One of the more improbable matchups in baseball history is about to take place.
For the first time in the long and storied history of Major League Baseball the Fall Classic will match two teams, each of which failed to win 90 games over the course of a full, non-shortened season.
The Kansas City Royals, the number one Wild Card in the American League, will host the first two games (and potentially Games 6 and 7) as they face the San Francisco Giants, who won the National League pennant coming from the No. 2 Wild Card spot.
Both teams’ trips to the World Series are somewhat improbable to the extent that each won their Divisional and Championship series rather easily after surviving that one-and-done Wild Card game.
Kansas City’s run has been the more improbable from almost every aspect. The Royals made the postseason for the first time since winning the 1985 World Series, ending a drought of 29 years.
The Royals hosted the AL Wild Card game and trailed Oakland and starter Jon Lester 7-3 entering the bottom of the eighth inning when they tallied 3 runs to pull within one and then tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. But that was not their last comeback of the night as the A’s scored a run in the top of the 12th to take an 8-7 lead. But the resilient Royals tied the game with one out and won the game on a walkoff two-out single to advance to the ALDS.
As remarkable as their comeback was to win the Wild Card game what has happened since is even more remarkable. The Royals swept the Los Angeles Angels in three games to win their ALDS series and then swept the Baltimore Orioles in 4 to win the ALCS and AL pennant.
Kansas City enters the World Series having won nine games in a row, including all eight post season games. Not bad for a team that had not made the postseason in just shy of three decades!
San Francisco’s trip to the World Series was improbable mainly from the standpoint of having to first win a Wild Card game on the road. The Giants did it in rather easy fashion, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0.
The Giants then needed just four games to get past the Washington Nationals in the NLDS and only 5 to get past the St Louis Cardinals in the NLCS to win the NL pennant and reach the World Series.
Thus Kansas City enters the World Series with an 8-0 postseason record while the Giants are not far behind at 8-2. Not bad for a pair of teams that failed to win 90 regular season games!
This handicaps as a very competitive World Series with Kansas City’s momentum and home field advantage counterbalanced by San Francisco’s seeking a third World Series title in five seasons, winning the Fall Classic in both 2010 and 2012 and getting past St Louis, the team that won the Series in 2011 and was in the 2013 World Series, losing to Boston.
Because the two League Championship series ended so quickly both teams will have had extra time to prepare for the World Series, including the ability to set their rotations exactly as desired.
The Giants wrapped up their series last Thursday in a game started by ace Madison Bumgarner. The lefty has been outstanding in his postseason career and, because of the four days off between that start and World Series Game 1 on Tuesday, “MadBum” will start the opener.
Because Kansas City swept Baltimore in 4 last Wednesday, ace James Shields made only one start against the Orioles. That was in Game 1 back on Oct. 10. Thus he will start Tuesday’s World Series opener after having not pitched in 11 days! Will he be rested or rusty?
As is the World Series as a whole, Game 1 is basically a pick ‘em affair with either team being no higher than a 110 favorite at most major books.
The Series opened mostly as a pick ‘em and movements through Sunday was within a very narrow range. Kansas City is a slight favorite more than is San Francisco at the Books where the line is not strictly pick ‘em.
There is much to like about both teams.
The Giants have a clear edge in experience with their two recent World Series titles but the lack of experience certainly has not affected Kansas City in the least thus far. The Royals continue to play their game, seemingly oblivious to what most would consider to be pressure packed situations.
In Bruce Bochy the Giants have one of the most underrated managers in baseball history. Despite his accomplishments more often than not his name is not immediately brought up whenever there is a discussion about the best managers in the game today, often being overshadowed by the likes of Joe Maddon, Buck Showalter and even Mike Scioscia. Yet if he is not already a future Hall of Fame manager a third World Series title would virtually assure that status.
The Royals rate the edges in speed, defense and depth of their bullpen. With a lack of power the Royals are considered by many to play a style of baseball more in line with NL teams, often using strategies that are offensive to many in the saber metric community, such as advancing runners via the bunt or attempting to steal too many bases. Yet if that is the strength of a team than cannot rely on the three run homer such teams feel the need to manufacture runs.
With an outstanding bullpen that relies on Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland opponents often have just six innings to do their scoring. That strength is often magnified in the postseason when levels of concentration are highest in each at bat.
Both teams were outstanding on the road this season. Including the Playoffs, the Giants, 49-37 at home, have been nearly as good on the road, going 47-39, rewarding their backers with a net profit of 11.8 units on the road.
Yet that pales in comparison to what the Royals have accomplished. Kansas City has been a modest 46-39 at home but an outstanding 51-34 on the road, rewarding backers with an astounding road net profit of 19.3 units!
It should thus come as no surprise to learn that both teams were higher scoring on the road than at home, San Francisco by 0.2 runs per game and KC by 0.6 rpg.
Totals results have been relatively neutral both at home and on the road in addition to overall with just a few games separating the number of OVERS from the UNDERS.
Because these teams are so close one way to approach betting this series would be to use the so-called “zig zag” theory that is most often associated with betting the NBA Playoffs. This strategy involves playing the loser of the first game of a series to win the second game; then betting the Game 2 loser in Game 3, etc.
Given their current run and the home field advantage the sequence would start with a bet on the Royals in Game 1 which would mean backing Shields over Bumgarner. The game is essentially pick ‘em although, as of mid Monday morning, some books did show the Giants as the slightest of favorites, laying 107 to laying 103 on the Royals.
The UNDER is more likely to cash more often than the OVER although we are likely to see Totals in the 6 to 6.5 range with perhaps a 7 showing in matchups of the lesser starters – Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie of the Royals and Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong of the Giants – who are likely to go in Games 3 and 4 (in San Francisco).
This is as evenly matched a series – on paper – as there has been in many years.
In betting the Series one option would be to wait until Game 1 has been played and to bet the loser as an underdog for the Series. Then, if that team ties up the series and becomes the favorite, or takes a lead in the Series and almost certainly becomes the favorite, you could lock in a profit by betting on the other side – the team that won Game 1.
Of course, if you are looking back to the “good old days” and make the traditional form of wager prior to the start of the series you might consider the prediction in this column which forecasts the Kansas City Royals to win the World Series in 6 games.
And, if this prediction is correct and no games are postponed due to rain, that Game 6 victory would come on October 28, 2014 – 29 years plus one day since the Royals defeated the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series.
If the Series extends beyond a scheduled Game 5 on Sunday, this column will revisit the Series next week as it stands through Sunday.
If this series ends on or before Sunday, this will have been the final baseball column for 2014 and, just in case, concludes with hopes for a great World Series and a great offseason.
Until either next week – or next spring – best of luck!
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]