By: Marisa Ingemi
The Kansas City Royals once again have beat the odds in the playoffs. After being six outs away from elimination in the ALDS to the Houston Astros, the Royals stormed back with a five run eighth inning to keep their series alive in game four. They moved on to defeat the Astros in game five to advance.
Then came the Toronto Blue Jays. After defeating the Texas Rangers in dramatic fashion (BAT FLIP CITY), the Jays were hyped as the team that might take down the Royals for the AL pennet. It was not to be, as the Royals stepped up and continued to prove why they had an AL-best 95 wins in the regular season.
The Royals were the best team in the American League throughout the 2015 season and their playoff status was never in doubt. The team made two major acquisitions at the trade deadline, adding ace pitcher Johnny Cueto and do-it-all utility man Ben Zobrist (that’s unfair since Zobrist is a starter). They also signed Kendrys Morales before the season, a player who had seemingly been written off by the rest of the league.
While not totally their strength, the Royals pitching staff has been an asset in the post season. Kansas City is striking out more than ten hitters per game in the playoffs and the Mets have struck out 94 times in their 11 games played.
Johnny Cueto was on pace for a Cy Young contending season with the Cincinnati Reds before he was traded to the Royals a little before the MLB trade deadline. While Cueto has shown flashes of his old self the former Reds ace has struggled to pitch consistently in the American League. Cueto pitched the Royals to an ALDS victory after pitching eight innings and allowing just two runs to the Astros. However, things turned sour in the ALCS when Cueto gave up eight runs in just two innings pitched to the Toronto Blue Jays. Cueto has an 8.32 ERA over his last 12 starts with the Royals, and if they are not careful, his inconsistencies may be what downs them. The Mets have not historically hit Cueto well; Travis d’Arnaud has five hits in six at bats against the former Red but the next best average for a regular player is Curtis Granderson’s 3-for-12.
Edinson Volquez is another former Reds pitcher and the Mets have had success against him. In 126 at bats against Volquez Mets hitters have a combined .270 batting average. Overall, Volquez put out a solid season in 2015, pitching to the tune of a 3.82 ERA and pitching 200 innings. He has struggled in this post season, however, giving up five runs in 11 innings against the Blue Jays where he went 1-1 overall.
Yordano Ventura is another inconsistent pitcher. The 24-year-old certainly has terrific stuff, and he pitching well in his 5.1 innings in game six against the Blue Jays. Ventura is a new face for the Mets, with only Yoenis Cespedes ever facing him and faring poorly at just 1-for-7. Nowadays hitters seeing a pitcher for the first time is somewhat overrated, since there is so much film, but there is a value to that and it gives Ventura a slight advantage.
Chris Young is likely pitching in his last season. The former Mets’ pitcher has a tendency to allow fly balls which might not bode well against a power-heavy New York lineup (see: Daniel Murphy).
Salvador Perez might be the most underrated offensive catcher in baseball. While he is hitting just .194 in these playoffs thus far, Perez still has a strong bat and hit 21 home runs in the regular season. He’s a power threat and an advantage as an offensive minded backstop.
Alcides Escobar, an oft overlooked, defensive-minded shortstop, took home the ALCS MVP after a strong series against the Blue Jays. The former Milwaukee Brewers prospect set a playoff record with a leadoff hit in each of the first four games against the Blue Jays in the ALCS. The shortstop known more for his defense went 11-for-23 in the series overall in this series.
Alex Rios is the only Royal to ever play against a Mets pitcher and he went 1-for-3 in a game against Matt Harvey when he was with the Chicago White Sox this season.
Eric Hosmer’s struggles in the post season have been well documented. He bounced back slightly in the ALCS, hitting .269 against the Jays compared to a .190 average in the ALDS against the Astros. More concering is his anemic .542 OPS this post season. Hosmer is starting to heat up and the Royals can only hope that their big bat plays as well as he can in the World Series.
Kendrys Morales was one of the more underrated acquisitions of any team in baseball this season. Morales had an astonishing 106 RBI, the second highest total of his career after 108 RBIs with the Angels in 2008. In the post season he has posted an .872 OPS and has hit four home runs.
Zobrist, who has appeared in the World Series once before when the Tampa Bay Rays fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, was a terrific addition for the Royals in their post season push. With the Royals in the regular season he hit .284 with a .364 OBP and put up a 1.2 WAR in 59 games played. Thus far in the post season he is hitting .327 and he homered twice against the Blue Jays.
Mike Moustakas took off last post season and has not looked back. The former top prospect for the Royals has had his struggles, but since his breakout in the 2014 playoffs he has been a huge part of the Royals offense. However, after a .284 season, he has struggled in the playoffs hitting .111 against the Astros and .208 against the Blue Jays. He homered once last series and the left handed batter could get going again against the hard-throwing right handed pitchers on the Mets.
Since last season the strength of the Royals has been their bullpen. Essentially, if their pitching can give them six innings, Kansas City can turn the ball over to three dominant relievers; Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Gregg Holland. Luke Hochevar is also yet to allow a run in post season play.
The Royals have a league-best 2.85 bullpen ERA so far in the playoffs, and they led the American League in the regular season with a 2.72 ERA. Herrera and Davis have combined for an impressive 26 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. The Mets are a team that could tend to strikeout a bit, and that means they might be in for a tough series offensivley against the Royals ‘pen.
Why They Will Win
The Royals very much play like a National League roster. Kansas City was second in the league in team stolen bases this season and their small-ball style would have you think they should be the team hosting pitchers hitting, not the Mets.
Kansas City was last in all of baseball this season with just 973 strikeouts. Their contact rate makes them a perfect fit to hit against the Mets. While New York’s pitching is backed by power, if Kansas City can put the ball in play that may be an advantage. The low contact rate of hitters such as Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were a problem in the NLCS and helped ultimatley lead to the Cubs demise.
The Royals batting average against pitchers throwing 95 mph or higher is .269 was second in all of baseball. That’s one advantage that says Kansas City might not be as prone to struggling as the Cubs were.
Yet, that does not mean that the Royals will be put away easily by off speed pitches, either. According to Inside Edge, the Royals are hitting .251 against off speed pitches this post season compared to a .188 combined average for the rest of the playoff teams.
Why They Will Lose
Quite simply, pitching. While the Mets boast what might be the best pitching staff of recent memory, the Royals are mired with inconsistencies. If Cueto and Volquez both pitch at their lowest level the Mets would find easy success. Young, being a fly ball pitcher, is especially a concern pitching at Citi Field.
Kansas City also ranked sixth out of 15 American League teams in runs scored, and while that isn’t bad, they also are not known for their mashing. Just like the Chicago Cubs were, the Royals may well be susceptible to the Mets pitching staff. Even a strong offense would struggle against the likes of Jacob DeGrom and Matt Harvey (and Noah Syndergaard… and Steven Matz…).
Kansas City’s offense shouldn’t be a huge concern. They are still a good hitting team and especially if players like Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer step up their game. Not having Kendrys Morales for their games at Citi Field is a distinctive disadvantage, and it will be interesting to see if the Royals actually elect to bench Hosmer against a lefty like Matz in game four and go with Morales’ hot bat.
The disadvantage for the Royals in this series is more so of a Mets advantage. New York’s pitching staff is what carried them to where they are now and it should continue to be one of the biggest advantages of any team in this post season.
Stay tuned tomorrow for a New York Mets World Series preview.