KANSAS CITY -- I know what some of you are thinking: "Hey, aren't you the idiot who just called this the worst World Series ever? So what's up with this piece, pal?" Well, yes, the headline was admittedly a little provocative and it certainly stirred up a reaction. Obviously, a lot of the people offering their feedback didn't actually read the column, but one type of comment did bother me a little: Those who suggested I must not love baseball to write such a piece.

That, of course, is the furthest thing from the truth. I easily watch a couple hundred games a season and parts of countless others. I blog more hours a week than I should. I'll take my dog out for a walk and have a game on my phone. I'm pretty sure I've watched every World Series game since 1976 -- maybe I missed one or two in the mid-'90s covering a high school football game -- and I've been lucky enough to cover five World Series in person, and now six.

And for you San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals fans out there: I had Willie Mays and George Brett posters hanging in my room as a kid.

Believe me, I love this game -- the best game we have.

Every World Series is interesting and full of subplots, but this one is particularly ripe with great stories. So here are 10 reasons to love this World Series.

1. The Giants go for their third title in five years. Only five times has a team other than the Yankees won three titles in five years: the Red Sox did it twice early in the 20th century, the last time from 1915 to 1918; the Oakland A's from 1972 to 1974; the St. Louis Cardinals from 1942 to 1946 and the Philadelphia A's from 1910 to 1913. So that's impressive company.

Is it fair to call the Giants a dynasty if they do win it all again? I kind of agree with Giants outfielder Hunter Pence on this. "Being called a dynasty is kind of a perspective thing," he said Monday. "It's an opinion. It can never really be true. What can be true is this team could win it this year. We made it this far, so just focus hard on that. I don't think we're playing now for an opinion on dynasties. We're playing now for the guys and the work and everything that's put into this year that's completely unique and separate from years past."

Indeed, that's kind of what makes the Giants so unique and wonderful. They're different from those other dynasty-like teams in that this 2014 team is much different from the 2010 team. That squad was led by starters Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, neither of whom are in the playoff rotation this year. The only position-player regulars still around from 2010 are Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. It's a testament to the organization that the team has remained so competitive while replacing various parts in each playoff run.

Still, three in five would be pretty awesome.

2. The Royals go for the perfect postseason and first title in 29 years. Only one team in the divisional era -- since 1969 -- hasn't lost in the postseason. The 1976 Big Red Machine of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and George Foster went 7-0 to cement their legacy as one of baseball's all-time great teams. The Royals might not have a roster full of future Hall of Famers, but they've already surpassed the Reds with an 8-0 start in the playoffs. It's really been a streak of beauty, a combination of speed, defense, starting pitching and dominant bullpen, with some surprising power and, of course, the timeliest of hits.

Can the Royals keep this up? Here's one way to look at it. Let's say the Royals had a 50 percent chance of winning each of those eight games. You can argue about the actual odds, but let's keep this simple: What are the odds of tossing a coin eight times and having it come up heads each time? One in 256, or less than one-half of one percent. How can you not love that?

The Royals are unlikely to go 12-0, but that would be one of the greatest stories ever told if it does happen.

3. Madison Bumgarner's claim on history. Joe Sheehan had a great newsletter on Monday, touching on a similar theme I did in that "Worst World Series" post. Anyway, Joe makes a good point here about the wild-card system making the regular season less important: "It's been two decades of wild cards, two decades of new baseball fans having no real idea that there was once a different system, two decades of new baseball fans used to the idea that the postseason, not the regular season, is where legends are born. Two decades of the message that October is infinitely more important than September."

Bumgarner has had a great postseason so far, going 2-1 with a 1.42 ERA in four starts, including two scoreless outings. He won the wild-card game, he started the clinching Game 5 of the NLCS and now, he'll start Game 1 of the World Series. He's made two previous World Series starts in his career and has allowed just five hits and no runs in 15 innings. If Bumgarner has a couple outings similar to those, well, as Joe wrote, that's how legends are born.

[+] EnlargeRoyals
ESPN Stats & Information The value of the Royals' outfield defense
4. That Kansas City outfield defense. I always like to say that if you go to a minor league game you can see pitchers throwing 95 mph and you can see a few players who can hit the ball a country mile; the biggest difference between the majors and minors is the caliber of defense played in the majors. It reminds of a column written years ago by the great baseball writer Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post. He described watching a baseball game with a British friend of his who had never seen baseball in person before. The British chap wasn't so much impressed with the pitchers or the hitters as he was with the defenders. That's how I feel watching Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and, when he comes in the game, Jarrod Dyson. Those three are something to watch out there and could very well play a huge factor, as they did against the Angels and Orioles.

5. Bruce Bochy and the Hall of Fame. Maybe Bochy is already a Hall of Fame lock with his two World Series titles and long, 20-year tenure in the majors. He's one of 12 managers to manage 20 seasons with an overall winning record and at least two World Series titles, and 10 of the other 11 are in the Hall of Fame -- Ralph Houk being the exception. However, not all managers with two World Series titles are in the Hall of Fame: Besides Houk, there is Cito Gaston, Tom Kelly, Danny Murtaugh and Bill Carrigan, plus Bochy and Terry Francona. So if Bochy is a borderline guy now, you have to think a third title will cement his case.

On the field, the Bochy-Ned Yost matchup should be intriguing, especially when the series shifts to San Francisco and Yost has to get out of his American League comfort zone. Bochy always seemed one step ahead of Mike Matheny in the NLCS, but Yost's bullpen weapons are much more imposing than what Matheny had. Since Yost's bullpen machine sort of operates itself, at least while leading from the seventh inning on, and since the Royals don't really pinch hit for their starters (which will allow Bochy to get the matchups he wants), it could be the most important decisions each manager makes during the series will be when to pull the starting pitchers.

6. Gregor Blanco. I remember talking to Blanco after the Giants won the World Series in 2012, the joy on his face as he told his story of not playing in the majors in 2011 and playing winter ball that year, hoping to catch the eye of the right team. He signed with the Giants and was thrust into the spotlight in the postseason when he became the starting left fielder after Melky Cabrera was suspended. This year, he's the starting center fielder in October, replacing the injured Angel Pagan.

On Monday, he told me how he ended up signing with the Giants that winter. He also had offers from the Reds and Marlins. "My friend told me, 'If you ever become a free agent, sign with a good team because they'll give you more chances.'" If you think about, it makes sense. Bad teams tend to have more roster turnover, always looking for a quick fix, and the guys at the bottom of the roster can get churned through in rapid fashion. Sign with a good team and you might have a more defined role or a management that is smart enough to believe in your abilities. Blanco is a great fourth outfielder who is good enough to start when needed.

"Growing up in Venezuela, my dream wasn't just to play in a World Series but to play center field in a World Series, and now I get to do that," Blanco said. "I just feel blessed to be part of this team and part of the Giants family."

Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens said one of the things that makes Blanco special is "he's always upbeat, even when he's struggling." It's one of the great things about baseball: Gregor Blanco gets just as many plate appearances as Buster Posey or Hunter Pence, and thus the same opportunity to influence the game. We focus on the biggest names, but the overlooked guys often decide the World Series.

7. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. I wrote about the Royals' bullpen trio the other day. When I asked Blanco about those three guys, he smiled. When I asked Meulens about those three guys, he smiled. "You have to sit on the fastball and adjust to the off-speed stuff," Meulens said, while acknowledging it's not exactly so easy to do that. The late-game drama of those three facing the heart of the Giants order should present some of the most exciting, tense matchups of the series.

8. Tim Hudson. The 39-year-old right-hander, in his 16th season in the big leagues, is finally in the World Series after pitching in six previous postseasons with the A's and Braves. He's the active leader in wins with 214. He's been on the wrong end of many playoff heartbreaks in his career. He's a good story to root for.

9. One-run drama. While the series in the first rounds were short -- none went the distance -- they didn't lack for excitement. So far, 14 of the 25 playoff games have been decided by one run; at 56 percent, that total easily trumps the 39 percent mark of 1995 as the highest percentage of one-run games. Eleven of the 25 games have been decided in a team's final at-bat (not necessarily a walk-off, but the winning the run scoring in a team's final at-bat), which ties 1995 and 2004 for most in a single postseason. Considering this should be a tight, low-scoring series, I expect more one-run and late-game drama.

10. Because you never know. Maybe the heroes will be Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey or James Shields and the Royals bullpen. But maybe the heroes will be Travis Ishikawa or Lorenzo Cain or even Kansas City pinch runner Terrance Gore stealing the base of a lifetime. Baseball, more than other sports, is unpredictable. That's what makes every World Series so fun but this one particularly so: The Las Vegas sportsbooks have this one split right down the middle. This is truly the most unpredictable of World Series. I can't wait to see what happens.
Diane Firstman of the wonderful Value Over Replacement Grit blog has her World Series preview up, full of fun and random facts about players on both teams. Check it out!
Here's a number that may or may not surprise you. We know how great the Royals' late-inning bullpen group has been all season. Indeed, the Royals are 65-4 when leading entering the seventh inning.

But the Giants, even though Sergio Romo lost his closer's job during the season after a string of bad outings, weren't far behind, going 62-6 when leading entering the seventh inning.

In other words, the Giants have a very good, if less heralded, bullpen. Brian Wilson, the bearded closer on the 2010 champs, received his share of attention, but the bullpen has largely flown under the radar through the years. Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez have all been with the Giants since their first World Series run together in 2010, and the bullpen collectively has been superb in the postseason over three postseasons: 11-2 with a 2.40 ERA, .182 batting average allowed, 126 strikeouts, 37 walks and just 11 home runs in 127 1/3 innings.

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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesSantiago Casilla may not be a classic closer, but he's just one asset in a deep Giants bullpen.
One of the misconceptions about the Giants through the years is that this is a team built around its starting pitching. That's understandable: The Giants have had Tim Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young winner; Matt Cain, who allowed just one unearned run in three postseason starts in 2010; and, of course, Madison Bumgarner, who has a 2.67 ERA in his postseason career. The starting pitching has been brilliant during these postseason runs, with a 2.62 ERA and .214 average allowed in the 41 playoff games the Giants have played since 2010, and the rotation was outstanding in 2010, when Lincecum was still one of the best pitchers in the league.

But that postseason performance has served to obscure the Giants' regular-season strengths in 2012 and 2014. Using wins above average from, look at the Giants' rankings during the regular season:

Starting pitchers: 0.3 (20th in majors)
Relief pitchers: 2.0 (5th in majors)
Position players: 1.5 (11th in majors)

Starting pitchers: -1.6 (18th)
Relief pitchers: -2.5 (24th)
Position players: 10.9 (3rd)

Starting pitchers: 7.8 (3rd)
Relief pitchers: 4.2 (1st)
Position players: 5.9 (8th)

Although the 2012 team actually had a strong group of position players -- the Giants led the National League in runs scored on the road -- you could argue that the strength of the 2014 team has been the bullpen.

Maybe the most amazing thing is that general manager Brian Sabean has been able to keep these guys together so long -- and that they've remained healthy and productive for five seasons. How many relievers are still on the same team they were on in 2010, let alone still pitching well? And give manager Bruce Bochy credit for his bullpen management; the Giants have reached the World Series with three different closers -- Wilson in 2010, Romo in 2012 and now Casilla in 2014.

Bullpens are notoriously fickle -- dominant one year, mediocre the next -- and teams often don't like to spend money on relievers. Sabean has been willing to invest in this group: The Giants were fifth in the majors in payroll spent on relievers (although approximately 14th in percentage of overall payroll). Even though these guys are all in their 30s, Sabean has kept them around, re-signing Affeldt as a free agent after 2012 and Lopez after 2013. Romo is a free agent after this season, and considering he just had his worst season, it will be interesting to see whether the Giants bring him back.

The most underrated guy of this underrated group may be Casilla. Since 2010, he ranks third in the majors behind only Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara in ERA among pitchers with at least 250 innings. (Romo is 10th.) Maybe he's underrated because while his ERA is 2.10, his FIP -- fielding independent pitching -- is 3.47. He doesn't have the dominant strikeout rates like Kimbrel or the impeccable control of Uehara. One reason for the difference between his actual ERA and that expected ERA is that Casilla's hard sinker generates ground balls but fewer strikeouts. But Casilla's batting average on balls in play has been consistently low for long enough now that it should no longer be considered a fluke. He just generates weaker contract. He's also unique for a reliever in that he's a true four-pitch pitcher with his sinker, four-seam fastball, curveball and slider. He even throws an occasional changeup.

Bochy showed in Game 5 of the NLCS, however, that he won't necessarily live and die with Casilla. When the Cardinals loaded the bases with two outs and sent up left-handed pinch hitter Oscar Taveras, Bochy countered with Affeldt, who induced the comebacker to thwart the rally and set up Travis Ishikawa's series-winning home run.

As for the World Series, the Royals' top three power guys are Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas, all left-handed batters, so expect to see plenty of Affeldt and Lopez. While Affeldt can be used for multiple-inning stints, Lopez is a true matchup guy. Affeldt is working on a string of 18 consecutive scoreless postseason appearances going back to 2010. Lopez has made 20 postseason appearances for the Giants and allowed just three hits and one run in 10 2/3 innings (.088 average).

If the Giants go on to win the World Series, I expect this underrated group of four to end up playing a huge role, maybe even outshining their Kansas City counterparts.
Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg HollandGetty Images, AP PhotoKelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland have combined for a 1.05 ERA in the postseason.

As we've seen so far in the postseason, good luck beating the Kansas City Royals late in the game. Their late-game trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland were dominant in the regular season -- all posted ERAs under 1.50, making them the first team since the 1907 Cubs with three pitchers who threw at least 50 innings with an ERA under 1.50 -- and they've been dominant in the postseason, allowing just three runs in 25.2 innings, a 1.05 ERA.

There is one big difference between the regular season and the postseason, however: With all the extra days off, Royals manager Ned Yost can use his big three more often. In going 8-0 in the playoffs, the Royals have played 80 innings; Herrera, Davis and Holland have combined to pitch 32 percent of Kansas City's innings. In the regular season, they combined for just 14 percent of Kansas City's innings.

That shows how the postseason is a different beast than the regular season, although that percentage is higher in part because the Royals haven't been behind late in postseason games, except in the wild-card game. Still, the Royals should be able to concentrate more innings into Herrera, Davis and Holland, and you have to think that if the Giants are going win the World Series, they'll have to beat these guys at least once.

So: How do you beat them? Let's take a look at each reliever and see whether we can find a weakness (even if it's small). All stats include the postseason.

Kelvin Herrera
vs. LHB: .246/.318/.299
vs. RHB: .181/.265/.221

Pitch selection: Fastball 75 percent, changeup 19 percent, curveball 6 percent

Key stat: Hasn't allowed a home run all season.

You'd think that a guy who hasn't a home run throws low in the zone, but that's not the case with Herrera, who pumps fastballs that touch 100 mph up in the zone. You can see from the heat map why his fastball is so tough to hit:

Kelvin HerreraESPN Stats & Information

Herrera actually throws two kinds of fastballs: a four-seamer and a two-seamer with a little sink to it. About two-thirds of his fastballs are of the four-seam variety. Herrera's strikeout rate actually isn't that high for a reliever -- he's at 25 percent, while Davis and Holland are both above 35 percent -- but 51 percent of his balls in play are ground balls, even though he throws up in the zone.

How to attack Herrera? He almost always throws a fastball on the first pitch -- 89 percent of the time, saving his changeup and occasional curveball after he gets ahead in the count. Batters have hit .387 when putting the first pitch in play. Trouble is, opponents know to be aggressive against Herrera, as he has the highest first-pitch swing percentage of any pitcher on the Kansas City staff. It's easy to say "swing at the first pitch," but harder to execute when it's a 99 mph fastball up and in or up and away.

Herrera had a gopherball problem last year when he allowed nine home runs through July. It looks like that was primarily an issue of location: more fastballs down the middle. Compared to 2013, his fastball location has gone to the upper corner of the zone.

So the best bet is to be aggressive early in the count and hope Herrera leaves one of those heaters down in the zone. Lefties did fare a little better against him, which could help the Giants as six of their eight position players hit from the left side (or switch-hit).

Wade Davis
vs. LHB: .183/.270/.218
vs. RHB: .120/.182/.148

Pitch selection: Fastball 63 percent, curveball 18 percent, cutter 18 percent

Key stat: Has allowed just seven extra-base hits, including no home runs.

Acquired with James Shields in the Wil Myers trade with Tampa Bay, Davis had pitched well out of the bullpen for the Rays in 2012, struggled when moved into the starting rotation in 2013, but had one of the best relief seasons in recent memory after going back to the bullpen. His fastball velocity jumped from the low 90s as a starter to an average of 95.5 mph this year. His cutter has so much movement that our system actually classifies it as a slider. It's a true swing-and-miss pitch as opposed to most cutters, which tend to induce weaker contact but not strikeouts. Overall, batters hit just .121 against it, with no extra-base hits in 66 at-bats.

Since the Giants have so many left-handed hitters, here's how Davis attacks left-handers with his fastball:

Wade DavisESPN Stats & Information

Left-handers hit .217/.323/.253 against Davis' fastball -- so it's not like they suddenly turned into Barry Bonds against it. Still, they reached base nearly one-third of the time against the pitch. While opponents tended to be aggressive early in the count against Herrera, that wasn't the case with Davis; only 19 of his first pitches have been put in play all season -- and batters went 1-for-19. It appears the best chance of beating Davis is hoping his command is a little off and he either falls into a fastball count or issues a walk.

In the regular season, the Giants were very aggressive on first pitches, with the third-highest first-pitch swing percentage in the majors (of course, maybe that's slightly skewed by Pablo Sandoval). We've seen that approach work at times during the postseason, but we've seen other times -- including from Sandoval -- when they've shown more patience. Against Davis, it appears that's the approach: Get ahead in the count and try to avoid seeing the cutter and curveball.

Greg Holland
vs. LHB: .170/.253/.237
vs. RHB: .153/.221/.198

Pitch selection: Fastball 54 percent, slider 41 percent, splitter 3 percent, curveball 2 percent

Key stat: Has walked five batters in eight postseason innings.

Holland is your basic power fastball/power slider closer. His four-seam fastball averages 95.6 mph and touches 98-99. Against right-handers, he tends to throw it up in the zone, both in and away, while against left-handers he throws it away, but up and down the zone. It's a pitch without a lot of movement, but batters haven't exactly teed off on it.

His slider is his big two-strike wipeout pitch, as batters hit .133 against it with 72 strikeouts in 125 plate appearances ending in the pitch. What makes the slider so good is that it's just as effective against left-handers as it is right-handers (lefties hit just .106 against it, although with two of the three home runs Holland has allowed).

Greg HollandESPN Stats & Information

Holland hasn't had good control so far in the postseason with five walks, so the best approach is to be patient against him. He throws his fastball 75 percent of the time on the first pitch, so it will be interesting to see how he goes after Giants hitters, considering they do like to swing at that first pitch. But if he throws too many first-pitch sliders, he runs the risk of falling behind in the count and then his fastball becomes less effective -- he had 19 walks and 19 strikeouts in plate appearances ending with that pitch, so it's not a pitch he can just wind up and blow past hitters.

How to beat these guys? Obviously, nobody has done it much this season. The best hope appears to be a walk and a bloop, if you can somehow sneak in a hit against that Kansas City outfield. There's a reason these guys were one of the best bullpen trios we've ever seen.
I guess somebody needs to say it: This isn't exactly the 1927 Yankees battling the 1975 Big Red Machine.

The Kansas City Royals won 89 games during the regular season and the San Francisco Giants won 88, the fourth-fewest combined wins in World Series history, behind only 1981, 1918 and 1973. But 1981 was a strike season and the 1918 season was shortened due to World War I. That leaves only the 1973 matchup between the 94-win A's and 82-win Mets with a lower win total. At least that matchup featured two teams that won division titles. Neither the Royals nor Giants won their division, making this the second all wild-card World Series showdown and the first between two teams with fewer than 90 wins (the Angels and Giants met in 2002 but those were 99- and 95-win teams).

You can even make the argument that the Royals and Giants made the playoffs simply because of geography. The Royals won just two more games than the Mariners, who had to play in the tougher division with the Angels and A's. The Giants had the fifth-best record in the National League and got to play in a division with the two worst teams in baseball. Do they win 88 games if they're in the NL Central? The Giants had the easiest strength of schedule in the majors.

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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesUnlikely hero Travis Ishikawa launched the Giants into the World Series with a walk-off home run in NLCS Game 5.
So these aren't great teams. So this is arguably the worst World Series matchup ever, as far as quality of teams. Giants fans can disagree, but if this was a great team, why did the Giants put themselves in the dice roll of a wild-card game? Why couldn't they beat out the Dodgers for the division title? Royals fans can point out that their team has won eight postseason games in a row, but if the Royals are a great team, why did they put themselves in the dice roll of a wild-card game? Why couldn't they win two more games and beat out the Tigers for the division title?

In the regular season, the Royals were ninth in the AL in runs scored and fourth in runs allowed. The Giants were fifth in runs scored and sixth in runs allowed. There's a reason neither team won 90 games.

Now, that said: This should be a fun World Series between two evenly matched teams with intriguing reasons to root for each. The Royals, for so long the hapless Royals, are a likable bunch of young players, speed demons and defensive geniuses with that awesome bullpen that puts the fear into opposing teams and fans. You get the feeling that if you don't beat them in six innings you're not going to win. Everybody starts anew in the postseason and the Royals have played some of the most exciting baseball we've seen in years in going 8-0 in the playoffs. They overcame a 7-3 deficit to beat the A's in the wild-card game and then beat the 98-win Angels and 96-win Orioles. They deserve to be here.

The Giants, hoping to make their mark on history with their third World Series title in five years, are a likable group of veterans we've grown to appreciate in recent Octobers, from the pudgy free-swinging Pablo Sandoval to the stoic backstop Buster Posey to the spastic and joyful Hunter Pence. You get the feeling that if the game is close they'll find a way to beat you, whether it's due to an opponent's mistake or manager Bruce Bochy making the right move at the right time; after all, they're a remarkable 30-11 in the postseason since 2010. They beat the Pirates on the road in the wild-card game and then beat the 96-win Nationals and 90-win Cardinals. They deserve to be here.

In a year that clearly lacked one dominant team, maybe it shouldn't be a surprise we ended up with this unlikeliest of matchups. There are two takes on this. As Morris from Pittsburgh said in my chat Friday:
"Wow, awesome postseason so far. But am I the only one who didn't really want to see a 5 seed take on a 4 seed in the World Series? I realize anything can happen in a short series ... but I didn't want anything to happen."

Or as Perry from Monterey wrote in:

"So, if you want to find the 'best team,' why doesn't baseball do like the Premier League and have each team play each other team the same amount of times, and the team with the best record anointed the champion? Each team plays the other 29 teams six times, 3 at home, 3 on the road, and after 174 games, we have a champion? You didn't see the Giants crying like this after having the best record in BB in 2000 and 2003 and losing to the wild card team in the NLDS? Or Cards' fans complaining after [they] won the series with 83 wins or as a wild card?"

No matter your take on baseball's postseason format, we can all agree: Let's have a great World Series. It will be tough to match the excitement of the first two rounds that were full of extra-inning drama, one-run games (we're on pace to have the highest percentage of one-run games ever in a single postseason) and walk-off home runs. It's the showdown of the "just learned how to win" Royals versus the "knowing how to win since 2010" Giants.

Just give me six or seven games with more Lorenzo Cain diving catches and Travis Ishikawa home runs and Royals stolen bases and Madison Bumgarner sliders and Yordano Ventura fastballs and Buster Posey clutch hits. Do that and I'll forget that neither of these teams won 90

Chat wrap: Let's talk playoffs

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
Special edition baseball chat! Click here to check out Friday's chat wrap.
While both the ALCS and NLCS were short series both were amazingly exciting. The Royals won in 10 innings, scored twice in the ninth to win 6-4 and then won two games 2-1. The Giants' five-game win over the Cardinals may have been even more exciting. To recap:

Game 1 -- Giants win 3-0 behind Madison Bumgarner. This was the worst game of the series and it was a sterling performance by an ace.

Game 2 -- Cardinals win 5-4 on Kolten Wong's walk-off home run, becoming the first team to hit home runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings in a postseason game.

Game 3 -- Giants win 5-4 in 10 innings, the winning run scoring on a wild throw on a bunt.

Game 4 -- Giants win 6-4 after trailing 4-1 early on.

Game 5 -- Giants tie it in the eighth, win 6-3 on Travis Ishikawa's three-run walk-off home run.

Our SweetSpot colleague Mark Simon suggested doing a list of the best postseason best-of-7 series that went five games or fewer.

Certainly, most "classic" series have to go six or seven games to reach that definition. How many sweeps or five-game series are remembered as great series? I'd suggest most short series are remembered for a moment (Kirk Gibson's home run in the five-game 1988 World Series) or significance of the series (the 2004 Red Sox sweeping the Cardinals, for example) more than the series itself. A short series obviously lacks the drama that builds as you go six or seven games.

But here are five great best-of-7 series that went four or five games:

5. 2002 NLCS: Giants over Cardinals in five

A good series, maybe lacking one big moment or memorable game, although Game 4 was close. Also known as the series Tony La Russa refused to challenge Barry Bonds, who drew 10 walks.

Game 1 -- Giants win 9-6.

Game 2 -- Giants win 4-1.

Game 3 -- Cardinals win 5-4, overcoming Bonds' three-run homer and three walks.

Game 4 -- Giants win 4-2, breaking a 2-2 tie in the eighth when Bonds is intentionally walked with two outs and Benito Santiago follows with a two-run homer. Robb Nen strikes out Albert Pujols and J.D. Drew to end it with the tying run on third.

Game 5 -- Giants win 2-1 with runs in the eighth and ninth, Kenny Lofton delivering the two-out walk-off single.

4. 1988 World Series: Dodgers over A's in five.

The Gibson home run elevates the series but there were a couple other good games as well.

Game 1 -- Gibson's two-run, two-out walk-off home run off Dennis Eckersley wins it 5-4 for the underdog Dodgers.

Game 2 -- Orel Hershiser spins a three-hit shutout in a 6-0 win.

Game 3 -- Mark McGwire wins it 2-1 with a walk-off home run in the ninth.

Game 4 -- The Dodgers win 4-3 to beat Dave Stewart.

Game 5 -- Hershiser wins 5-2 with another complete game.

3. 2000 World Series: Yankees over Mets in five.

This is remembered either for the Roger Clemens-Mike Piazza bat-throwing incident or merely as the fourth title in five seasons for the Yankees. But most forget that the Subway Series featured five good games.

Game 1 -- Also known to Mets fans as The Timo Perez Game. Perez was thrown out at home in the sixth inning on Todd Zeile's double off the top of the wall, hesitating after thinking it was a home run (with Derek Jeter making a great relay). That preserved a 0-0 tie. The Yankees took a 2-0 lead, the Mets scored three times in the seventh but Armando Benitez coughed up the tying run in the ninth and the Yankees eventually won 4-3 in 12 innings.

Game 2 -- Yankees win 6-5 as the Mets scored five in the ninth to make it interesting. But fondly remembered for Clemens-Piazza incident.

Game 3 -- Mets win 4-2 with two runs in the eighth.

Game 4 -- Yankees win 3-2 as Jeter leads off the game with a home run and Mariano Rivera gets the two-inning save.

Game 5 -- Yankees win 4-2 with two runs in the ninth as Bobby Valentine leaves Al Leiter in for 142 pitches.

2. 1969 World Series: Mets over Orioles in five.

The Miracle Mets shock the 109-win Orioles.

Game 1 -- Orioles win 4-1.

Game 2 -- Jerry Koosman takes a no-hitter into the seventh and the Mets win 2-1 with a run in the top of the ninth. Brooks Robinson grounds out with two on in the bottom of the ninth.

Game 3 -- Mets win 5-0 as Tommie Agee makes two spectacular plays in the outfield.

Game 4 -- The Mets take a 1-0 lead into the ninth but the Orioles tie it. Ron Swoboda's diving catch prevented further damage, however, and the Mets won it in the bottom of the ninth when the Orioles threw away a sacrifice bunt that hit batter/runner J.C. Martin.

Game 5 -- After trailing 3-0, Mets win 5-3 with two runs in the bottom of the eighth. Little-known backup infielder Al Weis also hits a game-tying home run in the seventh.

1. 2005 World Series: White Sox over Astros in four.

First, you have the historical element of the White Sox winning their first World Series since 1917 -- yes, they had gone even longer than the Red Sox without winning a World Series. But all four games were exciting.

Game 1 -- White Sox win 5-3, knocking out Roger Clemens after two innings and adding an insurance run in the eighth.

Game 2 -- Astros score twice in the top of the ninth to tie but then Scott Podsednik -- who hadn't homered in 507 at-bats in the regular season -- hit a walk-off homer against Brad Lidge to win 7-6.

Game 3 -- White Sox win 7-5 in 14 innings, taking the lead on Geoff Blum's home run.

Game 4 -- White Sox win 1-0 behind Freddy Garcia and a run in the eighth off Lidge.

I'd say this NLCS ranks right up there, maybe second-best of the "short" series, and maybe the most exciting best-of-seven five-game series ever played.

By the numbers: Which Cain catch is best?

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17

Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesThe metrics rate this catch by Lorenzo Cain as his best of the postseason.

One of the nice things about advanced defensive metrics is that we can use them to calculate just how good a play a player made. You've seen some of that with the MLB Statcast on the playoff TV broadcasts, but we've got our own offering for you.

Baseball Info Solutions does video-review of every play of every game and notes the hang time and approximate location for every batted ball. Thus, they can tell you the BABIP (or hit rate) for any ball hit in fair territory this season.

Lets use that tool to evaluate the play of Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain and rate his most unlikely defensive plays this postseason.

Cain has made an impressive number of good catches. Scott Spratt of BIS tells us that three of them have come against balls that had a hit rate of 65 percent or better over during the season.

ALCS Game 2, 6th inning versus J.J. Hardy
How often is this a hit? 80 percent of the time.

With the score tied 4-4 in the sixth inning, Cain raced into the right-center gap to take a hit away from Hardy. That was praised as an extraordinary play and rightfully so. It's a base hit 80 percent of the time, based on hang time and where it was played.

"What impressed me about that one is that he never really broke stride," said "Baseball Tonight" analyst Eduardo Perez. His last step was with his left foot and as he was diving, he was pushing off to give him a chance to catch it."

ALDS Game 3, 5th inning versus Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick
How often is this a hit? 67 percent of the time for the first one, 71 percent of the time for the second one.

With the Royals leading the Angels midway through Game 3 of the ALDS, Cain ensured the advantaged stayed comfortable for James Shields, ranging into the left-center gap to rob Albert Pujols of a hit, then coming and diving to deny Kendrick's bid for a line-drive hit.

"I give (outfield coach) Rusty Kuntz a lot of credit for that one," Perez said. "He had everyone playing really shallow. He was daring Pujols to hit the ball over his head."

The second catch was judged to be slightly tougher than the first one (it's a hit 71 percent of the time, compared to 67 percent for Pujols' ball). That's because the shorter hang time required Cain to get to the ball very quickly.

"The best thing Cain has is his first step, Perez said. "That's what allows him to get that ball."

"And what's even more amazing, even with all his great defense, he's getting moved to right field late in games, because Dyson is even faster. That tells you how good their defense is."

Glorious ending to a great NLCS

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16

For going only five games, it was one heck of a series. Five key moments from the San Francisco Giants' 6-3 series-clinching win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series:

1. Travis Ishikawa sends the Giants to the World Series.

You could spend two thousand words dissecting Cardinals manager Mike Matheny's decision to bring in Michael Wacha, a guy who hadn't pitched in three weeks and had made just a few shaky outings since coming back from a midseason shoulder injury, with the Cardinals' season on the line.

Foremost, give credit to Ishikawa for a great at-bat. After Pablo Sandoval singled and then Brandon Belt drew a four-pitch walk with one out, it would have been easy and perhaps wise for Ishikawa to take a 2-0 pitch. Instead, he sat fastball and drilled a screaming line drive over the brick wall in right field, sending his teammates climbing over the dugout railing for that awesome home-plate celebration and the home fans into a loud, joyous frenzy.

Anyway, Bruce Bochy was one step ahead of Matheny in the ninth. When Matheny pinch-hit Oscar Taveras for Peter Bourjos with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, Bochy had the guts to take out closer Santiago Casilla -- who hadn't given up a run in a month -- and bring in Jeremy Affeldt for the lefty-lefty matchup.

With relievers warming up in the bullpen in the bottom of the inning, Matheny could have brought in Randy Choate to face Belt. With Ishikawa up, he couldn't bring in Choate because he knew Bochy would have countered with Juan Perez. Apparently, using Trevor Rosenthal never crossed his mind. Or maybe it should have.

But what a moment. Ishikawa became just the fourth player to hit a walk-off home run to send his team to the World Series, following Chris Chambliss (1976 Yankees), Aaron Boone (2003 Yankees) and Magglio Ordonez (2006 Tigers).

2. Michael Morse goes boom.

Morse missed nearly all of September and the division series with an oblique injury, losing his left-field job to Travis Ishikawa even though he's back on the roster for this series. He hadn't homered since Aug. 15. Baseball.

Another bullpen move by Mike Matheny backfired. Adam Wainwright had plowed through the fifth, sixth and seventh innings -- nine up, nine down. He had thrown 97 pitches, but with a pinch-hitter for Madison Bumgarner and then the top of the order due up, it made sense to go to the bullpen. Neshek just threw a terrible pitch, a flat 1-1 slider over the plate that Morse drilled into the left-field corner and waved fair, Carlton Fisk-style.

3. Wainwright strikes out the side in the sixth.

Sixth inning, one-run lead, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence up for that all-important third time facing Wainwright. This looked like a potential game- and series-deciding inning, when the Giants could put away the Cardinals for 2014 and starting loaded the clubhouse with champagne and beer.

All three batters went back to the bench, all swinging and missing on curveballs. Early on, it seemed Wainwright was using his curveball more early in the count and then going to his fastball. As Olney tweeted, this led to fewer swings-and-misses, since fastballs are put in play more often than offspeed pitches. Then Wainwright showed why he's Wainwright: He's one of the smartest pitchers in the game. In going through game logs over the season, it's impossible to pick up any kind of consistent pattern to either his percentage of different types of pitches thrown in game. And while his curveball is certainly his favorite wipeout pitch, he doesn't live solely with the curveball with two strikes: He threw it 46 percent of the time in the regular season but also threw his fastball 30 percent and slider 22 percent. Just enough doubt that hitters can't sit on the curve.

But he threw it three times in this inning and got three K's. Then he pitched a one-two-three seventh. He pitched like an ace.

4. Matt Adams and Tony Cruz go yard in the fourth.

One of the inevitable storylines that develop during every postseason is when a starting pitcher throws a good game or two and then everybody starts writing and tweeting and commentating about how clutch he is in the playoffs or that he's a big-game pitcher or just knows how to pitch well in October. Heck, I've written this or suggested it; one reason I picked the Oakland A's to beat the Kansas City Royals in the wild-card game, for example, was that Jon Lester had a history of postseason success, then he gave up six runs (well, his manager also left him in too long).

So that was the story heading into this game. Madison Bumgarner had started three games in this postseason, allowed no runs in two of them and pitched well in the third only to be undone by his own throwing error. Bumgarner had also pitched seven scoreless innings in his World Series start in 2012 and eight scoreless innings in a 2010 World Series start. Thus, Bumgarner is super clutch and all that. But that ignored that he did also have some bad postseason starts on his résumé.

As locked in as he looked in those three other outings, it's difficult for any pitcher to great every time out. Leading 2-1 after Joe Panik's two-run homer in the bottom of third, Bumgarner gave up a home run to Adams on a 1-2 curveball (sound familiar, Dodgers fans?) and then another with two outs to light-hitting backup catcher Tony Cruz, a bad 0-1 slider that he hung out over the plate and Cruz lined out to left.

Give Adams credit: Bumgarner had gone 32 starts without allowing a home run to a left-handed batter (Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies hit the only one off him this season).

5. Jhonny Peralta lines into a 5-4 double play in the first.

If you're going to get to Bumgarner, the first inning is often your best bet. He allowed a .320 average and 5.73 ERA in the first inning during the regular season. Now, some of that is a result of usually facing at least three good hitters, but he also allowed eight home runs in the first inning and no more than three in any other frame.

Anyway, the Cardinals teed up on Bumgarner early on. Matt Carpenter lined out to shortstop. Jon Jay and Matt Holliday reached on hard-hit singles to bring up Peralta, hitting .185 with one RBI in his first eight postseason games. Peralta had grounded into two crucial double plays in Game 4 but this time he drilled a 1-0 fastball that appeared headed into left field ... only to have Pablo Sandoval, continuing to do his best Brooks Robinson impersonation, make a leaping grab (yes, he got a few inches off the ground) and then make a quick throw to second to catch Jay. Huge baserunning mistake there by Jay, even if he took only one step to third. It was one step that led to an inning-ending play and a missed opportunity to take an early lead off Bumgarner.

Turn about is fair play: After Sandoval doubled and Hunter Pence walked with no outs in the fourth, Brandon Belt drilled a liner right to second baseman Kolten Wong and Sandoval made the same mistake as Jay, taking a step to third. If anything, Sandoval's baserunner miscue was worse since it was a low line drive.

Side note: While we've seen some good defensive plays in this series, most notably from Sandoval and Kolten Wong, it has been a series of mistakes, especially in comparison to the crisp baseball the Royals played in the ALCS. (Think of the two dropped fly balls in Game 4, Matt Adams' defensive miscues, missed bunts and wild pitches, and Travis Ishikawa's bad read in the third inning in this game that led to the Cardinals' first run.)
Man, we had a lot of stuff going on in this game. Both starters got knocked out early, 13 pitchers were used altogether, the Giants had another unlikely rally, the fans were loud, Hunter Pence signs were everywhere, the sky was beautiful and it was an exciting baseball game. Maybe not the best-played, but definitely exciting. The Giants haven't hit a home run in the series but they pulled out a 6-4 victory, and now all the Cardinals have to do is find a way to beat Madison Bumgarner to stay alive in the series. Good luck.

Five key moments from this one:

1. Giants don't get ball out of the infield, but score twice.

The bottom of sixth also will be known as the "Matt Adams inning," which is a little unfair because Adams didn't make a debatable managerial decision or walk a guy who hit .170 this season.

The inning began with the Cardinals up 4-3 and Mike Matheny removing reliever Carlos Martinez and putting in catcher Tony Cruz for A.J. Pierzynski in a double-switch (Martinez would have led off the seventh). The question: Should Matheny have removed Martinez? He had pitched the fifth in only 17 pitches and didn't pitch in Game 3. He has started at times this season, so he certainly is capable of pitching multiple innings. However, check these numbers:

Pitches 1-25: .255/.317/.342
Pitches 26-50: .289/.431/.400

I'm not sure how instructive those numbers are. For one thing, I don't have the exact breakdown of, say, through 30 or 35 pitches. And most of those pitches beyond 25 came during his seven appearances as a starter.

The Giants had lefties Travis Ishikawa and Brandon Crawford up, followed by the pitcher's spot, and then two more lefties at the top of the order. So Matheny instead brought in rookie Marco Gonzales, who walked 21 in 34.1 regular-season innings but had walked just one in 5.1 innings in the postseason. Matheny went with that matchup, and it's hard to argue against the decision.

Gonzales just didn't do the job. Bruce Bochy pinch hit Juan Perez for Ishikawa and he drew a walk. Crawford singled. Pinch hitter Matt Duffy sacrificed the runners over. Gregor Blanco then grounded to the drawn-in Adams at first base, but Adams stumbled a bit and took an extra step before making a bad throw home that the speedy Perez beat without a tag. A good play does get Perez, who was running on contact. But Adams didn't make a good play.

Then Adams made another bad play. With runners now at the corners and the game tied, Joe Panik grounded a ball that took Adams to first base. He tagged the base, didn't appear to look at Crawford at third and threw a changeup to second base, off-line. Crawford scored, Blanco was safe at second and Giants led 5-4. Two runs without getting the ball out of the infield.

2. Buster Posey is good.

The inning wasn't over. Seth Maness came in and Posey lined an RBI base hit to left. Posey is good. Had a nice little game: 2-for-3, walk, sac fly. He doesn't have an extra-base hit in nine postseason games but he's batting .333, getting on base and playing his usual solid defense behind the plate.

3. Yusmeiro Petit keeps the Giants close.

The hero of the 18-inning win over the Nationals in the division series when he threw six innings of one-hit baseball in relief, Petit was once again brilliant, allowing just one hit over his 47 pitches.

Petit spent the season going back and forth between the rotation (12 starts) and bullpen (27 appearances). He gained some notoriety when he broke the major league record for consecutive batters retired at 46 (set over several relief appearances and one start). He pitched in the rotation in September when the Giants bumped the struggling Tim Lincecum to relief, but Petit returned to the pen for the postseason.

Despite his 250-pound girth, he's not a hard thrower. Among 148 pitchers who threw 100 innings, he ranked 132nd in average fastball velocity at 88.8 mph. But here's the amazing stat about him: He ranked fifth out of those 148 pitchers in swing-and-miss percentage, behind only Francisco Liriano, Tyson Ross, Chris Sale and Masahiro Tanaka and just ahead of Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. In other words, he has some deceiving stuff even without the big velocity.

His curveball is his big swing-and-miss weapon, as batters swung at it 62 percent of the time and missed 47 percent. Batters hit .189 against it. Still, he has to get to the curveball, and he does an excellent job of painting the corners with his four-seam fastball, cutter, slider and changeup. He's what you might call a journeyman, but Petit had a good year and came up as the big man in this game.

4. Affeldt, Lopez, Romo, Casilla.

These four longtime Giants relievers got the final four outs. The Giants have had a different closer in each of their three postseason runs -- Brian Wilson in 2010, Sergio Romo in 2012 and Santiago Casilla this year -- but these four have been there all three seasons. Casilla had pitched 11.2 hitless innings in a row before Jon Jay singled with two outs in the ninth.

5. Early offense.

In the first six half-innings, the leadoff batter reached base all six times with a hit -- four doubles and two singles. Two of those doubles glanced off the gloves of center fielders Jay and Blanco on plays that were ruled hits but ... well, let's just say they were plays that Lorenzo Cain makes. Anyway, both pitchers were giving up hard hits but both managers seemed a little slow to the bullpen, even though the Giants had starters Yusmeiro Petit and Tim Lincecum down there while the Cardinals had Michael Wacha, Gonzales and Martinez, all of whom started at times during the season.

Vogelsong, who had never allowed more than one run in his five previous postseason starts, was finally gone after Kolten Wong's two-out home run in the third made it 4-1 for the Cardinals, with Bochy pinch-hitting for him in the bottom of the third. And, really, it could have been worse as Pablo Sandoval started two nice 5-4-3 double plays to help prevent further damage.

Matheny's decision with Shelby Miller was more curious. After giving up three hits, a walk and two runs in the third, he was the second batter up in the fourth inning. The Giants would have two lefties, the pitcher, and then two more lefties batting in the fourth. So why not pinch hit for Miller in the top of the inning? Especially since Matheny lifted Miller for Randy Choate after he walked Brandon Crawford and the top of the order coming up.

If we read something into this, it's that Matheny doesn't have confidence to use Wacha in a close game, which is understandable since Wacha hadn't performed well in September after returning from shoulder injury and hadn't pitched since Sept. 26. That only raises the question of why he's on the roster if he's not used in the early innings of a game where the starter is struggling.

Oh, give credit to the hitters. They were stinging the ball. And Wong? I'd love to buy stock in his future.

I guess there was a chance the Baltimore Orioles were going to win Game 4. But it sure didn't feel like it before the game and it sure didn't feel like it after the Kansas City Royals scored two runs in the first inning.

It sure didn't feel like it once the game got to the seventh inning with the Royals ahead. Their vaunted bullpen shut the door and the Royals swept the ALCS. The Royals have won eight straight postseason games. They beat the Orioles 8-6 in 10 innings in Game 1, scored two runs in the ninth inning of Game 2 for a 6-4 win and then won 2-1 and 2-1 in Games 3 and 4. They're hot, they're fun to watch and they're going to the World Series. The Royals have given us a great story. Now they just one need one more chapter.

Five moments from the Game 4 win:

1. Royals celebrate their first trip to the World Series since 1985.

For those of us who grew up watching the Royals when they were an American League powerhouse, it's great to see them back in the World Series after all these years. Congrats to the Royals and their fans.

2. Ned Yost goes to Kelvin Herrera in the sixth ... then Wade Davis in the eighth ... and then Greg Holland in the ninth.

Yes, it was just two weeks ago when everyone was ripping Ned Yost during the wild-card game for not understanding that you have to manage the postseason a little differently than the regular season. Then he was ripped for saying Herrera is his "seventh-inning guy." Well, Yost has adapted. He used Herrera and Davis for two innings apiece in Game 1. He pulled Jeremy Guthrie after five innings in Game 3. He pulled Jason Vargas with one out and a runner on in the sixth of Game 4. In fact, no Royals starter completed six innings in this series. Yost has a great pen and he used it often.

Wednesday, he let Vargas face No. 9 hitter Jonathan Schoop leading off the sixth inning. Even though Vargas walked him, Yost let him face leadoff hitter Nick Markakis to preserve the lefty-lefty matchup. Vargas struck out Markakis and that was the end of his day. Yost couldn't get out to the mound any quicker. With the heart of the Baltimore lineup due up -- all right-handed -- it was easy to go to the pen. Especially when you have a guy who throws 100 mph down there and hasn't allowed a home run all season.

3. Nelson Cruz lines out to end the sixth inning.

Still, Herrera had to get out of that sixth inning. He got Steve Pearce on a popup to shortstop, but Adam Jones hit a little flare into right field to put runners at the corners. Cruz lined a 1-0, 99 mph heater toward center field -- but right at second baseman Omar Infante.

You just knew at that point it wasn't going to be Baltimore's day.

4. Alex Gordon crashes into wall to rob J.J. Hardy.

More on Gordon's catch here, but he had a terrific day in the field with two more nice plays against Pearce, showing why he's going to win his fourth straight Gold Glove. By the way, check out Ben Lindbergh's great look at the Kansas City outfield.

5. Eric Hosmer's first-inning grounder scores two runs.

The rally started with Alcides Escobar's infield single that hit the second-base bag. Miguel Gonzalez then made his biggest mistake of the game, hitting Norichika Aoki with a first-pitch fastball. Lorenzo Cain then laid down the first sacrifice bunt of his career (Yost said during the in-game interview that Cain bunted on his own). That brought up Hosmer in what certainly had the feeling of a key moment in the game.

He grounded an 0-1 changeup to first base. Pearce made a nice throw home, but Escobar knocked the ball out of Caleb Joseph's glove and Aoki came all the way around from second base as the ball bounced away. In many ways, this play summed up the series -- the little breaks did seem to go the Royals' way, whether it was the infield hits or the bloopers or a bang-bang play at home that could just as easily have produced the second out of the inning. Instead, Escobar was safe and the Royals scored two runs on the play.

The play, however, also emphasized two other aspects of these teams. The Royals put the ball in play. They had the best contact percentage in the majors in the regular season and they've put the ball in play in the postseason. The Orioles' starting rotation also had one of the lowest strikeout rates in the majors (only the Royals were lower among playoff teams). Second and third and one out is that time you really need a strikeout, but it's not a big weapon for Gonzalez or the other Orioles' starters.
GordonPeter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsRoyals left fielder Alex Gordon robbed J.J. Hardy of an extra-base hit in the fifth inning.

Watching the Kansas City Royals play defense is getting absurdly entertaining unless you're a fan of a team playing the Royals.

In the top of the fifth inning, left fielder Alex Gordon made a running grab of J.J. Hardy's deep drive, crashing into the area of chain-link fencing in front of the scoreboard with a loud thud and falling onto the warning track.

But the ball remained in his glove; he held it up as he lay on the warning track, and pitcher Jason Vargas tipped his cap in appreciation. We all tip our caps, at least those of you wearing one. Otherwise, just nod your head in appreciation of defense.

It was Gordon's third outstanding play of the game. Twice, he ran down Steve Pearce line drives. Oh, Eric Hosmer also has made a nice play and the Royals have turned two double plays as they lead 2-1 in the fifth inning.

Which means ... three outs away from Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
When the Kansas City Royals joined the American League in 1969, one early idea by owner Ewing Kauffman was to build the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy in Florida. It was an attempt find quality athletes without much baseball experience and train them to become baseball players. The players lived and trained at the academy and played games in the Gulf Coast League. The best players would then move on up through the Royals' minor league system.

The academy was discontinued in 1974 due to costs but paid big dividends for the big league franchise, most notably with five-time All-Star second baseman Frank White, signed as an amateur free agent in 1970. U.L. Washington, the starting shortstop on the 1980 World Series team, was another unsigned free agent and academy graduate. Former Rangers manager Ron Washington was another player who came through the academy.

Anyway, it was another way to find baseball talent. The Royals built their successful run from 1976 to 1985 by finding talent. They used the academy. They traded for talented young players like Amos Otis, Hal McRae and John Mayberry who hadn't been given a chance with their original teams. They drafted George Brett and Bret Saberhagen.

One thing that happened after 1985, however, was as the rest of the baseball world dug deep into Latin America, the Royals failed in finding talent from that important pipeline. Go through the rosters of the 1990s and 2000s Royals and you'll find very few Latin players of impact. The one major success story was Carlos Beltran, drafted in the second round out of Puerto Rico in 1995 (Puerto Rican players are subject to the draft). Angel Berroa, acquired from Oakland in the Johnny Damon trade, won Rookie of the Year honors in 2003 but was a flop after that. Jose Rosado, a Puerto Rican drafted out of a Texas junior college was a two-time All-Star but got injured. From 1990 through 2010, the only other Latino pitchers to even 5.0 career WAR with the Royals were Joakim Soria, Hipolito Pichardo and Luis Aquino. Other than Beltran, the only other Latino position players to earn 5.0 WAR over that 20-year period were Jose Offerman and Rey Sanchez, both developed by other organizations.

The 2014 Royals, however, have an important Latino presence, led by three homegrown players: Catcher Salvador Perez, signed out of Venezuela in 2006; Dominican reliever Kelvin Herrera, also signed in 2006; and starter Yordano Ventura, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. None of three are even 25 yet.

Ventura is a classic scouting story, signed for $28,000 as a skinny teenager who throw in the upper 80s. But the Royals liked the arm action and two years later he was throwing in the upper 90s. He's remained healthy throughout his professional career and his rookie season has been enormously successful as he's developed into the Royals' No. 2 starter. Herrera, another short right-hander, missed nearly two full years of minor league action with elbow problems, but has remained healthy since moving to the bullpen in 2011 and has maintained his 100-mph velocity. Perez was never rated as a top-100 prospect but has become one of the best defensive catchers in the majors. Perez first reached the majors in 2011; before that season, Baseball Prospectus named him the 20th-best prospect ... in the Kansas City system.

Beyond those three, shortstop Alcides Escobar came over from the Brewers in the Zack Greinke trade and second baseman Omar Infante was signed as a free agent.

The Royals have continued to invest in Latin American. Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, son of former major leaguer Raul, was signed for a $2 million bonus in 2011, had a disappointing season at Class A Wilmington but is considered one of the Royals' top prospects. Outfielder Elier Hernandez, signed the same year for $3 million, hasn't developed as hoped, but was another example of the Royals spending money for Latino prospects.

The James Shields trade that general manager Dayton Moore engineered two years ago has received a lot of credit for the Royals' surge to a 3-0 lead in the ALCS, but it was finding quality players in Latin America that has made just as a big an impact.

The Kansas City Royals retired the final 16 batters. They're now 27 batters away from the World Series. Five key moments from their 2-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles in Game 3 of the ALCS:

1. The final out: 7-0 in the postseason for the Royals.

What can you say? It was a perfect Royals script: Get the lead through six innings and hand the ball to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Game over and good times in Kansas City.

2. Jason Frasor gets through the sixth inning.

Royals manager Ned Yost gets a lot of criticism, but everything is going his way this postseason. Most importantly in this game, he didn't try to stretch Jeremy Guthrie past five innings. Guthrie was at 94 pitches, which made the decision a little easier, but he had just retired the side in order in the fifth, so it might have been tempting to do the whole "leave him in there until one batter gets on" thing that often burns a manager.

Instead, with the heart of the Baltimore lineup coming up, Yost turned to Frasor to face Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz and Steve Pearce. Eleven pitches later, Jones had fouled out to third base (see below), Cruz had flied out to right and Pearce had flied out to right. In many ways, this was the key inning, the last chance for the Orioles to do damage before Yost turned to the nasty trio of Herrera, Davis and Holland.

As CJ Nitkowski tweeted, Frasor's inning was more impressive than Herrera's in the seventh or Davis' in the eighth. This is one area that analysts such as myself talk about when arguing that having such defined roles is a dangerous thing. Frasor, the team's fourth-best right-handed reliever, faced a tougher part of the lineup than Herrera or Davis. Now, that said, Frasor is a solid reliever who held right-handed batters to a .224/.295/.346 line this year. That's good but not in Herrera/Davis/Holland territory. I'm not trying to knock Yost here, but if Frasor had given up what would have been the go-ahead run at the time, everyone would have been bashing Yost for sticking to his "Herrera is the seventh-inning guy" rule. (Yost, however, did say after the game that Herrera would have come in if Frasor had gotten into any trouble.)

Anyway, in the end, give credit to Frasor for his 1-2-3 inning. It won't got a lot of credit, but it was the most important inning for Royals pitchers all night.

By the way, one more thing that helped the Royals: Guthrie's pitch count ran up in part because of a 32-pitch fourth inning, which included a 14-pitch at-bat by J.J. Hardy. The Orioles might have been better off without so many long at-bats.

3. Royals take the lead in the sixth as Buck Showalter sticks with Wei-Yin Chen.

Hard to fault Showalter for leaving in Chen to start the sixth. The only run he had allowed came primarily as the result of two bloopers, and two of the first three batters of the inning were left-handed. Trouble is, Norichika Aoki singled, and then, with one out, Eric Hosmer drilled a grounder into right field, sending pinch runner Jarrod Dyson easily to third. Showalter then went to the pen, but Billy Butler delivered the sacrifice fly. No home runs in this game for Kansas City but just enough offense to get the two runs they needed to win.

(Cal Ripken made a good point on the broadcast, mentioning how Pearce backed up after holding Dyson on first base rather than jumping further off the bag to a position at which he might have had a chance to grab Hosmer's grounder.)

As Joe Sheehan alluded to, was Buck thinking ahead and worried about burning through his bullpen? Maybe. If you think about possibly playing five games in five days, you're probably not going to be able to use Andrew Miller, for example, for five outs every time out. I think the other issue is that, considering how good Kansas City's bullpen is, at this point, you had to start thinking of a potential extra-inning game, and if you start burning through relievers in the sixth inning, you might run out of your best guys before the 10th. Still, Chen was facing the order for the third time, Showalter does have three lefties and you have to win this game before worrying about Games 4, 5, 6 or 7.

Again, it's one of those decisions that looks more questionable after what happened.

4. Royals scratch across the tying run.

The Royals tied it in the fourth off Chen on bloop singles to center off the bat of Lorenzo Cain and Hosmer, a walk to Butler and a bases-loaded grounder to second by Alex Gordon.

They missed an opportunity for a big inning, however. Both Gordon and Salvador Perez, who popped out to second base to end the inning, swung at the first pitch. Not saying that was the wrong thing to do but Chen had just walked Butler on five pitches. The Royals' aggressive approach helps them put balls in play and avoid strikeouts -- and there has been a developing belief that avoiding strikeouts in the postseason is a good thing, a more valuable skill than in the regular season -- but it can also lead to some bad swings. Again, not saying that was the case here -- both swung at low fastballs -- but a potential big inning got wiped out.

5. Mike Moustakas did this.

Here's the video. Yes, the Royals outfield can play defense and has made spectacular play after spectacular play in the postseason, but the Kansas City infield defense is pretty good as well, particularly Moustakas at third and shortstop Alcides Escobar. As Pedro Martinez said on the postgame, he's never seen a team play defense like this in the postseason.

Hey, extra innings! A game that was 4-0 after one inning and looked like it would be a snoozefest turned into another exciting game decided by one run. The Giants won it 5-4 in 10 innings to take the series lead. Five key moments:

1. Bad bunt, good bunt, bad throw.

It wasn't a pretty half-inning of baseball but the Giants will take it. Randy Choate has one of biggest platoon splits in baseball. The sidearming southpaw is tough against left-handed batters but nearly unusable against right-handed, who had a .458 OBP against him this year and .431 over the past three seasons. He was brought in to face Brandon Crawford, but walked him, Crawford laying off a 3-2 sinker. Give Crawford credit here. He hit .320 with a .395 OBP against lefties this season; some have credited his spring training work with Barry Bonds in helping him improve against left-handed pitches. The numbers are probably a one-season fluke but he does do a good job standing in there. But Choate has to throw him a strike there. No excuses.

That brought up light-hitting outfielder Juan Perez, a right-handed batter. I can see why Matheny left in Choate, since Perez was going to bunt, and two left-handed batters were on deck. Except Perez bunted the first two pitches foul, fouled off two pitches and then lined a base hit to left. Considering Choate's issues against righties, you could argue that Perez should have been swinging away anyway, especially since Choate against Gregor Blanco or Joe Panik is a matchup advantage for St. Louis.

Anyway, that created an obvious bunt situation for Blanco, who put down a good bunt and Choate's throw to second baseman Kolten Wong sailed into the bullpen to score the winning run.

2. Pablo Sandoval's sweet play keeps it tied.

With Jon Jay running on the pitch with two outs in the top of the 10th, Matt Holliday hit a hard grounder down the third-base line. Yes, Sandoval was shading to the line, but it was still an excellent play. With the left fielder played well off the line, Jay likely scores if Sandoval doesn't make the play.

3. Randal Grichuk ties it up against Tim Hudson.

Even as Hudson was left in for the seventh inning, people were questioning the decision to leave him in. Even though his pitch count was still less than 90, he'd given up two runs in the fourth on Kolten Wong's triple, hit John Lackey in the fifth only to get a double play and then allowed a run in the sixth. Grichuk hit a first-pitch cut fastball out to left and the Cardinals, down 4-0 after the first, were now tied.

This appeared to be a direct reflection of the poor performance of the Giants bullpen in Game 2. Bochy had been using Hunter Strickland as an option in this area of the game to bridge the gap to his two lefties, Sergio Romo and closer Santiago Casilla, but Strickland gave up his fourth home run of the postseason in Game 2, and it's pretty easy to assume Bochy had lost confidence in him at this point.

So ... what to do? With Hudson facing the 7-8-9 hitters (A.J. Pierzynski, Grichuk and the pitcher's spot), I can understand Bochy wanting to coax another inning out of Hudson. He probably doesn't have much confidence in Romo against left-handers, so you can see a scenario where he wanted Hudson to get through the seventh against three weak hitters, Jeremy Affeldt or Javier Lopez to face Matt Carpenter and Jon Jay, Romo to face Matt Holliday and then Casilla in the ninth. That all sounds great until it doesn't. And the fact that Bochy immediately removed Hudson after the home run shows that he was on a short leash anyway. But a leash one batter too long.

(Of course, this also gets to why Tim Lincecum is even on the roster. If Yusmeiro Petit is the long man of choice, what is Lincecum's role besides good-luck charm or, I guess, mop-up guy in a blowout game?)

4. Cardinals intentionally walk Brandon Belt, Travis Ishikawa clears the bases.

Some early strategizing in this one. With the Giants already up 1-0 in the first after Hunter Pence's RBI double, they had runners on second and third with two outs. Mike Matheny elected to put Belt on first to pitch to Ishikawa. The basis for the move is pretty simple: Belt is a better hitter than Ishikawa. But the difference may be small, Ishikawa hadn't been struggling (he was 5-for-18 in the postseason) and there was no platoon advantage to be gained. In general terms, it's not a move you normally see in the regular season.

Sure enough, Matheny hadn't called for an intentional walk all season in the first inning. He had issued just four intentional walks with runners on second and third and two outs all season in any inning. Did they compare to this case?

April 17: Jose Lobaton, second inning. This allowed Adam Wainwright to face the pitcher and he got out of the jam.

May 18: Evan Gattis, ninth inning. Trevor Rosenthal walked Gattis to pitch to Jordan Shafer, trying to hold a one-run lead. Matheny went against the platoon advantage here to get to a weaker batter. This one backfired as Shafer walked and Rosenthal then threw a wild pitch as the Cardinals lost.

June 10: Matt Joyce, fourth inning. Wainwright walked Joyce to face the right-handed Logan Forsythe, who lined out (Wainwright went on to pitch a 1-0 shutout).

July 6: Casey McGehee, sixth inning. Nick Greenwood walked McGehee to get to Marcell Ozuna, two right-handed batters. So kind of an odd one. Didn't work as Ozuna singled.

So three of those were a little more conventional. Still, the point is this: Matheny probably overthought this one, doing something he hadn't done all season. Of course, if Lackey gets Ishikawa it looks like a great decision.

Instead, Ishikawa launched a blast to right field on a first-pitch two-seam fastball, a grand slam on most days, but the ball got caught up in the swirling winds and drifted to right-center. The ball ended up at the base of the wall in deep right-center, catchable except Grichuk had already backed off to play the carom and thus drawing the John Lackey face from John Lackey.

5. Lackey settles down.

After Grichuk failed to come up with Ishikawa's drive, Lackey's outstretched arms showed his, umm, displeasure. As Lackey is wont to due. Anyway, we never got the Meltdown Face as Lackey kept the Cardinals in the game.