This fabulously unpredictable postseason had to end up this way, with the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants -- the two wild-card teams -- in the World Series. It's the second all-wild-card matchup ever, the first in 2002.
It will be the Giants' third trip to the World Series in five years, and the Royals' first since 1985. This also will mark the first time in an uninterrupted season that two teams with fewer than 90 victories in the regular season will play in the World Series. But before anyone says neither team belongs, think again. The Royals are the first team ever to win its first eight games of a postseason, and the Giants are the most resourceful, inventive and tough-minded team we've seen in years.
Here are five questions.
How good is the Kansas City bullpen?
We have asked this in every series the Royals have played this postseason, and the pen just keeps getting better and better. It has a 0.96 ERA since the start of the ALDS. In Game 3 of the ALCS, the pen threw four perfect innings, the third time a team has ever done that in postseason history. The Royals have won four one-run games this postseason, a tribute mostly to the threesome of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. This season, those three had 21 games in which they all pitched, and none of the three allowed a run. No other team had more than 16 such games from any threesome. That's why the Royals were 65-4 when leading after six innings during the regular season. Herrera and Davis have not allowed a home run this year. And advanced metrics tell us that of the past 100 batters the three have faced combined, there have been only five hard-hit balls.
How good is the San Francisco bullpen?
It has been terrific this postseason, posting an ERA under 2.00. The Giants might not have a threesome like Kansas City's, but anyone who saw the 18-inning game against the Nationals in Game 2 of the LDS knows how deep and versatile that pen is. In that game, Yusmeiro Petit, who set a major league record this year with 47 consecutive batters retired, threw six scoreless innings and struck out seven, the most ever in extra innings of any postseason game. Petit has pitched nine postseason innings, allowing no runs and two hits. Closer Santiago Casilla has been really good; he hasn't allowed a run in 17 consecutive postseason appearances. Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt has gone 19 straight appearances in the postseason without allowing a run. And another lefty, Javier Lopez, has gone 15 straight scoreless appearances in the postseason. The Giants appear to have a slight advantage because the best starting pitcher in the postseason has been Madison Bumgarner (1.72 ERA), who is pitching so deep into games that he keeps the pen fresh.
How good is the Kansas City defense?
We have asked this in every postseason series the Royals have played, and the defense just keeps getting better and better. In Game 2 of the LCS, outfielder Lorenzo Cain was the defensive star, making a great diving catch in right-center field, then two innings later as the right fielder, making a crucial running catch at the right-field line. In Game 3, third baseman Mike Moustakas made two highlight-reel plays, including an over-the-railing grab that teammate Jeremy Guthrie called "his gymnastics move. He gets on top of the balance beam, then slides into the crowd.'' In Game 4, Alex Gordon, the game's best defensive left fielder, made three nice running catches to help preserve a 2-1 win. And you know shortstop Alcedes Escobar, first baseman Eric Hosmer or catcher Salvador Perez is due for a night of Web Gems. That's what happens when you have six Gold Glove-caliber defenders.
Exactly how do the Giants keep scoring enough runs?
It's puzzling but very impressive how they keep doing it. The Giants scored nine runs in four games of the LDS against the Nationals and won. They won the deciding Game 4 with three runs, which scored on a bases-loaded walk, an infield groundout and a wild pitch. In the LCS, they won Game 3 on a game-ending throwing error by Cardinals pitcher Randy Choate. They came from behind to win Game 4 in part because of two throws within four pitches by Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams in the sixth inning. After that game, they had scored 22 runs this postseason, 12 of which were scored without a hit. As our friend Jayson Stark pointed out, they entered Game 5 without a home run in 242 straight postseason plate appearances. Then, in Game 5, Joe Panik homered for the first two runs; he hit one homer in 269 at-bats this season. Pinch hitter Michael Morse hit his first since Aug. 15. And Travis Ishikawa ended the game, and the series, with a walk-off three-run homer -- the first walk-off homer of his career and the fourth walk-off homer ever to end an LCS, joining Chris Chambliss, Magglio Ordonez and Aaron Boone. And the last walk-off homer hit by a Giant to put them in the World Series came in 1951 when Bobby Thomson hit "The Shot Heard 'Round The World." "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"
What do we make of the managers?
The Giants' Bruce Bochy is attempting to become the 10th manager to win three World Series. The other nine are in the Hall of Fame. He is one of 12 managers to manage 20 years, have a career winning record and win multiple World Series; 10 of the other 11 are in the Hall of Fame. That's where Bochy is headed. He is the master of staying calm, and he is one of the best in the game at using his bullpen.
The Royals' Ned Yost is not going to the Hall of Fame, but he has more wins than any manager in Royals history. And he is the only manager ever to win his first eight postseason games. It's not push-button managing by any means, but Yost has basically used the same starting lineup since he moved Alcedes Escobar to the leadoff spot, and Lorenzo Cain to the No. 3 hole, on Sept. 13. And when right fielder Norichika Aoki gets on base in the late innings of a close game, Yost pinch-runs speedy Jarrod Dyson, then keeps him in center field and moves Cain to right, creating the best defensive outfield in the game. And, of course, when he gets to the seventh with a lead, he brings in Herrera, Davis and Holland for an inning each.
As for head-to-head meetings this year, it doesn't matter a great deal, but Yost's Royals swept three games from Bochy's Giants in August. The Royals had a 2.00 ERA, averaged 5.3 runs per game and stole eight bases.
The pick: Royals in seven