World Series Preview: New York vs. Kansas City
Well, it's not exactly the drama of the Chicago Cubs going for their first World Series title since the early 1900s, but the Mets and Royals should be pretty darn good, too.
When searching for storylines between these two teams, there isn't a lot to go on. The Royals and Mets have only played against each other nine times in their history. The only team against whom New York has played fewer games (seven) is the Chicago White Sox, and for the Royals, those nine meetings do represent the fewest number of games played against any team, tied with the Dodgers and the Phillies.
However, there are some fun connections. There was the great David Cone trade of 1987, in which the Mets sent 26-year-old catcher Ed Hearn and 30-year-old pitcher Rick Anderson to the Royals in exchange for Cone, then a 24-year-old prospect. Cone pitched seven years for New York and went 81-51 with a 3.13 ERA, won 20 games as an All-Star in 1988 and finished third in the Cy Young voting that season.
Hearn played six games for the Royals in '87 and seven in 1988 before retiring at age 27. Anderson pitched in six games for the Royals in '87 with a 13.85 ERA and then appeared in seven more the following year and put up a 4.24 ERA. He never pitched again in the Majors after that.
They also share a history with Carlos Beltran, the current Yankee who began his career in Kansas City and later moved onto the Mets as a free agent.
Do you think we can get away with calling this The Beltran Bowl?
My point is, the history between these two clubs is not what one would call, "robust," but that doesn't mean this series is absent of intrigue.
Why the New York Mets Will Win
The starting rotation.
Frankly, this is the biggest advantage in the entire series.
The Mets clearly have the pitching edge in every game in this series. Of course, it won't be the Royals and Mets pitchers hitting off each other. New York will have to retire a very game Kansas City offense that did a lot of damage against a very good Toronto pitching staff in the American League Championship Series.
Still, this is a Mets rotation that features three great young power arms, and their performance against a red-hot Chicago Cubs lineup in the National League Championship Series showed the moment was none too big for them. New York has to feel good about getting six or seven innings out of every one of their starters in this series, a huge advantage over the Royals' hurlers.
No one knows what Johnny Cueto is going to give Kansas City in Game 2. He was dominant in the Royals' Game 5 clincher against Houston, retiring the last 19 batters he faced but was hot garbage in his other two starts. Yordano Ventura throws really hard and has lots of postseason experience but is a hothead who, if he isn't getting his breaking stuff over, can be hit hard.
Meanwhile, the Mets starters, all of them, are dominating not only with their hard stuff but with their off-speed pitches as well, getting them over for strikes early in the count. If they locate against Kansas City like they did against Chicago, the Royals might be in real trouble.
The Mets are also pretty darn good at the plate, scoring the most runs and hitting the most homers in the National League after the All-Star break. Their soon-to-be-free-agent Daniel Murphy, NLCS MVP, has now gone six days without a home run. I mean, it's like he's not even trying anymore.
Yes of course the Mets haven't played in six days, and it will be interesting to see if Murphy is able to continue his red-hot postseason in which he's hit seven home runs, and at least one in six straight games. That homer streak is a new MLB record and the seven long balls are one short of tying the most ever hit in a single playoffs.
Curtis Granderson has been a sparkplug at the top of the lineup, working deep counts and getting on base, and it was encouraging to see Lucas Duda break out in the Game 4 clincher in Chicago. Look for catcher Travis d'Arnaud and David Wright to do some damage, and most importantly, for Yoenis Cespedes to get over his shoulder issues and start getting hot again.
The Mets' bullpen isn't the greatest, and manager Terry Collins doesn't seem to have a lot of faith in it. However, one of the few relievers he does have faith in is his closer Jeurys Familia, who has pitched 9 2/3 innings in the playoffs in eight games, notched five saves in five opportunities and given up no earned runs on just two hits.
He has struck out 6 and walked 2 while allowing batters to hit .065 against him.
Familia has also shown the willingness to go more than one inning, potentially two. And if a Mets starter gets knocked out early, Collins likely won't hesitate to ask the 26-year-old to do it again.
Why the Kansas City Royals Will Win
A Deep Lineup
They just keep coming in waves. They don't stop. The Royals -- no matter the score, no matter the inning, no matter who's pitching -- just don't stop putting the pressure on.
Last year, with virtually the same lineup as now, they overcame a 7-3, eighth inning deficit in the Wild Card Game against the A's before eventually winning in 12. They did it again in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Houston Astros this year when they were down 6-2 in the eighth inning, just 5 outs from elimination, before scoring 5 in the eighth and 2 in the ninth to win 9-6 and extend the series to a Game 5.
Heck, even in what appeared to be a blowout in Game 3 of their ALCS against Toronto (they were down 11-4 heading into the ninth), they scored 4 in the final frame to make it an 11-8 game. Even when they were getting blown out, they were a pain in the butt.
Leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar isn't seeing many pitches at the top of the lineup but is hitting .386 with a .954 OPS and leading the playoffs with 17 hits. Ben Zobrist has been terrific since coming over in a midseason trade from Tampa, with 14 hits in 43 at-bats in the playoffs. Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas are total pros at the plate, and the lineup has been lengthened with the addition of Kendrys Morales (four homers this postseason) and Alex Rios.
They don't provide the scary thunder that Toronto's lineup did, but they can hit some homers, and their greatest advantage in a matchup against New York's hurlers is that they don't strike out. They finished the regular season with a 16.2% strikeout rate, the lowest in the American League. If there is any lineup that can solve New York's rotation, it is Kansas City's.
There is no team in baseball that plays better defense than the Royals. And if you don't think run prevention is almost as important as run production in October, you're nuts.
Their 56 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) was second in all of baseball, trailing only the Arizona Diamondbacks. And their Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 50.9 (the number of runs saved by the range of their defenders this year) was far and away better than any other team this year.
These guys can pick it, and their gloves really do save them runs.
Kansas City's 2.72 bullpen ERA in the regular season was the only one under three in the American League, and they've continued to be excellent in the playoffs.
Closer Wade Davis has taken over the role abandoned by the injured Greg Holland and has been a terrific replacement. He went 8-1 with 17 saves and a 0.94 ERA in 67 1/3 innings in the regular season and has followed that up with 3 saves in 6 2/3 innings without giving up a run in the postseason. Kelvin Herrera is the eighth inning man, with a 1.04 ERA in eight playoff games (8 2/3 innings), an eye-opening 16 strikeouts and 2 walks.
And even though he gave up what could have been a crushing two-run, game-tying homer to Jose Bautista in Game 6 of the ALCS, Ryan Madson has been largely terrific out of the 'pen in his first season back after missing the last two years to injury. Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen and Luke Hochevar stand ready to assist if the situation arises.
Manager Ned Yost should have a reliever warming up every single solitary time one of his starters is about to go through the Mets' order for a third time. His bullpen is good enough to cover four or five innings in every game and is light years better than what the Mets have.
What numberFire's Algorithms Say
Our projections give the Mets a 55.99% chance to win the World Series, leaving the Royals with a 44.01% chance and the most likely outcome being New York winning in six.
Frankly, there are more reasons why the Royals have a better shot to win this series. Yoenis Cespedes, one of the most important sluggers in New York's lineup, has been dealing with a bum shoulder and has not hit much in the postseason. Kansas City has home field advantage. And, while it is not easy to quantify but is a real thing, the Royals' experience playing in the Fall Classic last season could be a real edge as well.
Despite all that, one of the biggest advantages New York has over Kansas City is the most important one; the starting rotation. The Mets' starters have been so overwhelming that they make up for any additional advantages the Royals may have in this matchup. However, if Kansas City is able to outlast these New York starters, or the Mets' young guns finally start missing with location and putting guys on base via the walk, the Royals will take advantage in a way the Cubs didn't.
It all gets started tonight in Kansas City.