfy the appetites of Royals fans. They weren’t done there, though – far from it.
Not only did the Royals beat the Angels in the ALDS and the Orioles in the ALCS, they swept them both handily. In an era of baseball dominated by big-swinging home-run hitters, the Royals have got the job done with a hammer and chisel, chipping away at teams with almost relative ease.
Now, the Royals face their biggest challenge of all. The San Francisco Giants are a team built for playoff success. There’s a reason they’ve won two championships in the last four seasons. There are matchups across the board that will be worth following as the Series unfolds, but one thing is for certain, both teams will stick with what got them there, and for the Royals that means playing small-ball and getting their bullpen a lead to work with. While the Giants will be a tall task for a team that is essentially riding a massive wave of momentum, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Royals can ride that wave to four more victories.
10 Home Field Advantage
While there may not be a legitimate or statistical advantage to having home-field in the World Series, it’s hard to discount the effect a rabid and long-suffering Kansas City crowd will have on this series. We’ve seen them spur the Royals on to several postseason wins already, and the American League’s victory in the All-Star game means the Royals will not only have (potentially) four home games, they also don’t have to deal with having a pitcher bat in Game 7 (should it come to that). Billy Butler is a “true” DH, and while the Giants can slot anyone into that position, there’s no guarantee they’ll be any more use than a pitcher who can at least bunt a runner over a base.
9 Royals Bats Have Been Hotter
If we’re looking at numbers only, the Royals bats have been more effective that the Giants. The Royals have been better in almost every offensive category: batting average (.259 to .244), on-base percentage (.331 to .313), slugging percentage (.390 to .324) and on-base plus slugging (.721 to .638). The fact of the matter is that the Royals have been able to get as many runs as they’ve needed to, no matter when they need to – especially during crunch time of big games. If the Royals bats stay this hot throughout the World Series, it won’t matter how well Madison Bumgarner or any other Giants pitcher is throwing.
8 Better Impact Players
On paper, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval are two guys you’d probably take before anyone on the Royals roster. This postseason, though, names like Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon have been simply sensational in all facets of the game. Moustakas was a defensive highlight reel against the Orioles, while Cain was in MVP form, hitting .533 and making some spectacular defensive plays on his own. The core of the Royals roster has carried this team to the World Series, and after all those years of futility, there’s no doubt they will be motivated to make this opportunity count.
7 Underrated Starting Pitching
“Big Game” James Shields may not have been overly dominant thus far, but he’s been solid in the games he’s played. Yordie Ventura is a fireball thrower, while Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas can be counted upon for some solid innings. While they won’t put up dominant Cy Young winning numbers, they’ll do their job – keep the runs down and get it to the bullpen with a lead or a small deficit. Don’t forget about young phenom Brandon Finnegan, who’s been thrown into the fire and has responded extremely well.
6 The "No" Intimidation Factor
Everyone who has an opinion on this series has been propping up Madison Bumgarner as two guaranteed wins for the Giants, and while Bumgarner has been spectacular so far, those people tend to forget that the Royals have yet to be intimidated (or beat, for that matter) by ace pitchers thus far in the postseason. They chased Jon Lester from the Wild Card game, and they took down Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Bud Norris. While none may be on Bumgarner’s level right now, the Royals won’t be intimidated by his presence.
5 Defense Wins Championships
While the numbers indicate that the Giants have been more sound defensively, there’s no way of measuring the value a big defensive play can have on a team, especially in a big moment. The Royals have proven to have a knack for the big defensive play when they need it most, specifically this postseason. Moustakas, Cain and Gordon have all made ridiculous catches that have shifted the momentum of the games they happened in. If the Royals defense can continue to provide a spark – especially at home – it could propel them to a win or two.
4 Small-Ball Superstars
The Giants have been fairly effective at playing small-ball themselves, but no team has made bunting and sacrificing batters more exciting than the Royals. The game against the Athletics seemed like an anomaly at the time, but the Royals have won games based on smart, efficient advancing of runners in almost every inning they’ve been in since the beginning of the playoffs. Don’t expect that to change in the World Series. The Royals have made the bunt cool again, and you can expect them to use it every chance they get against San Francisco.
3 Speed Kills
Buster Posey can wheel out an actual cannon next to home plate and have the baseball launched out of it towards second or third base, and it still won’t make a difference. The Royals have been able to steal bases at will since the Wild Card game, and if you’re going to make any bets for the World Series, bet on the “over” for whatever number the odds makers set as the over/under for stolen base attempts for Kansas City. The Royals are 13 for 16 so far this postseason, and with the wheels they have on the base pads you know Ned Yost is going to use his speedy weapons as much as possible.
2 The Bullpen From Hell
If you’ve watched even one game this postseason, you’ve already heard the narrative: if the Royals starter can get to the 7th inning with the lead, you might as well pack it in, because the game is all but over. First, Yost will call upon Kelvin Herrera (1.08 ERA) to take care of the 7th inning batters. Wade Davis (0.96 ERA) will head out for the 8th, and finally Greg Holland (6 saves) to mow down the remaining batters. It’s the Royals biggest strength and will be the most likely “make or break” factor in this series.
1 There's Magic In The Air
It’s hard to put into words what the Kansas City Royals have done this postseason. It’s more than a hot streak, or a wave of momentum, or just good luck. There’s something magical happening in KC. Some may claim its destiny, fate, or just the city’s patience through years of horrible teams finally being paid off all at once. No one really knows what’s going on, but one thing is clear – this is not your standard Cinderella run. The Royals haven’t lost a game all postseason. They haven’t just won, they’ve been downright dominant.
The Royals have not come this far to lay down to a team most are calling “superior, deeper, more experienced” – and while they might have “fate” on their side, they also have all the reasons listed above. Don’t sleep on Kansas City…if you do, you might miss the entire series, because if this postseason has taught us anything, it’s that it might be over quickly if the Royals can play their style of baseball.