Programming note: For comprehensive coverage of the Giants-Royals’ World Series, watch SportsNet Central tonight at 10:30 p.m. and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
KANSAS CITY – Whenever he could, Buster Posey turned on the TV and watched the Kansas City Royals burn a hole through the AL playoffs. He understands what awaits him on Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series at Kauffman Stadium.
A test of his arm, and of his composure.
“Yeah, I’d imagine,” said the Giants’ lead-by-example catcher, asked if he expects the Royals to run. “Watching them the last month or so, they’re very aggressive, they have a ton of speed and I expect them to use it.”
This is not the kind of challenge the Giants faced in the 2010 World Series, when the Texas Rangers tried to pass off designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero as a right fielder. The Royals are not the 2012 Detroit Tigers, who mostly waddled around the bases and hoped to outslug teams. The Royals are a National League wolf wrapped in American League wool, perfectly capable of beating the Giants at their own game. Kansas City manager Ned Yost is such an aficionado of playing small ball that he’s inspired the phrase, “The Bunt for Ned October.”
No wonder, then, that the Giants worked on pitcher fielding practice and took infield drills in a workout Saturday at AT&T Park. No wonder they’ll work out both Sunday and Monday at Kauffman Stadium, too. They’ve played cleaner baseball than their opponents to claim an NL pennant. They can’t let down now.
Ask the Giants how they slow down the go-go Royals and you’ll get two answers. The first one is laced with homespun humor.
“Oh the Royals?” Tim Hudson said. “Don’t let ‘em get on base. That’s easy.”
The second answer is the stuff that bench coach Ron Wotus prints out and stuffs in his clipboard: tag times, slide steps, secondary leads …
“You can pitch out and they can still beat you,” backup catcher Andrew Susac said. “You have to stay focused on it as a pitching staff, mixing holds and looks, slide stepping is going to be a key. But that’s how these guys get a lot of pitches, too. If you’re slide stepping and it causes your arm to drag, that’s when you could leave pitch over the plate.”
Right now, the Royals aren’t missing those pitches. They hit the fewest home runs of any AL team, but Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer have been extra-base threats all postseason.
The Giants didn’t need to watch the Royals steal, bunt and thump their way through an 8-0 postseason to know how dangerous they can be. The Royals swept a three-game interleague series from the Giants at Kauffman Stadium in August, winning by scores of 4-2, 5-0 and 7-4.
Susac started that last game behind the plate, when the Royals stole seven bases. The first five came with Tim Lincecum on the mound; Sergio Romo and Juan Gutierrez were victimized once each.
It’s not like Susac is a slouch behind the plate. He once threw out blinding fast Reds rookie Billy Hamilton twice in a Single-A California League game. That day in Kansas City, though, he had virtually no chance. And he could summarize his feelings with one word.
“Helpless,” Susac said. “Yeah, it was not a lot of fun. We didn’t do the best job holding them on, and it kind of hit us out of nowhere. I put a few good throws on and I know I couldn’t do much more. I don’t think I’ve ever had seven stolen bases in a month and they did it in a game.
“If anything it was a good eye opener for us. You’ve got to know what they’ll try and put it to a stop to it early, and that’s how we can kill that sense of confidence they have.”
Norichika Aoki and Jarrod Dyson each stole three bases that day. Alcides Escobar swiped one, too.
“It’s important to do a lot of things to disrupt that,” Posey said. “As a pitching staff we’ll have to vary our holds and our delivery times and it’s going to be important for me to be ready to make a good throw.”
In terms of World Series opponents, the Royals might be most similar to the 2002 Angels, and coincidentally, this is the first meeting of two wild card teams since they raised a trophy in Anaheim 12 years ago. This series promises to be just as turbocharged.
Other than managing the Royals’ aggressiveness on the bases, it would behoove the Giants to score early runs. The Royals have a better bullpen than any club the Giants have faced this postseason, and you don’t want to be in comeback mode against the three-headed monster of Wade Davis (1.00 ERA in 71 games), Kelvin Herrera (1.41 ERA in 70 games) and Greg Holland (1.44 ERA and 46 saves).
Herrera, Davis and Holland have combined for a 1.05 ERA this postseason while throwing 32 percent of the Royals’ innings.
This is their first World Series, though. It’ll be a test of their composure as well.