By Matt Straub
Last year I had to sell you on what had the chance to be a phenomenal World Series, and it delivered, even though most of you were watching football. With the New York Mets in this year’s Fall Classic, however, the area’s interest is piqued. This is good news for me, since I don’t have to introduce you to the players and teams.
So let’s get right to business breaking down what could be another fascinating clash of styles and a series which has so many important matchups to watch it can’t help but entertain.
PITCHING: Much has been made of the Mets’ rotation, and deservedly so. Matt Harvey will start Game 1, and now that he’s been shamed into pitching, he’s back to being the Dark Knight. The reluctant superhero can morph into the bulldog the Mets need to start the series on a good note. He can go deep into the game and be dominant, setting the tone for the series as well as giving the Royals a great chance in Game 1. He has some polish and more than just a fastball, which will be crucial, as we’ll get to.
Jacob deGrom is the star of this rotation, however, even though he doesn’t have a fancy nickname. He has battled through control issues early in each of his postseason starts and found a way to dominate late in the game and get deep into the game. His mental toughness, ability to adjust and way he can keep the opposition from breaking the game open while he is struggling make him exceptional, not his stuff. A lot of guys can throw, he can pitch.
Noah Syndergaard is a thrower, but is good enough at it to dominate. He wouldn’t be my first choice to start Game 7, but he’ll be put into that role after starting Game 3 and certainly isn’t a bad choice. I still like Bartolo Colon over Steven Matz, but I’m also not sold that the Mets will really start him in Game 4 if they’re down in the series. Colon won’t start and has been a strong reliever, but Harvey could be the guy if the series is 2-1 or 3-0 Royals.
The Mets’ bullpen is their weakness. Yes, Jeurys Familia has been great in the playoffs, but he’s still the guy the Mets never wanted to be their closer. The key to the bullpen is Tyler Clippard. Colon can be a 6th or even 7th inning guy, but Clippard will be the main bridge from the starters to Familia. If the big bullpen acquisition from the deadline pitches well, the Mets are in very good shape. If the Mets are using too many other pitchers in the seventh and eighth, they’re in trouble.
The Royals have the opposite problem. Getting to their dominant bullpen will be the issue. Edinson Volquez opens the series with his huge fastball and ungodly changeup. When he puts it all together, he can look like Pedro Martinez with that combination. When he’s shaky, however, he can be hit hard. Two years ago he was on the scrap heap and still shows signs of why, but he is starting to harness his talent.
Johnny Cueto starts Game 2 and a potential Game 6 because the Royals are scared to pitch him on the road, which tells you everything you need to know about the mental makeup of their “ace”. The Mets can rattle him early, but if they don’t he will feed off the energy of the crowd in Kansas City and dominate. The first two innings of Game 2 will be crucial. deGrom has struggled early lately, and the first couple of innings will decide Cueto’s fate.
When Yordano Ventura isn’t starting fights he can be a terrific pitcher, and will get the ball in Game 3 and perhaps Game 7. If he’s on his game he’ll be tough to beat, and him vs. Syndergaard could be the matchup of the series.
Chris Young, the giant pitcher in Game 4, is a mentally tough veteran who will battle Matz’s talent pitch for pitch and may even have an edge.
Where the Royals clearly have an edge is in the pen. If Kansas City can get to the seventh with a lead, the game is over. Kansas City’s relievers have an ERA under three with 59 strikeouts in 41 innings in the postseason, perfect for getting strikeouts with guys on base late. Terry Collins has one reliever he truly trusts, while Ned Yost has a collection of them.
OFFENSE: The Mets will throw a bunch of fireballers, which provides the most intriguing matchup of the postseason. The Royals are statistically the best fastball-hitting team in the sport and could be looking to tee off on the Mets’ hard throwers. There is no team in baseball better-suited to battle the Mets’ aces. The Royals have also struck out less than any team in the American league by a large margin and will be able to put the ball in play against the Mets’ pitchers. They can work counts and foul pitches off, and could send the Mets’ pitch counts soaring, which is crucial to getting to the New York bullpen which might be the biggest weakness any team has in this series. They have the advantage every AL team does of knowing who their DH will be in the four games in their park, and their baserunning ability has the chance to make the Mets’ inferior defense rush throws. They can take extra bases as well, and will put pressure on the Mets in a number of ways.
Hey, have you heard about Daniel Murphy? He’s hot you know. In all seriousness, the Mets’ second baseman has always been a good contact guy, but he’s become Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds combined with seven postseason home runs already. Obviously he can’t stay that hot, and what the Mets do when their secret weapon returns to human form will be key. Murphy, an impending free agent, made himself $15 million with this outburst, even if he doesn’t keep it up.
Despite what you may have heard, the Mets do have other hitters. David Wright has waited his whole life for this stage and seems a prime candidate for a breakout week. Curtis Granderson’s hand might be hurt, and Yoenis Cespedes’ shoulder will be the key to the series. When he was red-hot in August he won the division for the Mets. When he isn’t, the Mets’ offense is beatable. If he’s hurt, New York might be in trouble. Their two big momentum grabbers, Murphy and Cespedes, could be due for downturns in the World Series, which would be as crushing for the Mets mentally as it would be physically. New York is a more veteran, trustworthy lineup, but its group has more chances to fall apart.
The other key to the Mets offense is Kansas City’s defense. New York better hit the ball over the wall as often as possible this week, because ground balls won’t be getting through and the balls in the gaps will be getting run down. New York is going to have to make its own luck. Their newfound baserunning prowess could be key as every base will matter in this series, especially against a great defense. The scouting which won them the Dodgers and Cubs series will be needed again.
THE PICK: I’m done trying to understand whatever supernatural force has guided the Mets through this improbable run. Giving the Mets’ fastball-heavy pitchers the task of facing a lineup which seems as thought it was specifically built to beat the Mets would make you pick the Royals. The huge bullpen advantage would make you lean Royals. The postseason experience would make you think Kansas City is the pick. Their defense could be a huge reason to think they’ll win their first title since 1985. None of this matters as much as whatever got into Murphy, Cespedes and Terry Collins, who, you may remember, was on the verge of being fired at one point. The Wilmer Flores fiasco, the rain delay game, the horrible, horrible lineups they put on the field early in the year; none of it broke this team, which is beyond mentally tough. It is confident in whatever is making all this happen. I’m done using my head to judge this team, and I’m siding with their mojo. I’ll kick myself if I’m wrong, but I’m done letting this team make me look bad by going against them. If the Mets are going to embarrass me again, it’s going to be by losing.
METS IN 5