By Scott MacLean
After spring training, 162 regular season games and two rounds of playoffs it comes down to this; the American League Champion Kansas City Royals takes on the National League Champion New York Mets in the best-of-seven World Series.
The Royals won their division, the AL Central, by 12 games over the Minnesota Twins. They then accounted for the Houston Astros in the Divisional round before beating the Toronto Blue Jays in the League Championship in six games. The Mets topped the NL East by seven games ahead of the Washington Nationals, before beating the LA Dodgers and sweeping the Chicago Cubs.
The Royals accomplished the challenge of repeating as American League champions. Last year they went to seven games in the World Series, denied their first title since 1985 largely in part to the one-man pitching staff performance of the San Francisco Giants’ Madison Bumgarner. The Mets’ last title came in 1986 when they beat the Boston Red Sox in seven games, and last played in the World Series in 2000 when beaten in five games by the cross-town rival Yankees in the so-called ‘Subway Series’
So how do this year’s squads shape up?
Lineups: The Royals have returned most of the line-up that played on this stage last year, with the main changes being the addition of free agent designated hitter Kendrys Morales and midseason trade acquisition Ben Zobrist. Together with Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez they form the heart of a lineup that focuses more on contact than power, ranking third in the majors with a .269 team average, but only 24th in home runs with 139. Their 300 doubles was third-most however.
In mid-July the Mets were the worst offensive team in baseball, scoring an average of 3.1 runs per game, but from then when they acquired veterans Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson in minor trades, followed by a much bigger one with Detroit for slugger Yoenis Cespedes, they led the majors in runs scored. Cespedes himself immediately went on a tear, hitting homers seemingly for fun and finished with 17 (and 44 runs batted in) in just 57 games with the club. He’s cooled off some since then, but second baseman Daniel Murphy has been unworldly in the playoffs, homering seven times in nine contests after only hitting 14 in the regular season.
On the benches the Royals have speed, speed, and more speed in the form of Jarrod Dyson and Raul A. Mondesi, who could the first person in history to make their big league debut in a World Series. They look to lack a big bat there, but Morales will be on the pine for the games played in New York with no DH in the National League park. The Mets bench has more flexibility to it, with Johnson and Michael Cuddyer the principal options to pinch-hit or step into the DH role in the games played in Kansas City.
Pitching: The two teams have very different staff constructions. The Mets might have the best rotation in baseball, and certainly one of the youngest and cheapest. Matt Harvey is the staff leader, and the ‘Dark Knight of Gotham’ will start Game 1 after solid return season after missing all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. Jacob deGrom, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year will start Game 2, with two 2015 rookies, flamethrowing Texan Noah Syndergaard and lefty Long Island native Steven Matz to start games 3 & 4 respectively. Veteran starters Jon Niese and 42-year-old, 18 season veteran Bartolo Colon will now bolster a bullpen that outside of closer Jeurys Familia looks a little shaky.
Conversely, the Royals strength is in their relief corps. That is headed now by Wade Davis, who owns a sub 1.00 ERA over the last two seasons and moved into the closer role late in the season when Greg Holland succumbed to an elbow injury. Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, and Luke Hochevar (the latter two both missed all of 2014 with injury, Madson all of 2013 as well) form a formidable, hard throwing setup trio. Edinson Volquez will get the Game 1 start, followed by Johnny Cueto, acquired from Cincinnati midseason but inconsistent since, in Game 2. Lack of consistency has also plagued the clubs homegrown talent Yordano Ventura, who will start Game 3, while former basketballer Chris Young will start Game 4.
Defense: The Mets are, at best, a league average club defensively, made worse by the injury to shortstop Ruben Tejada in the Division series against Los Angeles. Their only plus defender is centrefielder Juan Lagares, who won a Gold Glove in 2014 but has been relegated to part-time duty in latter part of this season. It is a gamble to try running on Cespedes’ arm though.
Defense has been the third of the Royals’ main calling cards. Outfielder Alex Gordon is a multiple time Gold Glover, joined last year by first baseman Hosmer and catcher Perez; and arguably third baseman Moustakas, centrefielder Cain, and shortstop Alcides Escobar are all above average with the leather. The could plug Jarrod Dyson into the outfield late in games if they wanted to (and often did in 2014), but so far the only move being regularly made is to swap in Paulo Orlando in right field for Alex Rios, while Zobrist’s ability to play seemingly everywhere gives them flexibility if they need it.
The managers: The Royals are skippered by Ned Yost, a former major league backup catcher in his 6th year as the clubs manager. Yost was a long-time member of Hall of Famer Bobby Cox’s coaching staff in Atlanta (1991-2002), before managing the Milwaukee Brewers for nearly six seasons (2003-08). Yost was vilified for some decisions in previous years in Kansas City, but there has been an absence of that this season.
The Mets manager is Terry Collins, a former minor league infielder who never made the majors as a player. He has a reputation as a fiery and intense character, and is in his sixth season with the club, having previously managed the Houston Astros (1994-96) and Anaheim Angels (1997-99), as well as in Japan with the Orix Buffaloes (2007-08.
The moves that they make (or don’t), could ultimately decide the fate of the Commissioners Trophy
My prediction: Royals in 6
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