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World Series: How the Giants and Royals match upExternal Link

A position-by-position look at the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals going into the World Series, starting Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium:

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First Base:

Giants: Brandon Belt. After missing 96 games this year because of a broken thumb and concussion, Belt had the big hit that decided the longest postseason game in major league history. His 18th-inning homer sent San Francisco to a Game 2 win at Washington in the NL Division Series. He gives a good at-bat and provides some pop from the left side of the plate. Steady defense, too.

Royals: Eric Hosmer. Drafted third overall in 2008, Hosmer is talented but inconsistent so far. The 24-year-old cleanup hitter certainly has taken to October baseball, batting .448 in the playoffs with a crucial triple, eight RBIs and two homers, including an extra-inning shot against the Angels. A key piece of Kansas City's rebuilding project, Hosmer has developed into a vocal cheerleader. The life of the party - with a Gold Glove on his mantel.

Edge: Royals.

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Second Base:

Giants: Joe Panik. The 23-year-old rookie rescued San Francisco at second base this season in the absence of injured Marco Scutaro, a 2012 postseason star. Panik's strength is a short, compact swing that produces consistently solid contact. The line-drive hitter batted .305 with one home run this year, then went deep in the NLCS against St. Louis. When he's under pressure, it seems Panik never does.

Royals: Omar Infante. Signed to a $30.25 million, four-year contract before the season, Infante was brought in to be a veteran solution at a trouble spot for Kansas City. The 2010 All-Star can handle the bat, and his playoff experience is a plus. Infante went 5 for 15 (.333) in the World Series for the Tigers two years ago, when they were swept by San Francisco.

Edge: Even.

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Shortstop:

Giants: Brandon Crawford. A player on the rise, Crawford is blossoming into more than just a slick fielder. He had 10 triples this season and became the first shortstop in history to hit a postseason grand slam when he connected in the NL wild-card game at Pittsburgh.

Royals: Alcides Escobar. Acquired when the Royals traded ace Zack Greinke to Milwaukee in a fruitful deal, Escobar is wiry and athletic with excellent range at shortstop. His bat is coming around, too, enough to land him in the leadoff spot for a Royals team that loves to run. He was 31 for 37 on stolen bases.

Edge: Royals.

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Third Base:

Giants: Pablo Sandoval. The popular Kung Fu Panda, a switch-hitting cleanup man, is more dangerous from the left side of the plate. He's been at his best in October, reaching base safely in a team-record 23 straight postseason games while batting .375 with six homers and 14 RBIs during that span. He hit three homers in the 2012 World Series opener on the way to MVP honors. Another clutch performance could help him cash in as a free agent this fall.

Royals: Mike Moustakas. Drafted second overall in 2007, "Moose" has yet to live up to lofty expectations. But he and Hosmer form the Kansas City cornerstones at the corners of the diamond, and both have delivered in their first trip to the postseason. After a brief demotion to the minors this year, Moustakas rediscovered his power stroke with four playoff homers - two in extra innings. He also made two spectacular defensive plays in one ALCS game against Baltimore.

Edge: Giants.

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Catcher:

Giants: Buster Posey. Perhaps the closest thing to Derek Jeter the West Coast has to offer, Posey is chasing his third championship in five full seasons. Just about everything he does on the field comes right out of a textbook, and he's already won awards for NL Rookie of the Year (2010) and NL MVP (2012). The Royals' running game presents a challenge, though.

Royals: Salvador Perez. A two-time All-Star with a Gold Glove by age 24, Perez is already a respected backstop who adds thump to the lineup and keeps the clubhouse loose. He batted only .118 during the playoffs without an extra-base hit, but his 12th-inning single won an AL wild-card thriller against Oakland. One thing to watch: Perez is big for a catcher, and he keeps getting dinged in the head with backswings.

Edge: Giants.

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Left Field:

Giants: Travis Ishikawa. The most unlikely star of this postseason, Ishikawa sent the Giants to the World Series with the first home run to end an NLCS in Game 5 against St. Louis. He batted .385 with seven RBIs in the series after beginning the season as Pittsburgh's opening-day first baseman. A true journeyman, Ishikawa was a part-time role player on San Francisco's title team in 2010. Now he's back, carving out a spot in left field while Michael Morse was injured.

Royals: Alex Gordon. Drafted second overall in 2005 out of Nebraska, Gordon is probably the nearest Kansas City gets to having an MVP contender. The converted third baseman has three Gold Gloves, and his brilliant defense was on full display in the ALCS. A two-time All-Star, Gordon had a team-high nine RBIs in eight playoff games.

Edge: Royals.

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Center Field:

Giants: Gregor Blanco. Filling in for injured Angel Pagan, Blanco is a fine defender who has struggled offensively in the leadoff spot. Following a pretty solid season, he went 7 for 44 (.159) in the playoffs with one extra-base hit. He does have a sharp eye, though.

Royals: Lorenzo Cain. A smooth glider in the outfield, Cain batted .301 with 28 steals this season and is just beginning to tap into his prodigious talent. He made a string of sensational playoff catches and hit .533 with five runs during the ALCS to earn MVP honors. Not bad for a guy who didn't even know the rules or how to hold a bat when he first turned out for organized baseball as a sophomore in high school. Kansas City obtained him in the same trade that brought Escobar.

Edge: Royals.

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Right Field:

Giants: Hunter Pence. The durable Pence gets plenty of attention for his odd style and quirky ways, but don't forget how good a player he is. Pence signed a $90 million, five-year contract last offseason to stay with San Francisco and made his third All-Star team. A health nut and vocal leader for the tried-and-tested Giants, he has played in 383 consecutive games.

Royals: Nori Aoki. A pesky contact hitter, Aoki has a .353 on-base percentage in three major league seasons since arriving from Japan. He was acquired last December in a trade with Milwaukee and can become a free agent after the World Series. Not much power this season, but he can still run and play defense.

Edge: Giants.

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Designated Hitter:

Giants: Michael Morse. In his first season with San Francisco, Morse got off to a strong start before fading and finished with 16 homers and 61 RBIs. He has only six at-bats since Aug. 31 because of a strained oblique, but he tied the NLCS clincher with a pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning. He offers legitimate right-handed power and seems a good fit for DH in Kansas City.

Royals: Billy Butler. Another first-round draft pick (2004) and homegrown fan favorite, Butler is a right-handed bopper in the middle of the lineup who knows how to knock in runs. His power and slugging numbers were down this season, but the 2012 All-Star remains dangerous. Butler probably will be relegated to the bench under National League rules in San Francisco.

Edge: Royals.

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Starting Pitchers:

Giants: After riding their splendid rotation to championships in 2010 and 2012, the Giants return this time with a much different group. Madison Bumgarner is now the workhorse ace, supplanting injured Matt Cain and inconsistent Tim Lincecum. Bumgarner, an 18-game winner and the NLCS MVP, gets the ball on regular rest in Game 1 after going 2-1 with a 1.42 ERA in four playoff starts. He'll try to extend his postseason streak of 26 2-3 scoreless innings on the road, a major league record. The big left-hander has thrown 15 shutout innings in World Series play, winning both his starts while allowing a total of five hits. Hard to believe he's only 25. The other aging starters may not be asked to go as deep. Fired-up Jake Peavy, acquired in a late July trade, is back in the World Series after making it with Boston last year. Veteran newcomer Tim Hudson is set to pitch in his first Series at 39. Ryan Vogelsong is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA in six postseason outings, including a scoreless Series win in 2012. His only October blip came in the NLCS this year against St. Louis. The starters had a 2.40 ERA in 10 playoff games.

Royals: James Shields gave the staff an experienced No. 1 starter when he was obtained from Tampa Bay for several top prospects before the 2013 season. "Big Game James" will pitch the Series opener on 10 days' rest, hoping to improve his postseason numbers. The right-hander, who can become a free agent this fall, went 1-0 with a 5.63 ERA in three playoff starts and is 3-4 with a 5.19 mark in nine career postseason games. He's also the rare Royals player with World Series experience. Shields pitched 5 2-3 scoreless innings for the Rays in a 2008 win over Philadelphia. Hard-throwing rookie Yordano Ventura was 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA this season. He had a 4.85 ERA in three playoff outings, though one of them came in an unfamiliar relief role. Ventura left his ALCS start with shoulder tightness, but he's had plenty of time to rest. As expected, left-hander Jason Vargas was a steady presence after the Royals signed the free agent to a $32 million, four-year contract last offseason. Veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie has pitched only once all month, but he threw five effective innings in the ALCS.

Edge: Giants, barely, thanks to Bumgarner.

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Bullpen:

Giants: Many faces are the same from San Francisco's two title runs this decade, but a couple of key roles have changed. Santiago Casilla was promoted from setup man to closer during the season when Sergio Romo struggled. Romo is now setting up Casilla, on a dominant roll dating to September. Casilla has four postseason saves and hasn't permitted a run in 6 2-3 innings. Romo is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA in seven games. Experienced southpaws Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez are very tough on lefties. Affeldt has made 18 consecutive scoreless appearances in the postseason, Casilla 17 and Lopez 15. Fireballing rookie Hunter Strickland has been prone to the home run ball. Lincecum, an October relief weapon two years ago, was bumped to the bullpen again this year but has not pitched in the postseason. Yusmeiro Petit provided a huge boost in long relief during the playoffs, going 2-0 with 11 strikeouts in nine shutout innings of two-hit ball.

Royals: The nasty 1-2-3 punch of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and All-Star closer Greg Holland (46/48 saves) in the final three innings gave Kansas City a winning formula all season. The playoffs were no different. Holland has six saves and a 1.13 ERA in eight postseason games. Davis is 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA, and Herrera has a 1.08 mark in seven appearances. All three have struck out 10. Jason Frasor also is effective and 21-year-old lefty Brandon Finnegan, who pitched for TCU in the College World Series in June, has showed poise out of the `pen. Danny Duffy, normally a starter, is ready in long relief if needed.

Edge: Royals, barely.

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Bench:

Giants: A relatively inexperienced group that includes Juan Perez, Matt Duffy and catcher Andrew Susac. Veteran infielder Joaquin Arias is still around, and Morse or Ishikawa would provide a power threat back home in San Francisco. There's some speed here, but it would still be a stretch to call this unit a strength.

Royals: Speedy reserve Jarrod Dyson stole 36 bases this season and often subs in center field, shifting Cain to right. Dyson made a big throw in the AL Division Series against the Angels and had a huge steal in the wild-card game against Oakland. Watch out for him swiping third when he gets the chance. Lightning-fast track star Terrance Gore comes on as a pinch runner when the Royals play for one. Josh Willingham and Butler (in San Francisco) can supply right-handed power to counter those lefties in the Giants' bullpen.

Edge: Royals.

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Manager:

Giants: Bruce Bochy. Seeking his third World Series ring in five years, the unassuming Bochy is building a Hall of Fame resume. His masterful use of the bullpen has been a consistent theme throughout San Francisco's run of 15 wins in its last 17 postseason games. Nobody has a better feel for his team.

Royals: Ned Yost. Once fired by Milwaukee in the middle of a September playoff race, Yost guided Kansas City to its first postseason berth in 29 years and the franchise's third pennant overall. Must be pretty satisfying. Some of his puzzling moves have left Royals fans up in arms, but Yost pushed the right buttons against Baltimore in the ALCS and now he's the toast of the town. We'll see if it stays that way.

Edge: Giants.

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Pick: Giants in 6.


MSNBC.com | Tue, 21 Oct 2014 02:08:00 +0000
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AP sources: Rice's appeal hearing set for Nov. 5-6External Link

A hearing on Ray Rice's appeal of his indefinite suspension will be held Nov. 5 and 6, two people familiar with the situation said Tuesday.

The people spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details of the hearing have not been made public.

Rice was suspended indefinitely Sept. 8 for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy after a video of Rice hitting his then-fiancee in an elevator was released publicly. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell originally had suspended Rice for two games.

Once the video became public, the Baltimore Ravens cut the star running back, and the league banned him indefinitely. The league considered the video to be new evidence, giving Goodell the authority to further suspend Rice.

The players' union is appealing Rice's suspension, saying Rice should not be punished twice.

A neutral arbiter is expected to decide whether Goodell should testify. The arbiter had not yet made that decision as of Tuesday afternoon, the sources who informed the AP of the hearing said.

The arbiter, former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones, was jointly picked by the commissioner and the players' union. Union officials said when the appeal was announced that Goodell and his staff's testimony are key to the appeal and a central reason to have an outside arbiter.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Rob Maaddi can be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ap-robmaaddi


MSNBC.com | Tue, 21 Oct 2014 20:30:00 +0000
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Thunder star Durant won't rush return from injuryExternal Link

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder forward Kevin Durant is having a tough time getting used to the fact that he will miss the early part of the season with a bone fracture in his right foot.

"I've been antsy since I got out of surgery," he said Tuesday. "Seen that Chicago-Cleveland game last night, and I wanted to get out there and play. As a competitor, I love to play basketball - that's all I've been doing. Injuries have never had me out this long, but it's part of the game."

The reigning MVP spoke to the media Tuesday morning for the first time since the injury. He had surgery on Oct. 16 and will be re-evaluated in about five weeks, or late November. He rolled into the media session on a scooter with the lower half of his right leg in a cast.

Durant said he's never had surgery, so he doesn't know how he will respond to it. He says he won't rush his return.

"Blessed that it happened early in the season so I can get past it, and hopefully, by December, I'll be ready to play," he said.

Durant, who has played more minutes than anyone since entering the league in 2007, is finding other ways to contribute to the team.

"Just help out as much as possible, lead from where I am, which is the sideline," he said. "I feel like a coach, feel like (Alabama football coach) Nick Saban, rolling around on my scooter from court to court giving advice and trying to help out as much as I can. It's a different position for me, but I'm looking forward to growing mentally watching the game and learning from my teammates, trying to help them as much as I can."

He said the situation presents an opportunity for his teammates to grow, and he feels that the team will be better off in the long run as a result.

"It's going to give guys opportunities to play, build confidence, build their chemistry as a team," he said. "So I'm looking at the positive side of it. It's a win-win, basically, because I'm learning a lot while I'm out about the game, and my teammates are getting a lot of opportunities because it's a lot of minutes out there to play and help contribute to the team."

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP


MSNBC.com | Tue, 21 Oct 2014 20:13:00 +0000
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Broncos are still No. 1 in AP Pro32 rankingsExternal Link

NEW YORK (AP) It's almost unanimous: The Denver Broncos are still the top team in the NFL.

Denver received 11 first-place votes Tuesday for the AP Pro32 power rankings, which are decided by a 12-member media panel that regularly covers the league.

The Broncos (5-1) are coming off a 42-17 rout of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. Peyton Manning had 318 yards passing and four touchdowns, breaking Brett Favre's record for career TD passes.

"Would anyone be shocked if Peyton Manning threw 600 TD passes before he's finished?" asked Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune.

Manning and the Broncos host the AFC West rival San Diego Chargers on Thursday night.

Dallas (6-1) got the other first-place vote. The Cowboys topped the New York Giants 31-21 for their sixth consecutive victory. They are off to their best start since winning six of the first seven in 2007, when they went 13-3 and were the top seed in the NFC.

"Starting to look like the `93 Cowboys," NBC Sports' Tony Dungy said.

ESPN's Herm Edwards agreed.

"Another impressive win for the Cowboys," he said. "They keep rolling."

The Philadelphia Eagles moved up a spot to No. 3, followed by the Indianapolis Colts and the Arizona Cardinals.

"Another reminder that the Colts are not just as good as Andrew Luck," The Monday Morning Quarterback's Jenny Vrentas said of the Colts' 27-0 shutout of the skidding Cincinnati Bengals.

"Their defense is playing very well."

The Eagles will travel to Glendale, Arizona, to face the Cardinals on Sunday. The Cardinals are 5-1 for the first time in 38 years and are alone atop the NFC West, with a two-game cushion in the loss column over San Francisco and Seattle.

"Is anyone doing a better job coaching a football team than Bruce Arians?" asked Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News.

"His Cardinals are the surprising leader of the NFC West."

After playing the Eagles, the Cardinals face the Cowboys on the road.

"Back-to-back games against Philadelphia and Dallas will prove whether the Cardinals are for real," Foxsports.com's Alex Marvez said.

The Green Bay Packers moved up from No. 9 to 6 after routing the Carolina Panthers 38-17.

"(Aaron) Rodgers bidding for MVP award," Fox Sports' John Czarnecki said.

The Chargers, who fell from No. 2 after a 23-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the New England Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens and the Detroit Lions round out the top 10.

"Fourth-quarter heroics from Matthew Stafford lead Detroit to a comeback win over the Saints and a share of first place in the NFC North," Newsday's Bob Glauber said.

The Ravens have won five of six and lead the AFC North.

"The Ravens are suddenly atop the AFC North," Vrentas said. "The next two weeks (at Bengals, at Steelers) hold a lot of weight for this division race."

The 49ers dropped from No. 6 to 11 after the rout in Denver, and the Seahawks went from No. 5 to 12 after their surprising loss to the St. Louis Rams.

"This doesn't look much like the team that won 16 times a year ago on the way to its first Lombardi Trophy," Gosselin said.

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AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL


MSNBC.com | Tue, 21 Oct 2014 23:09:00 +0000
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Kings GM: NHL should educate after Voynov's arrestExternal Link

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi firmly supports the NHL's indefinite suspension of Slava Voynov, the quiet Russian defenseman arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.

Lombardi also believes the NHL must supplement its swift discipline with an improved plan to provide hockey players with better preparation for many aspects of life outside the rink.

"We need to do a better job," Lombardi said. "That's just the truth. I don't care if it's indicting ourselves or not."

The defending Stanley Cup champions uniformly backed the NHL's suspension of Voynov when they returned to practice at their training complex Tuesday.

Voynov hasn't been charged with a crime since his arrest early Monday morning, but Kings coach Darryl Sutter said the suspension was "very appropriate."

"We're pretty close as a team," Sutter added. "It's not just (a) team. It's more of a family thing. We deal with distractions all the time. We've been able to handle a lot of adversity and pressure for three years now."

Voynov's teammates spoke carefully about his absence, uniformly expressing surprise at the circumstances. The Kings still don't know the details of what happened between Voynov and the woman who was treated for injuries in the Torrance hospital where he was arrested.

Sutter went to Voynov's house in Redondo Beach after his arrest, but the Kings' contact with Voynov has been limited because he turned off his phone.

"Some of us have reached out to him, but we just hope everything is going to work out for the both of them," center Jarret Stoll said. "We're still a strong group. We're still a hockey team. We're still going to win games. Our goal has never changed. Our attitude in this room has never changed. It's adversity for us, but we're going to come through it."

The events are a shock for the Kings, who have won two of the last three Stanley Cup titles with an extraordinarily close-knit roster. Nearly every player lives a few miles apart in the South Bay beach cities, and Lombardi has kept the Kings' core largely intact for several years.

Lombardi assembled his roster with particular attention to team chemistry, but he believes Voynov's arrest should be a call for more player education on domestic violence and other off-ice concerns.

Before Voynov's arrest, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman expressed confidence in the league's education and counseling services already in place. Lombardi said he first thought about doing more for the Kings last year, and he kicks himself for ignoring his instinct.

"We have a bigger responsibility now," Lombardi said. "Just like we expect them to train, and we provide access to training physically, we provide meals so they eat properly, well, you know what? We've got a responsibility here now to train them in other areas, and I don't just mean having a guy come in and give a speech once a year. This is as much our organization's responsibility as anything. We have an obligation here, too. We have to do a better job in some of these areas."

Lombardi supports the NHL's decision to act aggressively before any charges, acknowledging the effect of the NFL's disastrous handling of the Ray Rice case and others.

"Now you have public awareness that would have never been there," Lombardi said. "I come from a lower, blue-collar neighborhood, a factory town, and we've seen this crap, and it's bad, and it happens a lot more often than we want to (acknowledge). But it's never going to come to the fore when a rat hits his wife. ... It can become a good thing overall, that now there's awareness. We've had issues in the past where sports teams swept it under the rug."

Lombardi and the Kings say they never had reason to suspect bad behavior from Voynov, a second-round draft pick in 2008 from Chelyabinsk, a large city in Siberia. Lombardi felt Voynov repeatedly demonstrated strong character and commitment to the club, starting from his U.S. arrival as a teenager.

Despite speaking little English, Voynov agreed to play for the Kings' AHL affiliate instead of staying in Russia's top league, where he would have made more money. He also stuck with the Kings when his father became ill back home, ignoring Russian teams' offers to take care of his family if he returned.

After cracking the Kings' lineup in 2011, Voynov established himself as a top-level defenseman, earning a $25 million contract extension and playing in the Sochi Olympics.

Voynov isn't likely to be charged for at least several days, and the Kings have no idea whether he will be suspended for weeks or months. The league's collective bargaining agreement doesn't spell out specific suspensions for specific charges, Lombardi said.

The Kings (4-1-1) have won four straight games heading into their visit from Buffalo on Thursday. Voynov's absence leaves them with just five healthy defensemen, but Jake Muzzin intends to return from injury.

"We have a group that has been through a lot," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "Maybe not like this, but we need to lean on past experiences and trust each other that we can refocus."


MSNBC.com | Tue, 21 Oct 2014 23:37:00 +0000
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