The Mets made their first World Series in fifteen years by beating the Dodgers in a thrilling five-game division series, and then sweeping the Cubs in a not particularly dramatic four-game Championship Series. The young starting pitching was excellent and Daniel Murphy did a fine imitation of playoff Carlos Beltran (no, not THAT playoff Carlos Beltran, Mets fans).
The Royals made their first World Series since, uh, um, last year(?) after a similarly thrilling five-game division series win over the Astros and then a tightly contested six-gamer over the Toronto Blue Jays. There was a bit of Esky magic, some off-brand Missouri devil magic, and Lorenzo Cain ran really fast.
The Mets and Royals have never met in the playoffs before, as you might expect, and the last time they met in the regular season, in a battle between third place teams the Mets started Eric Young, jr, Josh Satin, Marlon Byrd, John Buck and Omar Quintanilla. The Royals played Miguel Tejada, David Lough, and George Kottaras. This was 2013 by the way. Life comes at you fast.
Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/TAv, WARP)
RF-L Curtis Granderson (.259/.364/.457/.314, 5.4)
3B-R David Wright (.289/.379/.434/.315, 1.4
2B-L Daniel Murphy (.281/.322/.449/.283, 2.1)â€¨
CF-R Yoenis Cespedes (.291/.328/.542/.308, 6.2)â€¨
1B-L Lucas Duda (.244/.352/.486/.320, 3.3)â€¨
C-R Travis d'Arnaud (.268/.340/.485/.312, 2.6)â€¨
LF-L Michael Conforto (.270/.335/.506/.315, 1.9)
DH-L Kelly Johnson (.265/.314/.435/.280, 1.6)â€¨
SS-R Wilmer Flores (.263/.295/.408/.262, 2.2)
SS-R Alcides Escobar (.257/.293/.320/.224, 1.7)â€¨
2B-S Ben Zobrist (.276/.359/.450/.296, 3.0)â€¨
CF-R Lorenzo Cain (.307/.361/.477/.301, 6.8)â€¨
1B-L Eric Hosmer (.297/.363/.459/.289, 3.4)â€¨
DH-S Kendrys Morales (.290/.362/.485/.294, 2.3)â€¨
3B-L Mike Moustakas (.284/.348/.470/.291, 4.6)â€¨
C-R Salvador Perez (.260/.280/.426/.251, 1.5)â€¨
LF-L Alex Gordon (.271/.377/.432/.299, 2.9)â€¨
RF-R Alex Rios (.255/.287/.353/.231, -.1)
Outside of outbursts against the likes of Brett Anderson, Alex Wood, and Jason Hammel, the Mets offense has relied primarily on a few solo bombs and the occasional manufactured run to scrape by their playoff opponents. Daniel Murphy has been the story of the postseason so far, hitting more home runs across the Dodgers and Cubs series than he did in full seasons in 2011 or 2012. Travis d'Arnaud and Yoenis Cespedes pitched in with a couple of big bombs themselves, and Curtis Granderson started the engine at the top of the order.
The Mets lineup is well suited to take on the Royals heavily right-handed leaning staff. Terry Collins has already announced Kelly Johnson as the Game 1 designated hitter and he and Michael Conforto are the most likely candidates for that role in the AL parks (with Lagares sliding into CF for defense in the latter scenario). Johnson doesn't have much of a platoon split, but Duda, Murphy, and Granderson both have large splits for their careers (though one imagines Murph could hit eight pitches at the same time all coming from different angles launched by an octopus at this point), and Conforto has almost exclusively seen right-handed pitching in his major league career. Duda has struggled over the last month or so, but put together some good at-bats in the clincher against the Cubs, and he is the type of player that can carry an offense for a week when he gets hot. Cespedes has that ability on the top line of his C.V. as well, but is dealing with a shoulder injury of mysterious origin (definitely not golf, maybe too many push-ups). The other righties in the Mets lineup might struggle a bit with the power right-handed arms the Royals roll out in the rotation and bullpen.
While not the most traditional offensive juggernaut, the Royals have averaged almost six runs a game in the playoffs and gotten contributions from up and down the lineup. Really only Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have truly struggled in the playoffs, and you would still count them as two of the more dangerous hitters in Kansas City's deep, well-balanced lineup. Esky Magic was the big bat in the ALCS, singling his way to a series MVP, but Ben Zobrist and Alex Rios made major contributions as well. In the ALDS Sal Perez and Kendrys Morales carried the offensive load.
The Royals have a reputation as a contact hitting, aggressive base running squad, but in the playoffs so far they have fallen very much in line with the “ball go far, team go far” philosophy. They've knocked 15 home runs in the playoffs and outhomered the vaunted Blue Jays lineup in the ALCS. This is an intriguing matchup for the Mets rotation of power arms. There’s no real weakness in this lineup (okay, Alex Rios might have a tough series), they have some left-handed and switch-hitting power, and yes, they are a nightmare to strike out. They will lose Kendrys Morales in the Games 3-5 at Citi Field, and he has been one of their better hitters this year, but this lineup is deep enough this season that it should be able survive that loss. Even if they don't do a ton of damage against the Mets starters, the Royals may be pesky enough to run up pitch counts and force the Mets middle relievers into the game earlier than Terry Collins and company would prefer.
LF-R Michael Cuddyer (.259/.309/.391/.272)
OF-R Juan Lagares (.259/.289/.358/.245)
C-R Kevin Plawecki (.219/.280/.296/.241)
OF-L Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.195/.270/.375/.256)
IF-R Juan Uribe (.253/.320/.417/.272)
UT-R Christian Colon (.290/.356/.336/.249)â€¨
OF-R Paulo Orlando (.249/.269/.444/.254â€¨
OF-L Jarrod Dyson (.250/.311/.380/.249)â€¨
SS-S Raul Mondesi, jr (son/of Raul/brother/of Raul)â€¨
C-R Drew Butera (.198/.266/.267/.202)
The Mets bench will likely have one change from previous series with Juan Uribe taking Matt Reynolds' spot. Uribe has been dealing with a chest injury since September, but took BP and infield last week at Citi Field workouts. There is little risk here, if the injury continues to bother him, the Mets can re-add Reynolds to the roster in a few days, and Uribe gives the Mets real power off the bench. Terry Collins has hinted that Juan Lagares may get a start or two in the Kansas City games as he looks to improve his team defense against the contact-oriented Royals. Cuddyer had been in the lineup some against left-handed starters in previous series, but that isn't really an issue against the Royals, and Plawecki and Nieuwenhuis have gotten one plate appearance between the two of them in the playoffs so far.
It sounds like the Royals will make one change as well. World famous pinch runner Terrence Gore is reportedly out in favor of 20-year-old Raul Mondesi, jr, who has yet to play above A-ball. Mondesi is the top prospect in the Royals system and would give Ned Yost a bit more defensive and tactical flexibility in the NL park. Gore was a bit of a luxury given the Royals surplus of outfield defensive caddies on the bench, but this is a pretty big vote of confidence in Mondesi. Dyson and Orlando should be the primary pinch hitters and Alex Rios defensive subs, Christian Colon is a useful utility infielder, and Drew Butera is a backup catcher who hopefully will not be calld upon again to bat in the midst of a game-changing rally.
Mets starters in the playoffs have tossed 55 1/3 innings of 2.60 ERA baseball, striking out 71 while walking only 19. Matt Harvey labored and struggled with his command in his NLDS outing, but was excellent in Game 1 against the Cubs in the NLCS. He gets the ball in Game 1 again and has shown no ill effects from the comebacker he took off his pitching shoulder. Talks of inning limits have faded away and Collins has already mentioned in the media that Harvey would be available in Game 7 out of the pen. Jacob deGrom has been the best of the quartet of Mets starters in the playoffs. After a sterling performance in Game 1 of the Dodgers series, he seemed to struggle in his next two outings, but he only ended up surrendering two runs in each and got the win in both. Syndergaard has not gone particularly deep in either of his playoff outings, but has looked as dominant as the Mets top two arms at times. He gets the first game at Citi Field and you can likely expect more triple digits heat in front of a wild crowd in Flushing. Matz has had the same issues getting deep into his playoff starts and hasn't shown Syndergaard's level of dominance, but he is still trying to get back into a rhythm coming off late season lat and back issues, and did show better feel for his secondaries against the Cubs.
After some hemming and hawing from noted Jawbreaker fan Ned Yost, the Royals announced their rotation order with Edison Volquez and Johnny Cueto taking Games 1 and 2 in Kansas City. This may be a concerted effort to keep Cueto from pitching in a tough road environment as he is now slated to start only in the friendly confines of Kauffman stadium. Is it small sample size or something more sinister. I don't know and the Royals don't seem to keen on finding out. His first start in Kauffman didn't go great either, and Cueto has been a mess down the stretch for Kansas City. He also pitched a gem in a do or die Game 5 against the Astros, and prior to the July trade had been one of the most consistent top of the rotation arms in baseball. They could use another ace performance too, because against Harvey and deGrom they otherwise have a clear disadvantage on the mound in the first two games of this series. Volquez built off his 2014 success with Ray Searage in Pittsburgh, posting another strong ~200 inning season. cFIP and DRA haven't liked him as much as the raw run averages might suggest, and like the rest of the Royals staff, he hasn't pitched deep into games so far in the playoffs.
Yordano Ventura will start Game 3 as the series moves to New York. He has certainly shown flashes of dominance throughout the playoffs, but he has struggled some with the long ball, and has not been able to consistently pitch deep into games. Power right-handers with Ventura's stuff can give any lineup fits, but he has yet to really put it together for a complete start in the playoffs thus far. Chris Young will start Game 4 and he is well known to the Mets having spent 2011 and 2012 there (when he wasn't hurt). There is no shortage of sabermetric literature dealing with how exactly Chris Young's stuff works, whether it is effective velocity, or working up in the zone, or just good ol' Esky magic.
Relief Pitchers (ERA, Innings, DRA)
RHP Jeurys Familia (1.85, 78.0, 2.99)â€¨
RHP Tyler Clippard (2.92, 71.0, 3.45)â€¨
RHP Addison Reed (3.38, 56.0, 4.06)â€¨
RHP Hansel Robles (3.67, 54.0, 3.68)â€¨
LHP Sean Gilmartin (2.76, 57.3, 3.67)â€¨
RHP Bartolo Colon (4.16, 194.7, 4.57)â€¨
LHP Jon Niese (4.13, 176.7, 5.47)
RHP Wade Davis (0.94, 67, 1.66)â€¨
RHP Kelvin Herrera (2.71, 70, 2.95)â€¨
RHP Ryan Madson (2.13, 63, 2.68)â€¨
LHP Franklin Morales (3.18, 62, 3.90)â€¨
RHP Luke Hochevar (3.73, 51, 4.79)â€¨
RHP Kris Medlen (4.01, 58, 4.51)â€¨
LHP Danny Duffy (4.08, 137, 4.85)
Mets relievers not named Jeurys Familia, Tyler Clippard, or Bartolo Colon have thrown just 5 1/3 innings during the Mets playoff run. That is likely the plan going forward as well, but a lot of that depends on how Familia holds up under a heavy 2015 workload. The five days off between the NLCS and the World Series should help. Familia has thrown in eight of the nine Mets playoff games and has been asked to go 1+ innings three times. He has yet to give up a run and has retired 29 of the 33 batters he has faced. The stuff does look to be a bit down from the regular season. The velocity is off by a couple miles an hour, and he hasn't thrown the splitter as much. This could be faitgue, or you could just chalk it up to the cold weather, but it doesn't stand to get much warmer as the calendar turns over to November, so his World Series performance will bear watching. Clippard has been the primary set-up man and he still gets it done with heavy doses of high changeups, and a fastball that is down from his peak years in Washington. It's not the most comfortable viewing experience for Mets fans, but so far Addison Reed has been unable to unseat Clippard as the primary set up man.
Bartolo Colon has been the Mets fireman, coming in to bridge from starter to high-leverage pen arms as needed. He could probably do this every day until he is 50, but perhaps that is just the hopes and dreams of the author bleeding through. There is a case to be made that he should get a Game 4 start over Matz, but Colon gives the Mets a rubber arm out of the pen that they wouldn't have with Matz. So far he hasn't gone over two innings, depriving us of what we all want to see, a Bartolo playoff at-bat. No stage like the World Series for that I suppose. Robles hasn't pitched since the second game of the NLDS, and Sean Gilmartin, a replacement for Erik Goeddel in the Championship series, hasn't pitched at all. Barring a blowout, the Mets would likely prefer to keep it that way.
As good as Familia has been this year, he is clearly the second best reliever in this series. Wade Davis has an arsenal best described in terms normally reserved for Lovecraftian horrors. He is a batter's incubus made flesh and wielding an 80-grade cutter. His 2015 performance was down from 2014 when he gave up four extra base hits all year. He gave up a paltry 15 this year, and even gave up a few home runs. This version almost seems mortal by comparison. Almost. The rest of the Royals pen is also not quite as good as the 2014 version, but it has locked down lead after lead in the postseason. Herrera and Madson have both been excellent in set up roles all year, but like the Mets, the Royals have limited the rest of their pen to mop up work as much as possible. The Mets have some strong lefty bats, but I wonder if Ned Yost would really rather see Franklin Morales or Kelvin Herrera up there against Lucas Duda in a big spot.
Davis has not been used nearly as much as Familia in the playoffs, despite the Royals playing two additional games so far. He should be well-rested and available for multi-inning saves, a frightening prospect to any Mets fan facing a one-run deficit late in these games. Like peak Mariano Rivera, the three singles inning is needed to claw a run off Davis, and that is a big ask against a guy that has posted sub-five hits per nine the past two seasons. Herrera has been used more heavily, but has shown little in the way of fatigue and has struck out 16 in 8 2/3 innings.
I outlined some concerns about the Mets defense in our NLDS preview, but thus far the New York Nine have acquitted themselves well in the field. It also didn't hurt that they were standing behind a pitching staff that racked up strikeouts against their NL opponents. But the Royals will put both the pitching and defense to the test with their contact-oriented approach that you may have heard about. The Mets are still starting Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy up the middle, which is not a double play combo that will be immortalized in poem like “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” (unless you consider angry invective scrawled on Port Authority bathroom stalls poetry). Cespedes has been fine in center field for the most part, but he will shift over for Juan Lagares in late innings. Conforto and Granderson are both above average in the corners. The hidden defensive issue might be how the Mets control the running game. The 2015 Royals are not quite as aggressive on the bases as the 2014 edition, but Travis d'Arnaud is only average at best throwing out runners, and both Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard have had issues holding runners on.
The 2015 Royals were actually even better than the 2014 edition at turning balls into outs by both BP's standard and park-adjusted defensive efficiency metrics. Unlike the Mets, the Royals starters are not going to rack up big strikeout totals, so they will need Lorenzo Cain to rob the occasional double, and Escobar and Zobrist to turn a backbreaking double play here and there. All three are more than happy to oblige more often than not. The Mets had some success stealing bases against the Cubs, but they are not a team that is generally a threat in that arena, and Terry Collins has already said that they are unlikely to test Salvador Perez as vigorously.
Terry Collins has now fully complteted the transition from cranky, conservative baseball lifer to loveable, irrascable scamp. An unexpected division title and a couple of playoff series wins will do that. Almost every button he has pushed so far in the playoffs has worked, from making Bartolo Colon a multi-inning fireman, to using Jon Niese as a LOOGy, to leaning heavily on Jeurys Familia, to whatever he has been sneaking into Daniel Murphy's pre-game cornflakes. Collins is not a master tactician by sabermetric standards. There will probably be an ill-advised bunt or two, a weird double switch, and some terrifying innings from Tyler Clippard, but this roster is much more push-button than it was a few months ago, so the success of the team will ride far more on talent than tactics. That's all you can really ask I suppose.
Ned Yost pulled off that same trick last October. You can quibble with using Madson instead of Davis in the eighth inning of Game 6, but like Collins he has generally had his best arms (and Madson is certainly one of them) with the ball in their hands in the big spots. You can also quibble with his continuing to bat Alcides Escobar leadoff while Alex Gordon bats eighth. How much does that really matter in four to seven games though? Anyway, at this point it seems like he is more or less along for the ride with the rest of us. He has his playbook that he will call from and he will win or lose with it.
On paper, the Mets have a clear advantage in starting pitching, the lineups are close to a push (though the offensive profiles are very different), and the Royals have the advantage in the field and out of the pen.
It's not a particularly original thought, but the key battle in this series will be between a young, bat-missing staff and a Royals lineup that struck out less than 16% of the the time this year (no other team in baseball struck out less than 18%). It is imperative that the Mets pitching staff pitch deep into games and turn over leads to the Mets late-inning arms. The Royals bullpen does not give up leads, and the Royals lineup is particularly suited to feasting on the Mets middle relief options. Much has been made of the Royals ability to hit 95+ fastballs, but I imagine the Royals hit all kinds of pitches well, as it is a good lineup. And as detailed above, the Mets staff is not just a collection of fastball-only donks.
The Mets lineup should fare pretty well against the Royals starters. New York leans left-handed, and overall have done quite well against the non-ace types they have faced in the playoffs. They will probably win a game or two where they knock the starter out early and beat up on Kris Medlen or someone of that ilk. But the Royals are better suited to winning the close games given their ability to manufacture runs, their strong team defense, and well, Wade Davis.
This series is really difficult to call. The betting line is a push at the time of writing, after the Royals opened as small favorites. The Royals have been here before, and suffered a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the San Francisco Bumgarners. And they are a bad matchup for the Mets. While their lineup isn't as intimidating as the Cubs, there was swing-and-miss there that the Mets pitchers could exploit. That will be a more difficult task against the Royals. The Royals have an edge in the pen and on defense, two factors that may take on outsized importance in what I think will be mostly close games. However, in the end the starting pitching gap is just too big here. The Mets rotation has gotten essentially a full turn of rest with the time off, and Harvey, deGrom, and Syndergaard all looked excellent coming off their skipped starts down the stretch in the regular season. I think the Royals will make it very difficult for them, but the Mets young arms will carry them to their first World Series title in nearly 30 years.