Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mets take aim at Royals in 2015 World Series

The wait is over. The New York Mets are ready to square off with the Kansas City Royals in the 2015 World Series that begins tonight at 8:07 p.m. ET in Kaufmann Stadium. A match-up that nobody really expected, the fact that both the Mets and Royals are here at this point in the 2015 season, says a lot about baseball's present and future, which is now built around teams willing to develop their own prospects through the system before hitting it big at the Major League level.

It is a strategy that is a counter opposite to the long held belief of the late 1990s and 2000s where the Yankees, Red Sox, and more recently the Dodgers, have bought into the premise that winning happens when you spend millions of dollars in free agency. Not the case in today's game.

The Mets cut payroll out of necessity because of an ownership group that daveled in the infamous Bernie Madoff mess and lost money in the housing market crisis. They bought into the idea of developing its talent, while not spending the millions that made them a player along with the Yankees a decade prior,  and now, here they are. The Royals, like the Mets in recent years, were a reluctant spender for decades before shared revenue helped them even the playing field, and eventually Kansas City began to grow its own crop of stars. In a lot of ways the Royals ushered in this era of baseball at the Major League level.

While both teams have a similar genesis, their storyline is different entering this 2015 World Series. The Royals enter as proverbial favorites, having won appeared in the Fall Classic just one year ago against the San Francisco Giants, a series they lost in seven games. The Royals have not been shy about how much that series still plays in their minds, and how much they'd like to write a new chapter with a better ending.

Winning this World Series means everything to the Royals. A win, and they will be the first team since the 1989 Oakland A's to win a World Series a year after losing it. They would also create their own legacy, something the Detroit Tigers in 2006 and 2012, and the 2010 and 2011 Texas Rangers failed to do. In short, a World Series win and the Royals become a mini dynasty for a new era.

As for the Mets, the pressure is not on them to win this World Series. They have accomplished this year what many thought was nearly impossible. Ask anyone in New York, they would tell you the Mets were probably 1-2 years away from being a serious World Series player. They are ahead of schedule.

That being said, it doesn't erase the importance of this Series for New York. They are here now, and might as well go ahead and win it. David Wright may not have too many more years left, especially with that bad back of his. Yoneis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy might be wearing different uniforms next year, and with the Mets firm commitment to not spend major dollars on free agents, there is never a guarantee they can keep all of that young pitching down the road. While the Mets on the outside look like a team with a very bright future, the time is now for them to capitalize and take the prize home.

Let's breakdown the match-up.

STARTING PITCHING: There is not much of argument here, on paper the Mets have a much better starting rotation than the Kansas City Royals. The combination of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz is as formidable as any combo of young starters in the history of the game. Consider this group throws the hardest fastball of any staff in the playoffs since 2009, at 96 mph, and is one of 12 staffs to have four World Series starters under the age of 27. The last team to have a staff with this much young pitching, you gotta go back to the San Francisco Giants in 2010.

That being said, this group will be tested against a very patient and powerful Royals lineup that can hurt a team from 1 through 9  in the batting order, and, most importantly the Royals don't strike out, something the Mets pitchers live off of. It will be fascinating to see how the Mets handle a high pitch count in this series, before their shaky bullpen is called upon.

As for the Royals, they have veterans Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Chris Young as well as young flame thrower Yondero Ventura. They have all had their issues this year, but should not be discounted. Volquez and Cueto can dominate on any given night, and word is Cueto pitches better at home. Ventura strikes out a lot of guys and can be overpowering at times. If the Mets are going to have any shot in this series, they have to beat either Volquez or Cueto and look to pound Ventura and Young in the games at Citi Field.
EDGE: Mets.

BULLPEN: This is pretty easy, the Royals have one of the best bullpens in the major leagues over the past two years. It carried the Royals to the World Series last year, and has been solid this year. Wade Davis may not have gaudy stats when it comes to saves, (only 17) but he pitched to a 0.94 ERA in the regular season. In addition, he has allowed only one earned run in 21 innings for the Royals in the playoffs the past two years. He is flanked by Luke Hochevar and Kelvin Herrera, both of whom have dazzled for KC this October.

Meanwhile the Mets pen is not nearly as trustworthy. Terry Collins has been forced to use Bartolo Colon and Jonathan Niese a lot out of the pen this October, since the likes of Tyler Clippard, Erik Goeddel, Hansel Robles, and Sean Gilmartin haven't been too reliable. To their credit, Colon and Niese have been great, and Addison Reed has done a nice job too. However, if the Mets can get to the ninth with a lead, then the ball goes into hands of Jeurys Familia, who has been nothing short of brilliant all season long.
EDGE: Royals.

1st Base: Eric Hosmer vs. Lucas Duda. Hosmer is the heart and soul of the Royals lineup. The left-handed slugger had one of the best years of his career, hitting .297 with 19 homers and 93 RBI. He is also known for big hits in the postseason. While he hit only .222 this month, Hosmer led all Royals with 11 RBI in the playoffs. As for Duda, he really struggled in the playoffs until his Game 4 performance in the NLCS, when he drove in five and hit a 3-run homer. Duda has power, but also strikes out a ton. EDGE: Royals.

2nd Base: Ben Zobrist vs. Daniel Murphy. By now you've probably heard that Murphy has had a tremendous postseason run for the Mets. He has seven home runs and 11 RBI this October, and if he hits one more he joins Barry Bonds, Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran as the only players to eight homers in the
playoffs. Not to mention Murphy made history belting a home run in six straight games. Suffice to say, it will be interesting to see if Murphy remains hot after a five day lay-off, with the Royals pitching him inside.

Ben Zobrist was a very solid addition to the Royals lineup, providing a veteran bat behind Alcides Escobar. Zobrist could be a key to this series. He had a very solid postseason in the number two spot in the batting order giving the Royals both average, run production and power. His impact cannot be dismissed. EDGE: Even

3rd Base: Mike Moustakas vs. David Wright. Great match-up. Moustakas is a pure power threat in the middle of that Royals lineup. While he didn't have a big postseason, he can go off at any moment. Last year, Moustakas had five bombs in the playoffs. The Mets have to be careful with this lefty bat. David Wright, the dependable Mets veteran and captain could see a lot of pitches to hit in this series, with the Royals targeting Daniel Murphy as the man they have to get out. Wright started to break out of his slump against the Cubs, so he could be in line for some big moments. EDGE: Even.

ShortStop: Alcides Escobar vs. Wilmur Flores: Escobar has the potential to be a big time threat on the base paths in this series. The Mets are challenged up the middle defensively, and he could take advantage. He did have a big postseason with the bat, and possesses a great glove. Flores, on the other hand, is not as gifted defensively, but does have some power in his bat. The position is his ever since Ruben Tejada broke his leg on the Chase Utley slide. EDGE: Royals. 

Catcher: Salvador Perez vs. Travis d'Arnaud: Hard to not to call this position even, but Salvador Perez has been here before. The veteran catcher is going to have an edge in this series because he knows how to handle this situation, even with a leaky starting rotation. Plus, Perez can produce big offensively; he's already hit four homers this October.  d'Arnaud is proving to be a big time catcher down the road. He already catches the league's best starting rotation, and the National League's best closer. Not to mention, d'Arnaud has flashed his power a little bit with home runs against the Cubs and Dodgers in the playoffs. EDGE: Royals. 

Left Field: Alex Gordon vs. Yoenis Cespedes/Michael Conforto: Like David Wright, Alex Gordon is a guy who has been with his parent organization his entire career, and would love nothing better then to break through and lift his team to a World Championship. He has taken a back seat to the likes of Hosmer and Moustakas, offensively, but is still a guy who can be a dangerous power threat.

The Mets will likely platoon Cespedes and Conforto in left field throughout the series. Cespedes has been bothered by a shoulder injury, but insists that he is good to go. If Cespedes breaks out of his October slumber he could be the difference maker of the World Series. And even if he doesn't hit, Cespedes has a tremendous arm in left. As for Conforto, his power could be huge in an American League ball park. EDGE: Mets.

Center field: Lorenzo Cain vs. Juan Lagares: Lorenzo Cain could be the series X-factor for the Royals. A great combination of speed and power, Cain is quickly turning into one of the games' biggest stars. He scored the winning run in Game 6 all the way from first base on a Eric Hosmer single to left against Toronto, and proved to be a terror on the bases all postseason, even though he only stole two bases. Look for Cain to take advantage of the Mets shaky infield defense. Lagares is a gifted outfielder, not so much as a hitter however. This is a clear edge to Kansas City. EDGE: Royals.

Right Field: Alex Rios vs. Curtis Granderson: Rios is the forgotten man of the Royals lineup. The veteran outfield used to be one of the games feared power hitters, but has seen his skills decline over the years. He can still be a threat to turn the lineup over however. Granderson, has enjoyed a renaissance season with the Mets in 2015. Reunited with ex-Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, Granderson belted 26 homers, drove in 70 and hit .256 this year. He even took to the lead-off spot, something he hadn't done in years. Granderson hit .303 in the playoffs, and next to Murphy was the Mets most consistent hitter in October. EDGE: Mets.

Managers: Ned Yost vs. Terry Collins: Neither manager is going to remind anyone of Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa, but both Collins and Yost get the most out of their players and have them in this very spot. Yost would have the edge in this match-up since he has been here before, but Collins has been hitting the right buttons all postseason long. Both are good men who deserve a title. EDGE: Even. 

Intangibles: Hard to say one team has an edge of another in intangibles since this is the World Series. But, the Royals know this is their shot to cement their legacy and avoid the distinction as the next Texas Rangers or Detroit Tigers of baseball. The Mets have the best pitching of this series, and know that if they can split the first two games, they could be sitting pretty in Games 3, 4 and 5 at home. EDGE: Royals.

Prediction: Ok, here we go. I love the Mets story, they have turned believers out of their pessimistic fanbase and changed the outlook of the franchise for the next few years to come. A win in the World Series would complete the greatest Mets story told since 1969. That being said, the Royals have the experience edge to outwit and outlast the Mets pitchers. Also, keep in mind each of the Mets starters have had over a week of rest, which could give them some rust. Great match-up, but ROYALS in SIX. 

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