October 22, 2014

DUBNOV | World Series Wildcards

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By NIKITA DUBNOV

Two Fridays ago, I called in to a good friend’s sports radio program at Trinity College to give a prediction of the outcomes of the NLCS and ALCS. I prophesied Royals in five and Giants in six. I always like to root for the underdog. However, after both series ended, it turned out that even I underestimated the underdogs.

The Royals swept the Orioles in four games. The Giants had a couple of incredible comebacks to take the series in five games from the Cardinals. Those victories set up the first World Series since 2002 in which both competitors are wild card teams.

Despite the fact that the championship will be played by two of the biggest underdogs coming into the postseason, I am fully confident that this World Series will be one of the most interesting in recent years. From one end, the Royals have not lost a game this postseason. The Giants, however, have proven in their past few appearances to the championship that they can overcome teams that are destined to win with smart play and stellar pitching.

Both teams possess plenty of underappreciated clubhouse talent. Players that have not had their full chance to have their names heralded amongst the Major League’s top stars will have the world’s stage to themselves.

The Giants arguably feature more recognizable “star-power” in their lineup with names like Buster Posey, who has proven to be the best young catcher in baseball, and Madison Bumgarner, who carried his exceptional regular season performance into the postseason. The Royals, which are one of the smaller market teams in the Majors, feature a particularly well-rounded starting rotation headlined by James Shields and a defensive gem-producing outfield led by Alex Gordon.

Despite having a couple “stars” in their lineups, both teams are mainly made up of fairly average players that are able to produce on a consistent basis and play great team baseball. It is always interesting to see who will come up with the big hit or strikeout in a big spot to carry the squad with these teams, because it is often not who you would expect.

Both teams also have exceptional bullpens that will help to shutdown games. So, if you are a fan of high-scoring ball games, you may not get to see too many for the rest of the baseball postseason. The starters on both squads, despite their promise, will carry the main burden of limiting early runs, since the bullpens will certainly be lights-out through the series.

Despite the similarities in the “underdog” status that both teams maintain and the core structure of the squads, there are some stark differences.

The Giants have won their most recent World Series titles in 2010 and 2012 under the same manager, Bruce Bochy. Bochy is now being hailed as one of the best managers in baseball history after bringing his Giants squad to the World Series, despite an underwhelming roster, for the third time. A win in 2014 would certainly help him secure that honor in the eyes of many baseball fans.

On the other hand, a team from Kansas City has not gone to the World Series in 29 years. Despite the win in 1985, the Royals have had a long standing streak of disappointment in the organization. Ned Yost, the Royals manager, is not on the same echelon as Bochy and was recently considered to be one of the major parts of the aforementioned disappointment. Yost was let go from the Brewers manager position in 2008. However, he claimed a spot in the Royals dugout in 2010. There wasn’t much success to be found soon after his ascension back to a major league manager position.

Fans were not fond of him for his snap decisions in close games and lack of media presence. The media put much of the blame from early struggles on Yost and continuously noted his failures in the Brewers organization. You can still find articles online from as recent as mid-September calling for Yost’s firing for mediocrity. However, whether it was truly Yost’s influence or the scrappy play of a decently talented team, the Royals are ready to compete on the world’s biggest stage.

There are many amazing storylines to follow as the best of seven series progresses. Last night’s game was just a taste of the action. Who will emerge victorious? Who will shine under the big lights? Who will crumble under pressure? Which underdog will be the greater underdog?

As for my prediction for the outcome of the series: Giants win in 6 games. There are several reasons for this. First of all, a recent SportsNation poll had 70% of voters giving the Royals the World Series victory, so it safe to say that that Giants are once again the underdogs. Moreover, the Giants’ recent victories have come on even-numbered years, and 2014 fits that category. It might be a bit crazy, but my prediction is in honor of underdogs and superstition. Let’s see what happens. Play ball!

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