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San Francisco Giants’ five greatest obstacles in first game of Series

By Mark ONeill
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The San Francisco Giants return to Kauffman Stadium, Tuesday night, a venue where havoc was wreaked upon them earlier in the season, by none other than their World Series opponent, the Kansas City Royals. Being outscored, 16-6, the Giants were swept in a weekend series, August 8th-10th, and it wasn’t even really that close.

The setting first: Coming off of a six-game losing streak from July 24th, through July 29th, during which they were swept by Los Angeles, and dropped two of three against Pittsburgh, at AT&T Park, the Giants rallied to take three out of four from the Mets, in New York. That was the good news, all of it at once.

San Francisco then proceeded to dump another six out of seven, down the drain, losing two of three to Milwaukee and getting ambushed in Kansas City, in a weekend bushwhacking. That’s four series out of five that the Orange and Black dropped, all to contending teams. That warm-and-fuzzy feeling that momentarily surfaced in New York, turned moldy quickly, especially in Kansas City.

In the context of the Royals’ continued success, what are the five most pressing concerns for the Giants, as they return to a site that saw them not only beaten, but kicked and humiliated as well? After all, staff ace Madison Bumgarner lost, the Giants were shut out in one of the games, their anemic offense able to average just two runs per game, and the bullpen continued its pattern of futility.

In no particular order, because all loom large, James Shields is a prime concern, because he shut the Giants down on four hits in August, at Kauffman Stadium, and the team that wins the opener, statistically-and every other way-is most like to win the Series. “Big-Game James” they call him.

The Royals bullpen is lights out. As potent and intimidating as the Giants’ own relief corps is, in all objective analyses I have seen, the Royals bullpen has gotten the nod every time. With the Giants already scrapping for runs in every postseason game so far, except the National League Championship Series finale, the prospect of having to come from behind, from the seventh inning onward, against the Royals, is bleak.

The hot hand: The World Series elevates players’ games and you never know who is going to step up and take charge. 

Mike Moustakas: 7 games played, 6 runs scored, 5 RBI’s, 4 home runs…

In eight games played,

The torrid streak the Royals are on, combined with the season sweep in the same site, as that of the start of the Series, must weigh heavily on the minds of the Giants. The Royals are making it look so easy, they don’t even allow their victims a souvenir win to cling to over the winter. Kansas City has won all eight of its playoff contests so far, and nine consecutive games overall, going back to the last game of the regular season. Then there is that August broom business. That’s a lot of bling.

August 26, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Kansas City Royals third baseman Tony Abreu (34) makes a throw to first base during the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, there is the “Cinderella” aspect of the Royals. The crowd will make those of Washington and St. Louis look as though they were attending a Sunday formal. (And Pittsburgh’s crowd? At a wake…) The it’s-been-so-long component, makes Kansas City the golden team for America to worship. Ronald Reagan (“Seen one redwood tree-seem ‘em all”) was the President and a gallon of gasoline cost $1.20, the last time the Royals even went to The Show, let alone won it. The Giants? Hey, they’ve had their turn. Now it’s someone else’s ticket.

There are at least 23 additional components, besides Jim (Big Game) Shields and Mike (Moose) Mustakis, that I did not mention, and a plethora of other elements, that are high on the list of issues the Giants must overcome, in order to win their third World Series in five years. First things, first.

Big Game Shields has pitched in many big games, but not all of them have occurred in the postseason, where he is 3-4, lifetime, with a 4.96 ERA, 37 K’s, 12 BB’s, and a most un-Big Game-like WHIP of 1.39. The Giants, on the other hand, are 4-0, on the road, in the postseason, in opening series games. Shields dominated in August, shutting the Giants out, so it all depends on which Big Game Shields shows up, the one from the regular season, or the one from the postseason.

As for the Royals’ bullpen, there can be no argument that they are a unit that will not give up many runs. The key to this lock is elementary: Go into the late innings with the lead. You’re welcome.

Mike Moustakas. Their Moose against our Panda. Mike Moustakas may-or may not-stamp his imprint on the Series, but if Pablo Sandoval’s track record is any indication, The Panda will have his day in the lights. The last time he had his day in the lights, it resulted in an opening-game win over the Detroit Tigers, and a four-game sweep of the 2012 World Series.

The Royals’ current winning streak is, indeed, impressive. But all good things must come to an end, and examining patterns clarifies this. Ten times this season, the Royals have had winning streaks of four games or more; nine times they have had balancing losing streaks of four games or more. They are due to end their current winning streak, and go right into a losing one. You can look it up.

Finally, being on the road is part of the process for the Giants (16-5 on the road, in the postseason, since 2010), who accept it for what it is: the same, only different from playing at home. Accustomed to playing in front of raucous crowds at home, the crowd in Kansas City will be no more, nor less rabid, than those in Pittsburgh, Washington or St. Louis.

It’s not that the fans won’t rock Kauffman Stadium-they will-it’s that the Giants have been rocked before and it calms them, as rocking inevitably does.

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