New York Mets @Kansas City Royals
Tuesday, October 26
5:07 pm PT on FOX
New York Mets (90-72) @Kansas City Royals (95-67)
Matt Harvey vs. Edinson Volquez
The Kansas City Royals probably shouldn’t be considered a surprising World Series entrant after playing in the series last year, but they were not expected to win their division by most experts. They not only won their division by 12 games, they also had the best record in the American League. They followed that up with a three games to two defeat of the Houston Astros in the ALDS, then beat Toronto four games to two in the ALCS. The Royals have used consistent hitting and a good bullpen to plow through the post-season.
The Mets’ starting rotation is young and incredibly good, led by Jacob deGrom (5.2 WAR) and Matt Harvey (4.4 WAR). Noah Syndergaard was nearly as good but had just 24 starts. The number four in the rotation will be rookie Steven Matz, who has just six regular season starts to his name. The Royals’ starters don’t have the same stuff as the Mets, but they are a solid bunch. Their four man rotation is slated to start with Edinson Volquez in game one, followed by Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura, and Chris Young.
The Royals have a better, deeper bullpen, along with the current best closer in baseball, Wade Davis. The Mets also have a great closer, Jeurys Familia, but the rest of their pen doesn’t match up with the Royals. On defense, the Royals are the best team in baseball, while the Mets are slightly below average.
New York Mets Likely Lineup:
With the Royals having four right-handed starting pitchers, the Mets will likely use the lineup they’ve been using against righties during this postseason:
RF Curtis Granderson--Granderson had a resurgent year in 2015, posting his best Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (WAR) since 2011. This is his second year with the Mets, after spending the first 10 years of his career with the Tigers and Yankees. He was a disappointment last year, when he hit .227/.326/.388 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) but bounced back this year at the age of 34 to hit .259/.364/.457, which made him the second-best hitter on the team among players with more than 300 plate appearances with the Mets this year. His biggest flaw is an inability to hit left-handed pitching. Granderson hit .280/.388/.505 against right-handed pitchers but just .183/.273/.286 against lefties.
3B David Wright--The Face of the Franchise for the last decade, David Wright was one of the most consistently good players in baseball from 2005 to 2008. He’s been a bit up-and-down over the last six years, with a low season in 2011 when he hit .254/345/.427 and a high season in 2012 when he hit .306/.391/492. Injuries have taken their toll the last few years. Wright hasn’t played a full season since 2012 and was limited to 38 games this year. In the 2015 post-season, Wright was just 1 for 16 against the Dodgers in the NLDS but hit .286/.444/.429 against the Cubs in the NLCS.
2B Daniel Murphy--Murphy has been ridiculous this post-season. In case you missed it, Murphy has hit home runs in six straight games and has seven homers in nine games during the playoffs. He’s hitting .421/.436/1.026 in the post-season. This is a guy who had a career-high in home runs this year, with just 14, and who has been basically a league average player for the majority of his career. He’s having the post-season of a lifetime, but the magic could run out at any moment. I would bet on Murphy returning to his league average self before I’d expect his hot hitting to continue.
CF Yeonis Cespedes--Cespedes was acquired in a trade by the Mets right before the trade deadline and made an immediate impact by absolutely destroying the NL in August. His hot hitting seemed to be infectious, as the Mets’ offense went from being one of baseball’s worst to one of baseball’s best right around the time Cespedes showed up. He slowed down in September and hasn’t been nearly as good in the post-season, but he is always a threat at the dish.
1B Lucas Duda—Duda led the Mets in home runs and RBI this year and his wRC+ was tops on the team for hitters with more than 300 plate appearances for the team. Unlike Granderson, Dude hit left-handed pitchers well this year, but his career numbers against them are sub-par (.229/.301/.369). Duda is also below-average with the glove at first base.
C Travis d’Arnaud--d’Arnaud missed time in the early part of the season but put together the best year of his young career with a .268/.340/.485 batting line and solid defense behind the dish.
DH Kelly Johnson--Johnson will likely be the left-handed hitting DH for the Mets because all of the Royals’ starting pitchers throw right handed. It’s been years since Johnson was an above-average regular, but he did bounce back a bit this year in a part-time role. He hit similarly against lefties and righties, but with more power against righties, which is why he’ll be in the DH spot when the Mets play in Kansas City.
LF Michael Conforto--Conforto was the #10 overall pick in the June 2014 Amateur Draft. He rose quickly through the minor leagues this season after starting the year at the High-A level. He played 46 games at that level, then 45 more at AA, then skipped AAA and joined the Mets on July 24th and hit .270/.335/.506 in 56 games. It has been a terrific rise through the ranks for Conforto. He’s struggled in a small sample size in the post-season, with just 1 hit in 15 at-bats so far.
SS Wilmer Flores--Never a great hitter, Flores came close to being league average this year by adding some pop to his game with 16 home runs in the regular season. The problem with Flores is an inability to get on base often enough to be an above-average hitter. His career OBP is .287.
The first two games of this series are in Kauffman Stadium, home of the Royals in the American League, so the DH will be used. Johnson has been slated to be the DH in Game One by Mets’ manager Terry Collins, but I don’t know the exact lineup yet. I expect Johnson to be in the lower half of the lineup, though.
Kansas City Royals Likely Lineup:
SS Alcides Escobar--Having Alcides Escobar at the leadoff spot just boggles the mind of baseball fans who are strong advocates of advanced statistical analysis. It just doesn’t make any sense at al to lead off with a guy with a lifetime on-base percentage of .298. And yet, it’s worked so far for the Royals. Escobar hit .286 in the ALDS then upped his game by hitting .478 in the ALCS. Of course, he hasn’t drawn a walk yet this post-season and has drawn exactly one walk in 120 career post-season plate appearances. One ongoing theme in the playoffs was the Royals’ record when Escobar swung at the first pitch he saw. In the ALDS and ALCS, the Royals were 6-3 when Escobar swung at the first pitch and 1-1 when he didn’t swing.
2B Ben Zobrist--Escobar is a questionable choice for the top spot in the lineup, but Ben Zobrist is a very good choice for the number two spot. Zobrist joined the team mid-season and posted the second highest on-base percentage of players with 250 or more plate appearances for the Royals.
CF Lorenzo Cain--Cain has improved greatly over the last two years. He was a below average hitter who was most known for his very good defense back in 2013 when he hit .251/.310/.348. Last year, he bumped his numbers up to .301/.339/412, then improved again this year, hitting .307/.361/.477. He’s still terrific in the field and a very good base runner. Cain has easily been the Royals’ best player in 2015.
1B Eric Hosmer--Hosmer has alternated between good and bad years since he came up as a rookie in 2011. He had a good rookie year, then really struggled in 2012. He bounced back in 2013, then struggled again in 2014. This has been his best season, with career highs in runs, RBI, and on-base percentage.
DH Kendrys Morales--Morales was signed by the Royals as a free agent in the off-season to provide a good bat in the middle of the order and he did just that. He had his best season since 2009 and led the Royals in RBI, with 106. He’s a switch-hitter who hit better as a righty this year but was also above average from the left side.
3B Mike Moustakas--Before this season, Mike Moustakas had consistently under-performed his pedigree. He was the #2 overall pick in 2007 but struggled to be even a league average hitter in his first four seasons in the bigs. He finally broke out with a .284/.348/.470 batting line this season, along with career highs in hits, runs, home runs, and RBI. One of the narratives around Moustakas that you may hear from the TV announcers is that he has become much more of an opposite field hitter this year than in the past. On the surface, this looks true. Moustakas hit the ball to the opposite field 27.4% of the time this year compared to 23.1% of the time in his career. A closer look reveals that most of this change in opposite field hitting happened early in the year and Moose has returned to his old self more recently. In April, Moustakas hit the ball the other way 39% of the time. This dropped to 30.7% of the time in May. Since then, his opposite field hit percentage has much more closely resembled the rest of his career. In the second half this year, Moustakas hit the ball the other was 22.2% of the time, which is actually lower than his career mark. Now that you know this, you can be just as annoyed as I am when the announcer claims Moustakas has become an “opposite field hitter.”
C Salvador Perez--Perez has upped his home run totals in each year he’s played in the big leagues, culminating with a career-high 21 homers this year. Unfortunately, his wRC+ has dropped in each year he’s been in the bigs, down to 87 this year (13% below average). The main issue is an on-base percentage that has dropped from .361 in 39 games during his rookie year to .280 in 142 games this year. Perez can still pack a punch with the long ball, but his OBP is a killer. He’s great behind the plate, though.
LF Alex Gordon--A more sabermetrically-inclined manager than Ned Yost would have Alex Gordon and his .377 OBP much higher in the lineup. Gordon should be in the first or second spot in the lineup, with Escobar moving down to the basement. Gordon has combined good hitting with great defense in left field to be one of the top players in the leagues since 2011.
RF Alex Rios--It was just two years ago that Alex Rios hit 18 home runs and had 81 RBI. Since then, Rios has had two straight years with just 4 home runs and has been a well below average hitter. This was the second-worst year of his career with the stick, as he hit just .255/.287/.353 in 105 games. Naturally, Rios is hitting .333/.389/.485 in the post-season because that’s just the kind of thing a Royals player does.
The Starting Pitching Matchup
New York Mets Matt Harvey--Harvey burst upon the scene in 2012 by posting a 2.73 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 10 starts during his rookie year. He was even better the next year, with a 2.27 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, but his career was derailed by Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2014, then came back to go 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA and 1.02 WHIP this year. Everything was going great until early this summer when Harvey’s agent, the infamous Scott Boras, declared that the Mets would be risking Harvey’s health if they allowed him to go past an innings limit, which Boras claimed was 180 innings. Then came a New York media-fueled firestorm, with much back and forth commenting from both sides, and a few missed or delayed starts for Harvey to try to keep him under this limit. He’s now at 189 1/3 innings and slated to start Game One, which would likely mean he would also start Game Five, if necessary. He’ll end up close to 200 innings. Whether he also has a World Series ring remains to be seen.
Kansas City Royals Edinson Volquez--With a career ERA of 4.29 and a career WHIP of 1.43, Edinson Volquez is an unlikely Game One starter for the World Series. He was better in both metrics for the Royals this year, going 13-9 with a 3.55 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Still, he is not an ace by any means. In his eleven-year career, Volquez has been better than league average just two times. This year is one of those two times, though. He’s started three games in the 2015 post-season and is 1-2 with a 4.32 ERA and 12 walks in 16 2/3 innings.