The good thing is that doesn’t mean there is a clear favourite. Far from it, in fact.
Neither the San Francisco Giants nor the Kansas City Royals won their respective divisions this season, making this only the second occasion that the World Series has been contested by two Wild Card teams since they were introduced in 1995.
This has prompted some onlookers to question the quality of this year’s season finale and based on the regular season it is a fair line of questioning to pursue. Six teams won more regular season games than the Royals’ 89 this year, whilst the Giants’ total of 88 was joint-eighth best.
However, this is the nature of any competition that uses a playoff format to determine the ultimate season victors. Earning the best win-loss record in the Majors doesn’t crown you as champions so there’s no great value in knocking a team for making the World Series without doing so.
All you have to do is make the playoffs and once you’re there it all comes down to taking the opportunities that come your way. No one can question that the Giants and Royals have done that brilliantly so far and the result is a World Series between two teams in great form.
Kansas City have provided a remarkable story this season and their World Series appearance is exactly what the expanded playoff format is designed to help create. A fan base that has had precious little to cheer about for nearly 30 years suddenly has a team that seemingly can do no wrong. After squeaking past the Oakland A’s in the Wild Card game, they have swept away the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles and come into the Fall Classic having won all eight postseason games they have played so far.
As for the Giants, manager Bruce Bochy is looking to guide his team to yet another World Series title and it will be fascinating to see how the experience they have gained in recent years works out against a team that is playing in such an uninhibited fashion. The Royals are yet to freeze on the big stage and we’ll soon find out whether that’s because they haven’t quite realised just how big a stage they are on.
There’s possibly a parallel here with the 2007 Colorado Rockies who won a Wild Card spot and then swept their way through the Division and Championship Series only to find that when their winning run ran out, they couldn’t recover. It was as if they had been swept along on a magic carpet ride until they lost the first game of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, at which point they were reminded that magic carpets aren’t real and subsequently went into free-fall. Maybe all the Giants need to do is burst the Royals’ bubble?
Kansas City shouldn’t be too concerned about that though. The Rockies had to sit about for several days whilst the Red Sox completed their epic seven-game series against the Cleveland Indians, potentially leaving them slightly undercooked when they had to get back to the action. And, more than anything, the Red Sox were clearly the better team that year. They won 96 games compared to the Rockies’ 90 and Boston’s Phythagorean win-loss record (their expected win-loss record based on runs scored and allowed) was 101; the best in the Majors and ten clear wins better than the Rockies.
Baseball-Reference puts the Giants’ Phythagorean win-loss record this year at 87-75, three wins better than the Royals’ 84-78. That seems about right, San Francisco being just slightly ahead but there not really being much between them that would swing a short series.
What should we make of the expectations on San Francisco? They have been there and won it twice in very recent memory. Typically you would expect there to be some extra dynasty-making pressure on a team in this situation, but that doesn’t seem to be a part of this story, fairly or not.
Outside of their own fan base – who are in dreamland and have no reason to care what anyone else thinks about their team – they are a team that is admired without being feared in the way that, for example, the New York Yankees of the 1996-2004 era were.
Perhaps it is the way they win a third title that might allow them to attain ‘greatness’ status? They will have to achieve the feat first before any such deliberations can be considered.
What we do know is that these are two teams capable of producing a different hero every night. The fact that there isn’t a dominant team in the World Series may marginally reduce the hype leading into it, but it also makes it all the more likely that this will be a very evenly-matched series with the potential to go six or the full seven games.
There is no real favourite here and that should make it a memorable Fall Classic.
The series starts in Kansas City due to the American League winning the mid-season All-Star Game and it follows the standard best-of-seven game format: two games in one city, three games in the other, then two back where we started.
All of the games begin at 8.07. p.m. Eastern Time in the States so they take place in the early hours of the following morning from a U.K. perspective. The one thing to be mindful of is that we move out of British Summer Time a week earlier than Daylight Time ends in the States, so whilst the start times are the same throughout from an American standpoint, they are one hour earlier for us from Game Five onwards. That does at least mean we get an extra hour in bed to catch up on sleep from Game Four.
Tuesday 21st – Game One. SFG at KCR – 01.07. BST on Wed 22nd. *BT Sport1
Wednesday 22nd – Game Two. SFG at KCR – 01.07. BST on Thurs 23rd. *BT Sport1
Friday 24th – Game Three. KCR at SFG – 01.07. BST on Sat 25th. *BT Sport1
Saturday 25th – Game Four. KCR at SFG – 01.07. BST on Sun 26th. *ESPN
Sunday 26th – Game Five. KCR at SFG – 00.07. GMT on Mon 27th. *BT Sport1
Tuesday 28th – Game Six. SFG at KCR – 00.07. GMT on Wed 29th. *BT Sport1
Wednesday 29th – Game Seven. SFG at KCR – 00.07. GMT on Thurs 30th. *BT Sport1