Before the 2015 season started, it was widely believed that both the Mets and Royals were bound to share a similar fate. The projections called for both squads to be .500 teams that could potentially contend if everything broke right. For New York, it seemed as if their powerful young pitching would be let down by a weak offense, while Kansas City felt weakened by the losses of key players following an unlikely AL pennant.
Instead, the Mets won 11 straight to ride a 15-8 record in April, while the Royals started 7-0 to establish an early lead in the AL Central with a similarly dominating 15-7 April. The Mets regressed and needed a disappointing season from the Nationals to win the NL East, while also being boosted by an impressive mid-season turnaround and the reinforcements that came with it. On the other hand, the Royals spent 164 days in first place, never falling behind more than one game in the race for the division title.
In the end, both franchises proved that there is no clear path to the Fall Classic. The Mets have ridden a ton of momentum and a second-half push to this point, while the Royals have taken a steadier approach as they virtually secured a playoff spot by late August. After getting hot in the postseason and surviving a few scares, these teams are worthy World Series teams that will battle for a long-awaited title.
After already covering many of the esoteric and quirky stats surrounding this game, now it is time to fulfill a traditional preview and make a final pick for this Fall Classic. Regardless of who wins, it should be a thrilling series.
Last year, the Royals ran into a playoff chainsaw by the name of Madison Burgarner, who quieted Kansas City's bats to a point that they could never return from. This time around, they are challenged with a similar style of power pitching, only that it now comes in many shapes and sizes. With the long wait from the NLCS to Game 1 of the World Series, Terry Collins was able to set his rotation as he pleased, and he's announced the three-headed monster of fireballers in a mildly surprising order: Matt Harvey for Game 1, followed by Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard.
The trio of precocious righties who tend to live around 95 mph+ fastballs and devastating breaking balls have led the Mets to mostly silencing two powerful NL offenses in the Dodgers and Cubs. Through their 9 playoff games so far, the Mets' starting pitchers have accumulated 54.1 innings of a 2.65 ERA, with 69 strikeouts, and only 3 homers allowed. The fourth potential starter for New York is lefty option Steven Matz, who could be bumped if the series is not going their way, but still represents a solid option to counter the southpaw-heavy Royals offense.
Meanwhile, the Royals certainly don't have the kind of power pitching enjoyed by the Mets, but they've found a way to make it work despite some iffy results. Ned Yost is deploying his Dominican trio of righties, with Edinson Volquez facing Harvey in Game 1, followed by the erratic Johnny Cueto and the enigmatic Yordano Ventura. Game 4 would be going to the befuddling Chris Young and his endless streak of fly balls, which is never a bad idea with the kind of defense played by Kansas City.
If the postseason has taught us anything, we can assure that the Royals don't have a strength in their rotation. In the 11 games played by the Royals, their starters have won only twice, with a 5.56 ERA in 55 innings, including 55 strikeouts, and 7 homers allowed. One of the two wins was Cueto's masterpiece in the clinching Game 5 of the ALDS, but he was equally terrible in allowing 8 runs to the Blue Jays a few days later. Even as Royal pitchers are probably a bit better than what the numbers show, it is likely that Ned Yost will have a short hook most of the time.
That is obviously explained by Kansas City's tremendous bullpen, which has again done a fantastic job to keep the team afloat. In a playoff-high 41 innings, the Kansas City relief corps has combined to post a 2.85 ERA with 59 strikeouts. Even as the same unit has allowed a high number of homeruns (8), they remain a lethal combination, especially when we consider that Yost can get aggressive and use closer Wade Davis for multiple innings.
Meanwhile, the Mets have only required 25.2 innings from their bullpen, and they have been mostly quality outings. Their 0.82 WHIP stands out, as Mets relievers have found ways to make their leads hold true. This includes a playoff-leading 5 saves, highlighted by the equally lights-out closer Jeurys Familia, who has allowed only a couple of baserunners in the playoffs. With Familia also available to pitch in a larger role and Tyler Clippard rounding into form, the Mets offer a good approximation to what the Royals have to offer out of the 'pen.
In what may be one of the biggest surprises of these playoffs, the Royals have become the highest-scoring team of the bunch, averaging nearly 6 runs a game on the strength of a .328 OBP and gaudy numbers hitting with runners in scoring position. The Kansas City offense has combined for 33 extra-base hits, with many players having big moments. Kendrys Morales has been a big source of power, though he figures to be out of the lineup when the series shifts to Citi Field and the DH is lost.
Elsewhere, the Royals have relied on Alcides Escobar as a catalyst, with the likes of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas providing timely hits most of the time. With 7 steals through 11 games, the Royals may not rely on speed as much as they did last season, but they certainly have the weapons to turn a game around with their legs, if need be.
On the other hand, the Mets are riding a historic run from Daniel Murphy as their main offensive threat, but there is a lot to love around this lineup. With just a touch under 5 runs per game despite facing 5 of their 9 games against Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Jake Arrieta, the Met offense seems right where it left off to finish the regular season.
With 28 extra-base hits in only 289 at-bats, and a solid .300 OBP, New York has relied on many heroes aside from Murphy, and their powerful offense still includes Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson, while they await some kind of contribution from franchise icon David Wright. While the team was not known for its baserunning, the Mets have stolen 9 combined bases in the playoffs, which adds a nice wrinkle to how they try to score runs.
Defense, Managers, and Intangibles
The other aspect from the Royals that has suffered virtually no regression is its defense, which remains an elite unit. Even as the outfield loses some range with Alex Rios in the outfield, Rios at least brings a strong arm to the mix, while Salvador Perez figures to slow down the running game from behind the plate and the defense looks way more solid with Ben Zobrist at second instead of Omar Infante.
On the other hand, the Mets also boast a good outfield, especially now that Juan Lagares can play center field in an AL park while Michael Cuddyer/Michael Conforto become more suited at the DH spot. Yoenis Cespedes and Granderson add more versatility from the outfield corners, so New York seems prepared for the low amount of fly balls allowed by their pitchers. The difference comes from a porous infield, which includes the defensive liabilities that Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores can become up the middle. Even as Lucas Duda is mostly solid at first, David Wright is no longer the player he used to be at third.
From the dugout, both teams should have similar strengths from their managers and coaches. Even as Ned Yost is still prone to making puzzling decisions, like it happened in Game 6 of the ALCS, he has become a much better field manager than he was even a couple of years ago, and he has the kind of bullpen to make up for his mistakes. Meanwhile, it is likely that Terry Collins won't have to tinker much with his roster, especially if his starters continue to make deep runs through their opponents' lineups. Even then, the aggressive way in which he has used his bullpen during the playoffs is an encouraging sign.
Both squads should see nothing but full stadiums and tons of noise, and while the Mets now look unstoppable after sweeping the Cubs by a combined 21-8 score, the Royals have the hunger of last season's World Series loss looming large.
In the end, there is a reason why both teams are listed at -105 odds to win this series: it is just that evenly matched. That is when you have to take into account all the little differences that could affect the series. The Royals do have home-field advantage and an extra year of World Series experience under their belts, but the Mets seem better positioned when we consider the teams on a man-to-man basis.
Aside from a noticeable advantage in defense and the better bullpen, the Royals can't really match up well in terms of starting pitching, while they will lose the DH in the middle games of the series, which is not a small factor. The series should be full of close, exciting games, with New York's starting hurlers leading the way while the Royals try to catch up through their relief corps. It may seem cruel, but the Royals will again fall just short.
Mets in 6.