By Jesse Grossman
In 2012, the New York Mets finished with 74 wins and the Kansas City Royals ended their season with 72. On Tuesday night, those two teams will meet in game one of the World Series. Bolstered by homegrown players and deadline acquisitions, the two meet for one of the more intriguing World Series matchups in recent history.
The Royals, proving their miracle run of 2014 – from wild card to losing in game 7 of last year’s World Series – came busting out of the gate this season finishing with 95 wins, the most in the AL. They are led by a young core of complete hitters and at the forefront is their number three hitter (and MVP candidate) Lorenzo Cain. Cain hit .307 with 16 home runs and 72 RBIs in 2015; however, the fifth-year player is one of the true five tool players in the MLB. He stole 28 bases on 34 tries for an 82.3% success rate and was a Gold-Glover in 2014. Cain is something the Mets have not seen in these playoffs. He can affect the game in so many ways and showcased it all in the Royals clinching game in ALCS by scoring the game-winning run all the way from first on a single. Accompanying Cain is a mix of extremely solid, clutch hitters. No one on this team hit for more than 22 home runs, but no one had a batting average below .255. Simply put, there is not an easy out in the lineup and there have been contributions from top to bottom.Embed from Getty Images
The Royals lineup also features three left-handed hitters and two switch-hitters. Those ambidextrous swingers, Kendrys Morales and Ben Zobrist, were two of the three vital acquisitions that made this team a World Series favorite. Morales, a Cuban first baseman/designated hitter was once the cleanup hitter on a dominant Angels lineup but a torn ACL and a few years marred by injury left him in the twilight of his career. After long-time Royal DH Billy Butler jumped ship to Oakland last offseason, Royals’General Manager Dayton Moore decided to take a chance on Morales who had just finished up a mediocre season with the Mariners. The 32-year old responded by leading the team in home runs and RBIs and came in second in batting average. Zobrist, on the other hand, was a deadline acquisition from Oakland, a utility player who fit the bill to replace Omar Infante when he went down with an oblique injury. Zobrist had spent many years in the Rays organization helping them reach a World Series many moons ago in 2007. Zobrist’s calm demeanor and versatility as a hitter is where he dominates. He possesses power to all fields and can hit both right-handed and left-handed pitching.
However, the Royals hitters have not faced a starting rotation as dominant as the Mets, but has anyone? Whereas most teams have one or two dominant pitchers, New York has three – Jacob DeGrom, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard – along with young gun Steven Matz and the best closer in baseball, Jeurys Familia. The Mets lead all playoff teams with a 2.81 ERA and a starter has only allowed more than three runs just once, a game the Mets won 13-7. The marquee pitchers of the Mets all feature fastballs that light up radar guns, but their success has been reliant on the dominance of their secondary pitches. DeGrom’s changeup, Syndergaard’s slider, and Harvey and Matz’s curveballs are all key elements of the series. If the Mets’ starters can establish these pitches early in games, Kansas City will need to grab their fishing poles because the Mets have more swinging strikeouts than any other team in the playoffs.Embed from Getty Images
However, the Mets also have not faced a more complete lineup than the Royals. The Dodgers middle of the order teed off on the Mets, but few others could harm them. Barely anyone on the Cubs besides Kyle Schwarber flustered the New Yorkers. To put it in perspective, Alex Gordon hit 8th in game six of the ALCS. Gordon was a top-15 MVP finisher last year and an all-star this year before injuring his groin and missing a month and a half.
Ned Yost vs. Terry CollinsEmbed from Getty Images
The heads of these teams have never been regarded as top managers in the game. Collins, in fact, was the manager with the most games managed without making the playoffs prior to this season and at one point looked destined to be fired. However, times have changed for both guys. No strangers to one- and two-year contracts, the leaders of the two contenders should expect to see much longer and larger paychecks when their current contracts run out. Yost, a former Brewers manager who never seemed to push the right buttons, only won more than 82 games twice before three straight 85+ campaigns dating back to 2013. Collins was expected to be more of a gateway manager for the Mets, a guy who kept everything going smoothly before the team could make a move for a big-time manager when New York believed they would be a true contender. These managers have made all the right moves this postseason, but an X-factor in this series could be deciding when to take their starting pitchers out of the game.
NY DH on the road vs. KC pitchers hitting on the roadEmbed from Getty Images
Advocates for the DH in both leagues will surely be chirping come the middle of this series because Kendrys Morale’s lack of defensive prowess will limit him to a pinch-hitting role for the games in New York. On the other hand, the Mets can insert bats such as Michael Conforto and Michael Cuddyer while keeping Juan Lugares and his gold glove in center field. On the other hand, KC’s pitchers may be asked to lay down bunts, something they have not done much of all season.
KC bullpen vs. NY bullpenEmbed from Getty Images
Kansas City has one of the strongest bullpens in the league and only needs to ask their starters to go six innings to get to their tandem of Ryan Madson/Kelvin Herrera/Wade Davis. On the other hand, the Mets bullpen besides Jeurys Familia was shaky to end the regular season and while the Mets have asked Familia to get more than three outs a few times this postseason, the team may be reluctant to do so many more times. Familia has been dominant, but if the Mets’ starting pitching falters, there could be major problems. Not to mention KC’s clutch hitting late in games will cause problems for the Mets relievers
Key Players to Watch
LHP Jon Niese/RHP Bartolo Colon
As said before, if the Mets’ starting pitching has trouble, they will look to their former starters to come in to eat up innings. These veterans have been solid this season, but not much more than that.
3B Mike Moustakas
The Royals’ six-hitter came alive in last year’s postseason for five home runs and seven RBIs but has not been as effective this year, hitting only .167. However, Moustakas seems to be trending up after he had two hits including a home run in the clinching game of the AL pennant. If he can heat up like he did last year and outplay Mets third-basemen David Wright, the Royals will benefit greatly.
2B Daniel MurphyEmbed from Getty Images
The player that everyone is talking about has hit home runs in six straight games dating back to the NLDS. He’s homered off of players such Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, and Jon Lester. He is also one home run away from Barry Bonds (2002) and Carlos Beltran (2004) for the most home runs in a single postseason. Murphy has opened the scoring for the Mets and closed it. The Royals need to neutralize the suddenly powerful Murphy or he could be looking at an $80+ million-dollar contract come winter time.
I believe the Mets starting pitching, as a whole, is the most dominant in a postseason since the Braves in the early 90’s. Going up against Matt Harvey in game one will be tough for the Royals, but the Mets bullpen will implode causing them to drop the opener. Jacob DeGrom will come back in game two to tie up the series for the Metropolitans. In the first World Series game in Citi Field history, the Mets will come out roaring boasted by home runs by Yoenis Cespedes, Lucas Duda, and Daniel Murphy to tie the record. In game four, the Royals will get to Steven Matz early, but New York will stabilize the ship with Colon and Niese and send the game into extra innings where the Royals will take the game in the 11th inning on an Eric Hosmer home run. Through four games, the series will be 2-2 and the Dark Knight will get retribution for his game one loss as the Mets take a series lead heading back to Kansas City. In game six, Jacob DeGrom will once again carry the Mets by throwing eight innings of one-run ball. Curtis Granderson will score the World-Series winning run by using small ball to score on a Sac Fly after drawing a walk.Embed from Getty Images
I think it is necessary to point out that I am a Mets fan and that certainly impacts my prediction of the series. Yet, the Mets’ pitching, especially DeGrom and Familia is as dominant as I have seen in my life besides Madison Bumgardner last season. DeGrom’s ability to control a game even when he does not have his best stuff has proved that he will be a dominant pitcher for years to come. The Royals will certainly win a World Series within the next couple years but this may not be their year.
MVP: Jacob DeGrom – 15.1 innings pitched, 18 K’s, 4 earned runs, 2 wins.
All Stats courtesy of baseballreference.com, cbssports.com, and espn.com