In These Playoffs
If it weren’t for 1969, this squad could be dubbed as the ‘Miracle Mets.” Not because making the World Series was impossible for this team, but because of the Mets historical struggles in past years. After more than one collapse in the past decade, and a 2006 NLCS that Mets fans might like to regret, New York finally gets their chance on the big stage.
The Mets have had an impressive post season after a strong second half of the regular season where they overtook the small dumpster fire that was the Washington Nationals. New York defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round, knocking off a rotation that boasted Clayton Kershaw and potential Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.
The Mets then defeated the National League wild card winner Chicago Cubs. New York defeated both Jake Arrieta (another Cy Young contender in the National League) and Jon Lester at Citi Field before winning both road games at Wrigley.
The greatest challenge is yet to come for the Mets as they face the American League’s top team in the Kansas City Royals. While the Mets have been equally impressive, the Royals provide a test that New York has yet to face.
Obviously, this is why the Mets are where they are. Even if they weren’t predicted to make the post season in 2015, everyone could see their pitching staff was going to be unreal. The Mets did not trail for one second of the NLCS and that would have mostly to do with their pitching. Opposing hitters in the post season are hitting just .217 against Mets pitching.
Despite the Royals having success against hard throwers in the past, they have not seen the talent that the Mets boast. Kansas City faced the fifth fewest pitches at 95 mph or harder during the regular season.
Power pitching is on the rise in baseball, and just one look at the Mets would tell you why. New York’s pitching staff threw more pitches upwards of 95 mph in baseball than any other rotation in 2015. All of their starters are under 27 years old. Syndergaard is a rookie and deGrom is just in his second season. In 54 and 1/3 innings, the Mets have struck out 69 batters.
Experience goes a long way in the playoffs, but the Mets are showing that talent can go further.
Matt Harvey had never pitched in the post season before 2015 and intrigue surrounded his playoffs debut. Controversy about his innings limit in September raised concerns as to how effective he would be, but he has silenced all of his doubters. Despite his innings limit that was such a big deal in September, Harvey might pitch three games this series if it goes to seven games.
Jacob deGrom broke out last season when he won the National League rookie of the year. Manager Terry Collins announced that deGrom will pitch in game two of the series to get him an extra sixth day of rest. The 211 innings pitched this season for deGrom are his most by far and he has been susceptible to fatigue in the past.
Noah Syndergaard had about the best season possible for a rookie pitcher. Syndergaard led all pitchers with 150 innings or more with an average velocity of 97 mph on his fastball. Syndergaard will get his first start of the series in game three at Citi Field, and it makes sense for the Mets since he has struggled at times on the road.
Steven Matz emerged out of nowhere. When the Mets lost Zack Wheeler to Tommy John surgery in early Spring Training they did not have a replacement. Matz came up during the season and the left-hander has done nothing but impress.
Since acquiring Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers at the MLB trade deadline, the Mets offense has skyrocketed and become an asset compared to a detriment.
What could not be projected was the emergence of Daniel Murphy. Murphy has a solid regular season with the Mets, hitting .281 with a 2.5 WAR and he has 16 hits which is more than his 12 swings and misses in the playoffs. Murphy hit 14 home runs during the 2015 regular season, good for his career high. He has 62 home runs in his career.
Murphy has hit seven home runs this post season. That means he has hit approximately 11% of his career home run total in this post season alone. His slugging percentage this post season is 1.026.
That’s not a typo. It is literally 1.026.
Another advantage for the Mets is starting their series at Kauffmann Stadium where they will get a designated hitter. It seems likely that Michael Conforto could be that DH and that would put Juan Lagares in centerfield.
New York has four left-handed hitters in their regular lineup; Murphy, Conforto, Lucas Duda, and Curtis Granderson. They will be facing only right-handed pitchers on the Royals staff.
Cespedes, whose arrival in Queens has been marked as the turning point for the Mets season, has dominated the post season in his career. In 78 career playoff at bats, all the others with the Oakland Athletics, Cespedes is hitting .311 with a slugging percentage of .500.
One of the shakiest aspects of the Mets all season has been their bullpen. Even while their starting pitching has been phenomenal, their bullpen has let them down throughout the season.
Jeurys Familia has been rock solid ever since he became the Mets closer this season. He has yet to give up a run this post season. It is the rest of the ‘pen that bridges to Familia that has been the issue. Bartolo Colon has had his moments, sure. Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard could be solid relief pitchers. However, it just hasn’t always worked out that way.
Familia has pitched in every Mets playoff game except for one this post season, which says a lot of things. First, having your closer in the game means you are likely winning, so it just speaks to the success of the Mets. Second, they are playing in a lot of tight games and need their closer. And third, the rest of the bullpen is just unreliable.
Colon might be the best asset for the Mets bullpen after Familia. The veteran has playoff experience on what is a young, playoff-inexperienced roster for the most part. He threw two scoreless innings twice in the NLDS against the Dodgers.
Familia remains the backbone for that bullpen, however, and he will be continued to be relied on heavily in the World Series. Familia has retired 20 of the 22 batters he faced in the post season thus far. The success of Familia is hard to believe especially after the Mets had fully expected Jenrys Mejia to be their closer this season before he was suspended for PEDs for a second time. However, the new closer picked up 43 saves in the regular season and is a big reason the Mets are where they are.
Why They Will Win
I’m not sure if I have talked about the Mets pitching yet, but just in case you haven’t noticed, the Mets have some serious pitching. Kansas City has not faced the same pitching that the Mets provide.
Yes, the Astros and Blue Jays provided ample staffs. Scott Kazmir and Dallas Kuechel had huge years in Houston and David Price is a bona fide ace in Toronto. However, Price struggled in the post season and it was just Marco Estrada who was able to shut them down. While the Astros top two starters pitched well, they still cannot match the four aces the Mets boast.
Kansas City has been spectacular in the field all season, leading the league with a 56.6 defensive runs above average. However, the Mets have never been the kind of team to run out a ground ball for an infield hit or to score runs on bloop singles. When the Mets hit the ball, they hit it hard. Granderson, Duda, Murphy, and Cespedes can all hit the ball out of the park. This is one case where the Royals defense may not make as big of an impact as it did in other series.
The Royals also like to run the ball but they might struggle to do that against d’Arnaud. Kansas City was fifth in the league in stolen bases but d’Arnaud has the best arm of any catcher they have faced this post season.
Why They Will Lose
Murphy can’t stay this hot. Sure, every year there is an unsung post season hero. We’ve seen David Freese, Hunter Pence, and Mike Napoli become playoff legends, sure. However, there has never been quite a post season run like Murphy’s and it seems impossible that it would continue.
It will be six days before the Mets take the field since they clinched the National League pennant after sweeping the Cubs. Hitting is all about timing, and those days off from facing in-game pitching could slow Murphy’s torrid pace.
Another disadvantage for the Mets is the high contact rate of the Royals. While it was simple for the Mets to blow past the Cubs, the Royals offense is far different. The Royals had a contact rate of 89.1% in the regular season.
The fact that Kansas City puts the ball in play so much is also a concern for the Mets defense since they are a below-average defensive team. Wilmer Flores, while an above-average hitting shortstop, is not nearly as strong up the middle as Ruben Tejada, who is out with a broken leg. Murphy, as good as he has been offensively, has always been a defensive liability.
The Mets are a team that should not be where they are right now. It was supposed to be the Nationals, and their mega rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, and Jordan Zimmermann that was supposed to be here. Go back and look at any April projections from the “experts” and you’d be hard pressed to find a single prediction for a Mets post season appearance, not to mention a berth in the World Series. Yet the young pitching of the Mets stepped up. They made all the right moves at the trade deadline. General manager Sandy Alderson has built this roster up from rock bottom with drafting, developing, and smart acquisitions.
Just like the Royals have, the Mets have become the model organization for team building in Major League Baseball. It’s been 29 years in the making, but the Mets have their chance in 2015.