By Mike Lalor, Contributing Writer
The New York Mets (NL) and Kansas City Royals (AL) will open up the 111th World Series tonight at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.
How they got here – and postseason history:
New York Mets (NL). The Mets won the National League East in 2015, with a 90-72 mark. With a young pitching staff led by RHP Jacob DeGrom (’14 NL Rookie Of The Year) and RHP Matt Harvey, the Mets jumped out to a 13-3 start and an early lead on the heavily-favored Washington Nationals. As the optimism of the spring turned into summer, the Mets struggled to generate offense and seemed to be teetering on falling out of the race in the NL East and for an NL Wild Card. In a three month span — from Friday, April 24th (a 6-1 loss to the Yankees in the Bronx), until Friday, July 24th (a 7-2 loss to the Dodgers at Citi Field), the Mets were 36-45. A frustrated fan base clamored for Mets ownership and GM Sandy Alderson to make a move for offense, and reinforce their superbly talented rotation; the rotation had by then added RHP Noah Syndergaard and witnessed the debut of Long Island’s own, LHP Steven Matz.
Prior to the game against the Dodgers on July 24th, GM Sandy Alderson called up OF Michael Conforto from AAA Las Vegas. The previous evening, Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw had pitched a CG three-hit shutout against New York, striking out 11 batters; he was perfect through the first six innings. That night, the Mets 3-4-5 hitters were: Wilmer Flores (SS), John Mayberry, Jr. (LF), and Eric Campbell (3B). Later that evening, the Mets acquired INF/OF Kelly Johnson and 3B Jose Uribe from the Atlanta Braves. On the night of Wednesday, July 29th, the Mets’ potential deal to acquire Milwaukee Brewers’ OF Carlos Gomez for Mets SS Wilmer Flores and RHP Zack Wheeler famously fell through – the Mets did not like the medical reports of Gomez’s balky hip, while Wilmer Flores expressed his emotion on the field of the impending deal that never was. The next day, the Mets lost a brutal, rain interrupted 6 hour and 12 minute game to the San Diego Padres, 8-7…a game they had led 7-1, won by a 3-run HR by OF Justin Upton (a potential Mets trade target) off closer Jeurys Familia. On Friday, 31 July – the non-waiver MLB trade deadline — it all completely turned around. The Mets acquired OF Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers, for two minor league pitchers. That night, trailing in the NL East by 3 games, the Mets defeated the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on a 12th inning walk-off HR by SS Wilmer Flores off LHP Felipe Rivero. The Mets swept the Nationals that weekend, and moved into a tie atop the East. The next night, after a 12-1 win against the Marlins in Miami, the Mets moved into sole possession of 1st place for the first time since May 18th.
After that, it was all academic. Cespedes hit .309 with 17 HRs, 42 RBI, and .609 slugging percentage. C Travis D’Arnaud and 3B David Wright returned in August and rounded out the NL’s most potent offense (in the 2nd half), and the Mets clinched the division with a 10-2 win in Cincinnati on Saturday, September 26th.
In the playoffs: The Mets vanquished the NL West-champion Dodgers in the NLDS, winning Game 5 in Los Angeles, 3-2 behind RHP Jacob DeGrom and 2B Daniel Murphy; Murphy scored the tying-run in the 4th with his heads up steal of 3rd (after a walk to Lucas Duda), and a sacrifice fly from Travis D’Arnaud. Murphy then hit a game-winning HR in the 6th off RHP Zack Greinke.
The Mets won their 5th National League pennant last Wednesday night, sweeping the Chicago Cubs 4-0 in the NLCS and clinching a trip to the Fall Classic. NLCS MVP 2B Daniel Murphy continued his unconscious, Ruthian-like power hitting, slamming HRs in all 4 games of the series; he set a new MLB post-season record with HRs in 6 straight games. But, even with the outstanding hitting of Murphy, C Travis D’Arnaud, OF Curtis Granderson and 1B Lucas Duda – the story of this series was the Mets’ pitching. Game after game, the Mets start a top-flight, #1 type starter, and to this point, no team has proved capable of countering New York’s arms. After the Mets defeated Jon Lester (Game 1) and 2015’s likely NL Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta (Game 2), the Cubs were on borrowed time. Kyle Hendricks (Game 3) and Jason Hammel (Game 4) provided no resistance to a Mets’ team that received contributions throughout the lineup and ran the bases with abandon all series long.
Mets World Series history (2-2): 1969: defeated Baltimore (AL), 4-1; 1973: lost to Oakland (AL), 4-3; 1986: defeated Boston (AL), 4-3; 2000: lost to New York (AL), 4-1.
Kansas City Royals (AL). The Royals won the American League Central by twelve games, with a 95-67 record. Coming off their tremendous run in ’14, which ended with a Game 7 World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants and LHP Madison Bumgarner – and with LF Alex Gordon on third base – few baseball experts and fans outside Kansas City picked the Royals to return to the Fall Classic. The Royals started out fast with an 11-3 mark through April 21st; from there, KC played 20-20 ball over a six-week stretch and were 31-23 on Monday, June 8th – one game behind the surprising Minnesota Twins. The Twins arrived in Kansas City for a three-game starting that Monday night; the Royals swept all three, and were never headed again. On July 26th, GM Dayton Moore traded three young pitchers – including LHP Brandon Finnegan – to the Cincinnati Reds for free-agent-to-be, RHP Johnny Cueto. With the ace starter they lacked now in place, KC surged out to a 14.5 game lead by August 19th, and spent 143 total days in 1st place. With a big lead and little left to play for, the Royals were 9-16 from September 4-29, and in danger of losing home field advantage in the AL playoffs to surging Toronto. The Royals steadied themselves, won their last five games of the season, and clinched home field on the last day of the regular season with a 6-1 win at Minnesota, while Toronto was blasted in Tampa – this would prove significant.
In the playoffs: In the ALDS, the Royals were locked into a tough battle with the AL Wild Card winners, the Houston Astros. A young, athletic group much like Kansas City, Houston moved out to a 2-1 series lead, and had the defending AL Champions six outs from elimination with a 6-2 lead heading into the 8th inning of Game 4 at Minute Maid Park. Channeling their 4-run 8th inning rally against Oakland in the ’14 AL Wild Card game a year prior, the Royals dug in and scored 5 runs against the Astros, reversing all previous Houston momentum, taking a 7-6 lead. 1B Eric Hosmer had a clutch RBI single in the rally, and later scored the go-ahead run. He clinched the victory with a 2-run HR in the 9th, to complete the stunning turnaround and move the series back to the “K”. The Royals closed out Houston in Game 5 with a 7-2 win behind struggling Johnny Cueto, capped by a 3-run HR by DH Kendrys Morales off ace Houston LHP Dallas Keuchel, who was on in relief.
In the ALCS, the Royals – now with home field advantage after their late season push – defeated the AL East champion Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2. Led by ALCS MVP, SS Alcides Escobar (.483, 11-23 with 5 RBIs) and their power bullpen, the Royals jumped out to a 3-1 series advantage. Last Friday night, the Royals clinched the pennant with some late game drama. With a 3-1 lead in the 8th, RHP Ryan Madson gave up a game-tying HR to Blue Jays’ OF Jose Bautista (his second of the night). A 45-minute rain delay followed and set the stage for a furious finish. Blue Jay closer RHP Roberto Osuna entered after the rain delay and promptly allowed OF Lorenzo Cain to reach on a walk. 1B Eric Hosmer hit a deep single down the RF line that enabled a furiously charging Cain to score all the way from first; Royals up 4-3. In the Blue Jays’ 9th, Royal closer RHP Wade Davis – who had pitched in the 8th before the rain delay – allowed a single, a walk, and three steals to set up a second and third situation with no one out. He struck out the next two Jays, and induced likely AL MVP, 3B Josh Donaldson, to ground out to third to end the game…and win KC’s 4th pennant.
Royals World Series history (1-2): 1980: lost Philadelphia (NL), 4-2; 1985: defeated St. Louis (NL), 4-3; 2014: lost San Francisco (NL), 4-3.
The Lineups. The Royals are a deep, athletic – and now, experienced – team. They are offensively balanced, run the bases exceedingly well and play outstanding defense. They are built to win in beautiful, but spacious Kauffman Stadium. The outfield of LF Alex Gordon – CF Lorenzo Cain – RF Alex Rios chases baseballs down as good as any in baseball, and all have outstanding throwing arms. Cain hit .307 with 16 HRs, 82 RBIs, and 28 SBs, building on his breakout postseason of ’14, where he seized ALCS MVP honors. 1B Eric Hosmer (.297, 18 HRs, 93 RBIs) and 3B Mike Moustakas (.284, 22 HRs, 82 RBIs) provide gap hitting, timely power, and solid defense on the corners; Moustakas had a career year. 2B Ben Zobrist came over from the A’s in a trade prior to the deadline, and his hitting .326 in the postseason; he is a versatile hitter and defender. DH Kendrys Morales signed with the Royals as a free agent after the ’14 season, and batted .290 with 22 HRs, 106 RBIs. C Salvador Perez (age 25) is the day-in-day out leader of this squad — its heart and soul; he batted .260, 21 HRs, 70 RBIs in ‘15. Although nicked up in these playoffs, the three time All-Star is durable — playing in 142 games this year (after 150 in ’14) – and driven, still bothered by making the last out of the ’14 World Series (a pop to 3rd) with teammate Alex Gordon, ninety feet away at third base.
For the Mets, the discussion on offense in the ’15 playoffs started with 2B Daniel Murphy. The free-agent-to-be, who has two different season of 6 HRs in his eight-year career, now has 6 HRs – in 6 straight games – in this postseason alone. Murphy hit .529 with 4 HRs and 6 RBIs in the NLCS; he hit .281 with 14 HRs, 73 RBIs in the regular season. C Travis D’Arnaud hit .267 in the NLCS with 2 HRs, including a monster-shot off the “Apple” in Citi Field in Game 1; in an injury-truncated 67 games this season, D’Arnaud hit .268 with 12 HRs, 41 RBIs. RF Curtis Granderson was a catalyst in the NLDS vs. Los Angeles; he cooled off against the Cubs, but was the catalyst of a potent second half attack, finishing the regular year at .259, 26 HRs, 70 RBIs, primarily out of the leadoff spot. 1B Lucas Duda came alive in the last two games of the NLDS; he has been streaky all season, but did hit .244, 27 HRs, 73 RBIs and carried the team for a stretch in early August. CF Yoenis Cespedes hit .290, 35 HRs, 105 RBIs between the Tigers and Mets, and received a cortisone shot in his left shoulder after the NLCS; expect him to be ready to go for the World Series. The Mets’ Captain, 3B David Wright only played 38 games with an injury to his back in ’15, hitting .289, 5 HRs, 17 RBIs – his bat started to come to life in the NLCS with a key double to start Game 2, hitting .286 against the Cubs.
Analysis: One of the big themes in this series will be matchup of Kansas City’s contact-hitting lineup against the Mets power pitchers. In 2015, Kansas City struck out the fewest times in MLB, 973 (for context, Atlanta was 2nd, and well over 1100). The Royals 104 SBs ranked 2nd in the AL, although they have not stolen bases in these playoffs like they did in ’14. And, Royal hitters had MLB’s highest average (.284) against pitches throw 95 mph or faster. The Mets pitchers have averaged 94.4 mph in this postseason, and have thrown 297 of 518 fastballs (57.3 %) at 95 mph, or better. This should be exciting to watch.
With home field advantage (remember that the AL won this year’s All-Star game in Cincinnati), the Royals could play up to 4 games with the DH, in their home park – which will get Kendrys Morales in the lineup. The Mets and Manager Terry Collins have options here though, and can use INF/OF Kelly Johnson or 1B/OF Michael Cuddyer in that role. Collins could also DH Michael Conforto and opt for defense in the Kauffman Stadium OF, with Juan Lagares in CF, Cespedes in LF, and Granderson in RF. Mets hitters slugged 177 HRs in the regular season, 3rd in the NL; but after the acquisition of Cespedes they hit 102 – well ahead of every other NL squad. Kauffman Stadium and Citi Field are both fair parks to hit in, and are normally assessed as pitcher-friendly. Right handed hitters – like Cespedes, D’Arnaud – could be slightly affected by the negative effect that the “K” can have on right-handed power. Maybe. But, the park plays well for double and triples, and the Mets led the NL with doubles in ’15. So, the Kauffman effect is likely a wash. What is occasionally noticeable at the “K” – the effect of weather. Depending on fronts, winds will periodically blow out of the south in KC, making the park much more homer friendly to left….there may be some rain in the forecast during the first two games in KC, stay tuned.
Edge: slightly to the Royals, based on the more balanced lineup, their team speed – not just SBs, but running 1st to 3rd, the presence of Morales, and the streakiness of the Mets hitters.
Here are the likely matchups, with regular season W-L totals. All games are televised on FOX. Joe Buck will handle the play-by-play, supported by SI writer Tom Verducci, and former MLB 2B/current MLB analyst Harold Reynolds. Erin Andrews and Ken Rosenthal will cover the teams on the field:
Tue, 27 Oct (8:07pm) at Kansas City – Matt Harvey, NY (13-8) vs. Edison Volquez, KC (13-9)
Wed, 28 Oct (8:07pm) at Kansas City – Jacob DeGrom, NY (14-8) vs. Johnny Cueto, KC (11-13)
Fri, 30 Oct (8:07pm) at New York – Yordano Ventura, KC (13-8) vs. Noah Syndergaard, NY (9-7)
Sat, 31 Oct (8:07pm) at New York – Chris Young, KC (11-6) vs. Steven Matz, NY (4-0)
Sun, 1 Nov (8:15pm) at New York – Edison Volquez, KC vs. Matt Harvey, NY, if necessary*
Tue, 3 Nov (8:07pm) at Kansas City – Jacob DeGrom, NY vs. Johnny Cueto, KC, if necessary*
Wed, 4 Nov (8:07pm) at Kansas City – Noah Syndergaard, NY vs. Yordano Ventura, KC, if necessary*
The Mets’ starters have struck out 69 hitters in 54 1/3 innings, 11.4 K/9 innings – they have struck out 30.8% of the batters that have faced. Again, in context, the MLB average this season was around 19%, so the Mets’ power pitching is just stellar. Jacob DeGrom is 3-0 in the playoffs with a 1.80 ERA; he has pitched 20 innings, allowed 15 hits, walked 5 and K’d 27 batters. Matt Harvey is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA; he has thrown 12.2 innings, allowed 11 hits, and struck out 16. Noah Syndergaard is 1-1, with a 2.77 ERA; he has hurled 13 innings, allowed 8 hits, and K’d 20. Steven Matz is 0-1, with a 3.72 ERA; he has thrown 9.2 innings, allowing 10 hits, and striking out 8. For long-time Mets fans, this may be this generation’s Seaver-Koosman-Gentry-Ryan (and later Matlack), or for MLB fans at large…a 90’s Braves comparison, Glavine-Smoltz-Maddux-Avery. Only time will tell. What we do know is that the young Mets pitchers are realizing their potential in front of our eyes, and are four wins away from carrying the Mets to a World Championship. They are well-rested again, with six days between the NLCS and start of the World Series. The Mets have managed their innings well, and although they are all in unchartered territory (on the high end) for innings in a season professionally, they should be ready to go again against KC.
On the Royals side, Edison Volquez has been hot and cold this postseason. He was tremendous in Game 1 against Toronto in the ALCS, not as good in Game 5 or in Game 3 of the ALDS. The Royals are 1-2 in his three October starts; he has a 4.32 ERA and has 15K and 12 walks in 16 2/3 innings. Volquez has had a fine season, and his velocity has noticeable ticked up in the postseason; normally topping out about 94-95mph, he has reached 97-98 mph in the postseason. Johnny Cueto has been enigmatic during his time with the Royals. Questions about the health of his arm, or his ability to handle pressure continue to surround him. Toronto’s raucous Rogers Centre crowd was able to unnerve him with “Cue-to” chants in Game 3 of the ALCS, much like the Pirates’ crowd at PNC Park got to him during the ’13 NL Wild Card game, when he was with Cincinnati. Cueto is 1-1 in the ’15 postseason with a 7.88 ERA; he has pitched 16 innings, allowing 15 hits and 14 earned runs. Cueto was tremendous in the Game 5 of the ALDS in closing out Houston, and horrible in both other starts. Manager Ned Yost elected to slot him in Game 2 (and potentially, in Game 6); both will be in KC and away from the Mets’ Citi Field faithful. Yordano Ventura has logged important innings in the ’14 and ’15 postseasons; he is 0-1 in ’15, allowing 20 hits in 17 innings, and 10 earned runs for a 5.09 ERA; he has struck out 20 and walked 8. Chris Young, the former Padre-Mariner-Met, pitched well in relief during the ALDS, and was effective in 4+ innings in a Game 4 ALCS start in Toronto; he did not get the win, but KC won 14-2.
Advantage: clearly to the Mets.
Bullpens / Bench / Managers / Intangibles.
The Royals power bullpen of Luke Hochevar-Kelvin Herrera-Ryan Madson-Wade Davis is one of team’s best assets. LHPs Danny Duffy (normally a starter) and Franklin Morales will work against Granderson, Murphy, and Duda in key spots. Madson does have a propensity to allow the occasional late game long ball, much like he did to Jose Bautista in Game 6 of the ALCS. RHP Kris Medlen will work as the long man.
For the Mets, closer Jeurys Familia has been tremendous in the ’15 postseason, garnering 5 SVs in 9.2 innings – and allowing 0 runs. Terry Collins’ setup men – RHPs Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed – have only pitched 8 innings in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and have been relatively effective. Collins’ lefties – LHPs Jonathan Niese (also normally a starter) and Sean Gilmartin – will be tested more in the World Series, to combat Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon. The ageless right-hander Bartolo Colon (actually, 42) can pitch at any time, and has already thrown 5.2 effective postseason innings.
Bullpen: edge, slightly to the Royals.
Off the bench, the Royals have OFs Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando, who can both run and defend. Prior to the series, there was speculation that Manager Ned Yost may add veteran OF Jonny Gomes to the KC World Series roster to provide another bat for pinch-hitting situations at Citi Field. Morales will also be used in a pinch-hit role at Citi Field. Drew Butera is the backup catcher to Salvador Perez.
For the Mets, Juan Lagares provides depth in the OF, and options for Terry Collins in configuring his OF depending on matchups. Michael Cuddyer could DH, and will definitely be used in a pinch-hit role; battling an injured knee most of the season, he can play 1B, but displayed a lack of mobility in LF during the NLDS. Kirk Nieuwenhuis also provides OF depth. Matt Reynolds is the extra INF; he replaced Ruben Tejada on the NLCS roster after Game 2. Kevin Plawecki backs up C Travis D’Arnaud.
Bench: edge, to the Mets based on their bats.
Royals Manager Ned Yost has now won two straight pennants as the skipper in KC, and runs a very cohesive team. At 61, he has piloted the Royals since early 2010, providing continuity and leadership of a team that has now realized its potential. He appears relaxed and comfortable in the postseason setting, enjoying the ride. Yost does occasionally make some head-scratching decisions with his bullpen, as he did in Game 6 of the ALCS, when he left Madson in to face Bautista, resulting in a HR…and stayed with Wade Davis after a 45 minute rain delay.
New York Manager Terry Collins has now reached his first World Series, after an 11-year career and 1,688 games with the Astros-Angels-Mets. At 66 years old, Collins has capitalized on the mid-season trade acquisitions, leveraging the Mets re-energized offense and dominant young starting pitching into a memorable season. Collins has been able to maneuver the Mets through the first two rounds without seriously exposing the team’s top weakness – the bullpen bridge from the Mets’ starters to his closer, Familia. Collins, with the help of the Mets’ scouts and his coaching staff, smartly employed the running game against the Cubs to a distinct tactical advantage.
This should be a tremendous World Series. Both teams are a good advertisement for drafting, player development, and patience. With middle of the road payrolls – both are in the neighborhood of $115M – both GMs, Dayton Moore and Sandy Alderson – smartly used their strong farms systems at mid-season to make trades, and/or fill needs (Zobrist/Cueto – KC; Cespedes/Johnson/Uribe/ Conforto – NY).
The layoff will not be excuse for these teams. By Game 1, the Mets will have had 6 days off since the NLCS ended; the Royals, 4 since the ALCS ended. Both squads needed it, and whether this cools off the Mets power pitching, or the scalding Daniel Murphy remains to be seen. But, these teams have used it smartly, and it almost serves as a second All-Star break (4 games).
The Royals last won the World Series on October 27, 1985. The Mets last won the World Series on October 27, 1986. Both fan bases have waited a while, and the venues for both teams are loud and passionate. If you have time during the Series to listen on radio, enjoy the play-by play for both teams. Hall of Famer Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre are as a good as it gets on the Royals Radio Network, while Howie Rose and Josh Lewin are a great listen on the Mets Radio Network. Enjoy the Fall Classic.
Prediction: the Mets in 6. This is a hard call, but the Mets young pitching will be hard to overcome for the Royals. It will place a lot of pressure on Volquez-Cueto-Ventura to match “zeroes”, while the Mets offense will continue to get clutch hits. The Mets gain a split in KC, take 2 of 3 in NY, and win their 3rd World Championship next Tuesday night in KC.