BY MARK COUCH
On Friday, the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays in Game Six of the American League Championship Series to advance to the World Series for the second straight season. They will be taking on the surging New York Mets who are fresh off a four game sweep of the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series. This postseason matchup, which begins Oct. 25 at 7:07 p.m. in Kansas City, has the potential to be one of the most entertaining World Series in recent memory.
The Mets lean heavily on their starting pitching. The Mets have a starting rotation that’s being considered one of the best rotations in postseason history. The rotation is comprised of four pitchers under 27 years old who all consistently throw above 95 miles per hour and command their secondary pitches as well as anyone. These pitchers are Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz, and you’ll be hearing their names for years to come. In the four NLCS games, the Mets’ starters only gave up six runs on 15 hits in 25 innings with a 2.16 ERA. Performances like that are what kept the Mets’ season alive earlier in the year and now they are what have led them to the World Series. The Mets scored 22 total runs in the five game series, including 13 in Game Three. Without Game Three, they only scored nine runs all series for a total of 2.25 runs per game. Their pitching has been strong enough to cover up for the offense’s struggles like this all season long.
The lone consistent bright spot in the Mets’ lineup has been Daniel Murphy. He’s hit seven home runs this postseason and has 11 RBIs, including home runs in a Major League record six consecutive postseason games and was awarded the NLCS MVP Award. New York scored in the first inning of every NLCS game against the Cubs, totaling nine first inning runs. And, so far this postseason, the Mets have beaten Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta, who are three of the top pitchers in baseball. However, their offense has shown flashes of greatness. Their lineup features Yoenis Céspedes, David Wright, and Lucas Duda to complement Murphy’s production, but they need to get going if the Mets have any chance of winning it all. New York needs to get the offense rolling to take some stress off of their pitchers and get them some leads to work with.
Kanas City’s game plan leans heavily on their offense and its ability to put the ball in play and force the defense to make plays. The Royals put the ball in play more than any other team in baseball. They grind out long at bats against tough pitching, and they struck out 145 fewer times than any other team in the American League. Kansas City has proven they can hit the 95 mile per hour fastball and they’ve also proven then can hit the off-speed pitches. Their offense has scored 63 runs in 11 postseason games, averaging 5.7 runs per game. They’ve also hit 15 home runs this postseason. The Royals’ offense is led by Kendrys Morales, who had 106 RBI this season. Their leadoff man, Alcides Escobar, went 11-23 with five RBIs while scoring six runs on his way to being named the ALCS MVP. Other key contributors include slugging first baseman, Eric Hosmer, solid-hitting catcher, Salvador Pérez and base stealing threat, Lorenzo Cain.
The Royals’ defense has been better than any other in this postseason. They’ve only made one error in 11 postseason games. Pérez blocks everything behind the plate, and the Royals’ outfield is spectacular. Lorenzo Cain, Alex Ríos, and four time Gold Glove Award winner, Alex Gordon patrol the outfield. All of them are capable of making game-changing plays at any time.
The question mark for the Royals is their starting pitching. Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez make up the Royals’ starting rotation. They’ve been very shaky this postseason. In one start, Cueto was dominant against the Houston Astros. A little over a week later, he was taken out of the game after giving up eight runs in two innings. Ventura and Volquez are both hard throwing starters with great off-speed pitches, but any given night, they are susceptible to being hit hard. You never know what you’re going to get with any of Kansas City’s starting rotation. However, their bullpen has been one of the best bullpens in baseball for the past few seasons. This postseason, Kansas City’s bullpen is 5-0 with a 2.58 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 41 innings. Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera are absolutely lights out for the Royals out of the bullpen.
In a series featuring teams with such different styles, it’s hard to say who has the upper hand. Pitching and defense win championships, and the Mets consistently have exceptional pitching. But Kansas City’s defense makes all the routine plays and lots of highlight reel plays too. The Royals have the edge offensively over the Mets, who are relying too much on Murphy’s ridiculous home run hitting streak to continue. The Royals played in the World Series last year, and most of their team returned this season, which means they have lots of postseason experience. None of New York’s young starters have pitched in the postseason besides this year. It’s hard not to think that the Royals have a slight advantage over the Mets because they’ve been here before, and they have home field advantage for the series. But it’s the postseason, and anything can happen.