The Kansas City Royals have not been in the World Series since 1985. The San Francisco Giants are playing in their third since 2010. Despite that obvious difference, these teams took similar paths to the Fall Classic. Both gained entry to the postseason via the wild-card — making this the first World Series since 2002, when the Angels beat a Barry Bonds-led Giants team in seven games, to feature two teams that did not win their respective divisions — and both have been virtually unbeatable. The Royals are the first team ever to open the playoffs with eight straight wins, while San Francisco has gone 8-2 and hasn't lost a postseason series since 2003.
Kansas City swept a three-game set between these clubs in August. What will happen in October? SI.com's baseball experts, who will be covering the series throughout — Tom Verducci, Albert Chen, Ben Reiter, Phil Taylor, Jay Jaffe and Cliff Corcoran — break it all down.
VERDUCCI: Giants in 7.
You can expect more nail-biters in a postseason that already has given us a record 14 one-run games. And we're due for a seventh game. We've seen only one in the past 11 World Series — the first time that's happened. No road team has won a World Series Game 7 since 1979, but San Francisco will buck that trend to win its third title in five seasons.
CHEN: Giants in 5.
The Giants have the best pitcher in the series, the superior offense, an underrated bullpen and a manager who pushes all the right buttons this time of year. This is an evenly matched series — have a coin to flip? — but give San Francisco a slight edge. When it's all said and done, Bruce Bochy will still have yet to lose a postseason series as Giants manager.
REITER: Royals in 6.
The Giants have no major weaknesses, but they also don't have many particularly notable strengths. They ranked somewhere between 10th and 15th in baseball in such disparate categories as OPS, ERA and Ultimate Zone Rating. The Royals, meanwhile, are less balanced, but are astoundingly adept in certain areas, specifically contact hitting, baserunning, late-inning relief pitching and outfield defense. This is the time of year that the importance of such attributes is magnified. I picked the underdog Royals to win both the ALDS and ALCS, and I won't stop now that they’re the slight Vegas favorite in the World Series.
TAYLOR: Royals in 7.
The Giants have the edge in starting pitching, and Madison Bumgarner, the best starter on either team, could start three games in the Series. But these will likely be tight games decided by the performance of the bullpens. There, the Giants are good, but the Royals, whose relievers held the Orioles to a .172 average in the ALCS, are better. Against late-inning specialists Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, even a resourceful team like the Giants will have a hard time scoring from the seventh inning on.
JAFFE: Giants in 6.
Even with the Royals' unprecedented 8-0 run this postseason, they don't appear to be nearly as strong on paper as the Giants do, with leftfield (Alex Gordon), centerfield (Lorenzo Cain) and perhaps the bullpen as the only spots where Kansas City has the edge over San Francisco. The magic won't last forever, and it says here that the Royals' run will end at the hands of a team that's emerged on top twice before in this decade.
CORCORAN: Giants in 6.
The Giants have Bumgarner, a perfect record in postseason series under Bruce Bochy, a bullpen that can go toe-to-toe with Kansas City's, and the superior lineup. Despite having lost three more games than the Royals during the regular and postseasons combined, on paper, San Francisco is clearly the superior team. If the Royals beat Bumgarner in Game 1, however, it could be an entirely different series.
VERDUCCI: Santiago Casilla, Giants.
It's a bullpen series, and the San Francisco closer hasn't given up a run since Sept. 11.
CHEN: Madison Bumgarner, Giants.
No doubt the best pitcher in the series, MadBum now has a career 2.67 ERA in 67 1/3 playoff innings and is on track to go in Games 1 and 5 (and potentially Game 7). Before Matt Adams homered off him in Game 5 of the NLCS, Bumgarner had allowed one home run to a lefty in 187 plate appearances, and K.C.'s best home run threats right now — Eric Hosmer, Gordon and Mike Moustakas — are all lefthanded.
REITER: Alex Gordon, Royals.
Any member of the Kansas City contingent will tell you that Gordon's journey from near bust to near superstar aligns with the franchise's own, and it makes sense, from a narrative perspective, for the 30-year-old to win this award. It’s also logical because of the many ways in which he can contribute. His nine RBI lead all players this postseason, and his robbery of a certain double by J.J. Hardy in the ALCS clincher showed a national audience why most advanced fielding metrics consider him to be the game's best defensive outfielder.
TAYLOR: Eric Hosmer, Royals.
He's a scorching-hot (.448 average and 1.314 OPS in the postseason) lefthanded hitter who will face three righthanded starters in the Series. Hosmer will likely have to deal with lefty relievers Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez if games are close late, but the way he's been swinging, it may not matter. Kansas City has been waiting four years for him to become the major run producer he was expected to be. Its wish may have finally come true.
JAFFE: Hunter Pence, Giants.
Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully famously described the Giants' rightfielder as "all elbows and kneecaps," but Pence is the team's second-best position player after catcher Buster Posey. He has yet to heat up during the postseason — his slash line is .256/.341/.333 — which means it's high time for him to do so, putting on a big show before returning to his home planet.
CORCORAN: Buster Posey, Giants.
Shortly after the Giants won the World Series in 2010, Posey was named Rookie of the Year. After they won in 2012, he was named the National League's Most Valuable Player. This year, he has no hardware awaiting him in November, save perhaps a Silver Slugger, so why not add the World Series MVP to his trophy case? Posey finished the regular season with a flourish, hitting .414/.446/.711 with nine home runs in his last 33 games. He hasn't picked up an extra-base hit since, but he has hit .302 in 43 at-bats in the postseason. If he can add a little pop and throw out a couple of the Kansas City speedsters, he'll be on his way.
VERDUCCI: Alcides Escobar, Royals.
An unlikely leadoff hitter, he doesn't have much power and doesn't walk. But Escobar can win a game with his glove, legs or a timely hit, and he has the loose personality to enjoy the big moments.
CHEN: Yusmeiro Petit, Giants.
The glue of San Francisco’s pitching staff, Petit was the difference maker in two Giants wins this October: He tossed six scoreless frames in the 18-inning marathon against the Nationals in NLDS Game 2, then pitched three more key shutout innings in San Francisco's win in Game 4 of the NLCS. Given how dominant and electrifying Petit has been this postseason, Bochy might want to consider giving him the start in Game 4. Even if he stays in the 'pen, he'll be a serious weapon.
REITER: Jarrod Dyson, Royals.
The Royals' speed didn’t prove much of a factor in their ALCS sweep, as they swiped just one bag, six fewer than in the Wild-Card Game alone. That was largely due to a collection of Orioles pitchers who were very quick to home plate. Dyson's big pinch-running moment came during the sixth inning of Game 3, but he didn't even attempt to steal against Baltimore reliever Kevin Gausman. "He wasn’t even a one to the plate" — as in 1.0 seconds, Dyson told me. "There ain't no way I can go right there. That's basically running into a dead out."
The speedster and outfield magician will likely play a far bigger role this round, as the Giants are easier to run on than the Orioles. San Francisco allowed 107 stolen bases (seventh most in the league) during the regular season, compared to Baltimore's 84 (23rd). Look, in particular, for a matchup of Dyson versus expected Game 3 starter Tim Hudson. Of the 18 runners who attempted to steal against the 38-year-old veteran this season, 15 were successful.
TAYLOR: Michael Morse, Giants.
A streaky hitter who was great before the All-Star break but nearly invisible after it, Morse might be finding himself again at just the right time, as his dramatic pinch-hit homer in the NLCS clincher indicated. He's a fastball hitter who won't be overmatched by Kansas City’s hard throwers. Fully recovered from an oblique injury that kept him out in September, Morse will get more at-bats in this series than his four in the NLCS, thanks to the use of the designated hitter in Kansas City. If he makes the most of them, it could swing the series.
JAFFE: Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, Giants.
While Ned Yost has stuck to his Big Three blueprint for late-inning relief, Bruce Bochy has been more matchup-oriented because he has a pair of grizzled lefty relievers who've been through all of this before. Since the start of the 2010 playoffs, Affeldt and Lopez have combined for 31 1/3 postseason innings, giving up 11 hits and three runs with 29 strikeouts, and allowing just one of their 30 inherited runners to score. Look for them to match up with Kansas City's top lefthanded batters, Gordon and Hosmer, in key late-inning spots — and get the job done.
CORCORAN: Juan Perez, Giants.
The postseason can make a hero out of anybody. The Giants have already seen Travis Ishikawa hit a pennant-winning home run, Gregor Blanco drop down a walk-off bunt, Matt Duffy make a made dash home from second on a wild pitch, Mike Morse deliver a game-tying, pinch-hit home run, and Yusmeiro Petit pitch a shutout in relief. From the remainder of the roster, rookie outfielder Perez, who hit .170 in 109 regular-season plate appearances and whose primary role this postseason has been as a defensive replacement for Ishikawa in leftfield, seems to be the least likely to become a hero. That's exactly why he will be.
VERDUCCI: Jeremy Affeldt, Giants.
The former Royal is unlike anything Kansas City has now: a platoon-neutral reliever who can shut down a game in the middle innings for as many as six outs. He has thrown 18 consecutive scoreless postseason innings.
CHEN: Will K.C. stay hot?
The long layoff between the LCS and World Series hurt the 2006 and '12 Tigers and '07 Rockies — three teams that combined for one win in those Fall Classics — but the Royals will benefit from their five-day respite. James Shields (who leads the majors in pitches thrown this season), Yordano Ventura (who left Game 2 of the ALCS with shoulder tightness) and Herrera (who has dealt with some forearm tightness in the posteason) should all be better now that they've had some additional rest.
REITER: Madison Bumgarner, Giants.
I know it’s not creative, but I'll leave it to someone else to tell you about, say, the autumn wind patterns in northwest Missouri. To me, the 6-foot-5, 25-year-old southpaw represents the central — some might say only — obstacle between the Royals and their long-awaited crown. When he takes the mound for Game 1, he'll be by far the best starter they'll have faced in three weeks, since Jon Lester in the Wild-Card Game. Kansas City hit Lester hard (six runs on eight hits over 7 1/3 innings); it is slightly better against lefties (.710 OPS) than righties (.682); and it held its own against Bumgarner on Aug. 8, scratching out four runs on seven hits in a 4-2 win. Still, Bumgarner’s hot — he's 2-1 in four playoff starts, with a 1.42 ERA — and if the Giants prevail, he'll likely have earned each of the seven Budweisers he will pour onto his face in the clubhouse celebration.
TAYLOR: The bunt.
This series might be a sabermetrician's nightmare: There could be plenty of bunting, and we’re not just talking about the red, white and blue stuff in the stands. Whoever wins the bunt battle could win the Series. The Royals made it this far even though Yost often bunts when the percentages scream not to, and something crazy often happens when the Giants lay one down, like St. Louis reliever Randy Choate's wild throw that cost the Cardinals Game 3 of the NLCS. At some point during the series, everyone will be buzzing about bunting. Guaranteed.
JAFFE: From sweep to flop.
Of the six teams to sweep a best-of-seven LCS, five of them — the 1988 and '90 Athletics, 2006 and '12 Tigers and 2007 Rockies — went on to lose the World Series, with the 1995 Braves the only team to buck the trend. Worse, only the 1988 A's and 2006 Tigers even won a game in the Fall Classic. Given an average of roughly six days off and a minimum of five (the amount the Royals have had this year), those six teams went a combined 6-22 in the World Series, serving as a reminder that the notion of momentum carrying over from one series to another is illusory, especially if you can fit an entire Division Series into the hiatus.
CORCORAN: Yordano Ventura, Royals.
The fireballing rookie righty's Division Series start against the Angels was the best starting pitching performance Kansas City has received this postseason (7 IP, 1 R). In Ventura's next start, however, he allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings and left the game due to tightness in his pitching shoulder. The Royals say the injury is not a concern, and he will have had 10 days of rest heading into his Game 2 start, but no one will know for sure how sound his shoulder is until he takes the mound.