The stage is set for the 2014 World Series with two very different teams meeting in the Fall Classic. The contrasts and storylines are likely to please Major League Baseball officials, who rarely have a perennially downtrodden team like the Kansas City Royals face a high-profile team like the San Francisco Giants.
Prior to the 2014 season, the Giants and Royals were going in opposite directions. While the Giants seek their third title in five years, the Royals are back in the World Series for the first time since 1985. The Giants hit their stride in 2010 with star pitchers leading the way to the team’s first World Series title since arriving in San Francisco in 1958, while the Royals remained entrenched in a “wait until next year” strategy.
The two teams are also quite different when it comes to demographics, wealth and attitude. The Giants had the sixth-highest payroll ($148 million) in baseball, and play in the fourth-largest media market, compared to the Royals, which was No. 18 in payroll ($91 million) and competes in the No. 34 market. San Francisco appears to play with the same winning swagger after years of success under Bruce Bochy, while Kansas City seems to have relished the underdog role under Ned Yost.
Though the Giants’ success in recent years has been intriguing, many believe the more compelling story is the transformation of the Royals. This fact has not been lost on the city’s rabid fanbase.
After decades without a title from a major team sport, the Kansas City area has been in a frenzy over the Royals, with boisterous fans packing Kauffman Stadium. Despite the Chiefs’ failure to win an NFL playoff game since 1993, they were at least competitive over the past decade, with three 10-win seasons. The Royals, on the other hand, had previously finished at or near the bottom of the American League Central for eight straight seasons before finishing in third in 2012 and 2013. The sharp turnaround has made the Royals the darlings of the 2014 season, and their impressive run has sparked the notion that less prominent clubs still have a chance at winning a championship.
“It’s good for baseball that the Royals got in. It’s been 29 years,” said former manager Jack McKeon in a phone interview. McKeon, 83, began his 16-year managing career with the Royals in 1973, and would eventually lead an upstart Florida Marlins squad to a 2013 World Series title, and the first for a wild-card team.
“It’s great to see small-market teams get in there and play the big boys, and see what they can do.”
But the Royals’ story has been less about what they have accomplished and more about how they've accomplished it. Kansas City used defense, speed on the base paths, and a stellar bullpen for an eyebrow-raising 8-0 record in the postseason. Of the eight wins over the Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles, only an 8-3 victory over the Angels on Oct. 5 was by more than two runs, while half the wins have come in extra innings. Almost every game the Royals have played has ended dramatically.
The Giants' presence at the World Series has become increasingly more common after decades of falling short. Two years after ending their 52-year World Series drought, the Giants were again crowned champions. Unlike the Royals, their presence in the 2014 postseason never seemed too surprising, though they have been involved in many tight October games, including an 18-inning marathon victory against the Washington Nationals in the divisional series. Five of their eight wins were decided by one run, and their last was particularly memorable.
Conjuring Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in 1954, Travis Ishikawa hit a walk-off home run in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series to send the Giants to the World Series. The Royals, who were founded in 1969, are still making their memories.
The Royals have had their moments with defense and on the base paths. A number of fantastic grabs in the outfield helped boost the Royals, but their opportunistic base runners were a big reason they beat the Baltimore Orioles in Game 4, with two runs scoring on a throw to the plate. It’s no wonder that the Royals led the Majors in stolen bases. On the other side of the spectrum, the Giants finished 29th in stolen bases.
But the two teams also share a number of similarities. They are both wild cards who failed to win 90 games, neither went to an elimination postseason game, and both have relied on their exceptional bullpen to get them this far. In the regular season, both clubs finished at about the same spot in hitting (Giants finished 12th in runs and the Royals finished 14th) and pitching (the Giants were No. 10 in earned-run average, and the Royals No. 12).
The Royals continuing their unexpected run has helped gain baseball a lot of attention, and a matchup against a traditional power like the Giants may also prove to be a boon for television ratings. In 2012, the World Series between the Giants and Detroit Tigers averaged just 12.7 million viewers, giving Fox the lowest World Series ratings ever. This year, however, the Royals have been a boost for playoff ratings. Game 1 of the ALCS drew 5.9 million viewers, compared to 5.1 million for Game 4 of the NLCS.
The prospect of the Royals looking to taste victory for the first time in a long time, while the Giants hoping that the good times continue to roll, may be enough to keep people interested.