Here’s the thing about the 2015 World Series and its two participants, the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets: I like both of these teams. I’ve liked the Mets franchise, really, since I was a kid. Darryl Strawberry is my favorite player of all time, and I’ve been pretty obsessed with the ’86 Mets since 8th grade (just check this out). The Royals? I’m happy that this once-proud franchise, that was always near the top of the standings from 1975 to 1985, is back winning pennants again, after almost three decades of futility, with those years featuring some of the most egregious front office incompetence in baseball history. I’d be happy for fans of both teams, really if either of these teams won the crown.
That makes it all well and good in the interests of good sportsmanship, but bad for someone who wants to have some kind of rooting interest here. I mean, this is a bit too bi-partisan for my tastes. Give me someone to hate. It’d be easier if the Royals were facing the Dodgers, because then I’d root like a maniac for the Royals, because screw the Dodgers. If the Mets were playing the Blue Jays, it’d be easy to root for the Mets because, again, I’ve always liked the Mets, and it’s easy to root against the Blue Jays after the way their drunk fans behaved in ALDS Game Five against the Rangers. Bad form, French Canada. Instead we’ve got two likable teams and I don’t know what to do with myself. Root for a good, friendly match with handshakes all around? Everybody’s a winner! We all get trophies!
Regardless, I’ll still watch the Series religiously, and it should be a pretty good one. One team isn’t head-and-shoulders better than the other. The Royals won 95 games and basically won their division wire-to-wire. They were six outs away from losing to the Astros in the ALDS, but came roaring back thanks to their death-by-1000 singles offensive attack (more on that in a second). The Mets won 90 games in a crappy division, but came on strong late and, through better health and some deft trades, they were pretty much a totally different team in August and September than they were in the season’s first four months.
Instead of doing a long position-by-position World Series preview here like I did last year, I’m just going to make five predictions. Before I get to those, I’d like to point out a couple of interesting little narratives that I think might come into play this Series.
First, the Mets’ starting pitching. It’s awesome. The Mets have maybe the best front three starters in baseball. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Matt Harvey all throw hard as hell and rack up a ton of strikeouts. The Royal offense, meanwhile, almost never strikes out. Kansas City’s hitters put the ball in play, hit a lot of singles (as mentioned earlier), and use their speed to wreak havoc on the basepaths. It’s not a great offense by any means, but a team that can put the ball in play can at least make things happen, as seen in the Royals’ comeback against the Astros. The Mets’ infield defense is, other than David Wright, pretty terrible, so if the Royals can put bat on ball and poke enough grounders into the outfield, things could get mighty uncomfortable for deGrom, Thor, et al.
The Royals had the fewest batter strikeouts in the American League, and only had two hitters, Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales, strike out more than 100 times, which is kind of unheard of these days. The Royals don’t have a lineup as powerful as the Dodgers or Cubs, but theirs is probably way more irritating. It should be interesting, is all I’m saying.
Second, the two teams are almost polar opposites in terms of the usage of their respective pitching staffs. The Mets have their studly troika of fireballers, and they’ll rely on them more or less to pitch as deep as they can into games, avoiding a questionable bullpen (Addison Reed? Really?) as much as reasonably possible.
The Royals, meanwhile, almost use their pitchers backwards. Their starters, Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, and Johnny Cueto, are pretty much only asked to go five, maybe six innings just to get the game to the untouchable bullpen. Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis will probably be maxed out if need be in this series, going multiple innings when asked to, and justifiably so. Flags fly forever, and the frayed UCL can be repaired after the World Series parade.
The Royals’ top three starters can be brilliant at times (witness Cueto carving up the Astros in ALDS Game Five), but they can also be wild and terrible (witness Cueto in ALCS Game Three), and you just never know what you’re going to get out of them. If the Mets get to them early it will probably be no contest. Then again, if the Royals keep it close and get into the Mets’ bullpen, they have a huge advantage. It’s a matchup, kind of, of the newish standard, post-LaRussa model of pitching staff usage vs. the new new, bullpen-centric model that baseball as a whole may be gravitating towards.
Anyways, those predictions I had promised earlier…
1. Daniel Murphy will hit zero home runs.
Baseball is a funny sport. Murphy came into the 2015 postseason with a career high single season home run total of fourteen. He’d basically established a yearly home run baseline in his career in the single digits. He’s been a good, not great, hitter, often maligned for his poor defense, and it was pretty much a given that the Mets would let him walk in free agency without a second thought.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the franchise’s fifth-ever National League pennant. Murphy began channeling his inner Strawberry as soon as the playoffs started, and hit seven home runs in the first two rounds. He set a record by homering in six straight playoff games, and it’s not like he was taking advantage of some beleaguered mop-up man coming out of the bullpen in the late innings. Murphy was hitting bolts off of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Grienke, Jake Arrieta, and Jon Lester. Not exactly a group of scrubs.
Perhaps Murphy made some adjustment in his swing, or is seeing the ball better. Perhaps he just has this inherent ability to pwn the best pitchers in the world in October. Perhaps this power momentum will carry into the World Series and continue on into next season, where some front office-types expect him to get a five-year deal in free agency.
Sadly, this being baseball, it’s highly likely that Murphy doesn’t leave the yard once in the World Series. Baseball has this weird ability to restore balance to its world (like Godzilla!) and stop cool narratives dead in their tracks, much to the chagrin of sportswriters everywhere. Remember when, last postseason, the Royals ran the A’s, Angels, and Orioles ragged on the basepaths on their way to the World Series, and the dominant storyline headed into the Fall Classic was “how will the Giants stop the Royals’ running attack”? Remember then when the Royals attempted just two steals that whole series and it wasn’t even a factor at any point? Yes, just when we think we know something, baseball has a way of showing us that we know nothing, after all.
The real culprit behind Murphy’s home run binge probably isn’t some October adjustment or newfound insight into Clayton Kershaw’s soul. It’s small sample size, the bane of any baseball writer trying to milk a compelling storyline. Murphy squared up seven pitches and hit them out of the ballpark. That doesn’t wipe away years of evidence that he’s not really a power hitter. Murphy may well hit .400 and win the Series MVP, but don’t be shocked at all if his sudden Ruthian output comes to a not-so-mysterious halt.
2. Bartolo Colon will start, and win, Game Four.
Right now, Steven Matz is slated to start Game Four, with Colon working out of the bullpen. Matz has made two starts this postseason and has pitched pretty well, though he didn’t lasted past the fifth inning in either of them. Including the postseason, he’s made eight big league starts, total, in his career.
Colon has pitched in 18 big league seasons and has won 218 big league baseball games. His career looked dead in the water at least twice, and I’m not sure how he gets anybody out by basically only throwing 88 mph fastballs (seriously). Through it all, he’s had quite an impressive career, one that’ll qualify him easily for the Hall of Very Good. It may surprise some, then, that this will be his first World Series. Coming into this postseason, Colon had made ten postseason starts, but none of them in the Fall Classic.
Sentimentality is a big deal in baseball a lot of the time, and often it gets in the way of rational decision-making (remember the Giants and that Aubrey Huff contract?). If the Mets go up 3-0, or if they go down 3-0, I expect sentimentality to win out, and for the big guy with 467 big league starts to get the ball over the guy with six. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s something to be said for a nice gesture to a player who has had a long and terrific career.
3. Michael Conforto will have a big Series.
I freaking love Conforto. The kid can flat out rake, he’s been a darling of scouts since his college days, he slugged .506 in his first taste of big league action, and I’m not just singing his praises because I nabbed him in a fantasy keeper league. With the DH in effect in four games and with the Royals throwing nothing but right-handed pitchers, there’s absolutely no reason for the Mets to bench Conforto in lieu of Michael Cuddyer. Conforto has struggled thus far in the playoffs but, again, small sample and I think he’s primed to have a World Series breakout party against Kansas City’s right-handers.
4. Ned Yost will make one bone-headed, game losing decision in the Series
Poor Ned Yost. I really hope he doesn’t frequent the baseball blogosphere. Yost gets a lot of grief for his in-game decision making and, to be honest, a lot of it is probably merited. Yost is, by many accounts (here’s one), well-liked by all of his players, and he’s a manager capable of maintaining a loose and fun clubhouse. When you consider the way the Washington Nationals self-destructed under Matt Williams this season, that’s no small feat.
Tactically, though, he’s kinda shaky. Yost is getting torn a new one by scribes for his in-game moves (or non-moves) against the Blue Jays in ALCS Game Six. Among the numerous sins: he left Yordano Ventura in an inning too long; he pinch-ran for Kendrys Morales, basically their top slugger, in the eighth inning when the team had a lead and there was a runner in front of him; and, worst of all, he sent Ryan Madson to start the eighth when he had a well-rested Wade Davis capable of going two innings for the save. Only the latter move burned the Royals, but they won the game anyway, in spite of Yost’s blundering.
The questionable moves didn’t cost the Royals the game or the ALCS, but there’s certainly a pattern. Yost made a number of eyebrow-raising bullpen decisions on the way to the World Series last year, and his unquestionably terrible moves in the Wild Card game last season against the A’s should have cost them that one. Yost is also notorious for getting fired by the Brewers with twelve games to go in the 2008 season with a playoff berth at stake. He is certainly not going to be mistaken for Earl Weaver any time soon.
It is worth mentioning, however, that one Bruce Bochy was responsible for a never-ending string of gawdawful in-game moves the helped the Padres lose the 1998 World Series. Fast-forward to now, and Bochy is seen as one of the best on-field tacticians in the game. Some managers just learn from their mistakes and improve as the years go by. To be fair to Yost, too, he managed Game Seven of last year’s World Series just about as well as you possibly could in a losing effort. Given his history, though, and given some of the goofy decisions he’s made with his bullpen just this postseason, odds are that he makes at least one dumb decision that costs the Royals a game and then subsequently gets raked over the coals on the Internets for it.
5. The Royals will win in seven games.
It’s the Royals’ year. That’s what I think. Then again, maybe I would have thought that last season if their World Series opponent hadn’t been the Giants.
Honestly, I’m so done predicting playoff series outcomes. It’s an exercise in pointlessness. Take this year’s Phillies and pit them against the 1927 Yankees and, just by sheer luck, they’ll win four out of seven games at some point if they play often enough. Many times the best teams don’t win short series, which is true in any sport, so it’s hard to sit here and pick out which team’s strengths or weaknesses will make a difference, when it could all come down to a play where Lucas Duda loses a ground ball in his jock strap or something. Who can predict that? Who could have predicted that the Dodgers would lose a playoff series because their infielders forgot to cover third base on an exaggerated infield shift? Again, baseball is great at showing even the smartest people that they don’t know squat.
Micro-analyzing and then attempting to predict a seven-game series is ultimately ridiculous, so I’ll just make my prediction of the outcome on narrative, and narrative alone. The Royals came within 90 feet of winning it all last year. They rolled into the playoffs this season, they’re a fun team to watch, they play in a cool ballpark, and they’re a franchise that deserves a run of success like this after so many years of being held up by Bud Selig as a bullshit example of how small market teams can’t compete and blah blah blah.
I think it’ll go seven, with four of the games being decided by a run, and the Royals’ bullpen ultimately proving to be the deciding factor. It’s not crazy to think these two teams might meet again in the World Series next year, and if the Royals win this year and win another one of these people will start throwing the “dynasty” word around, and just two years ago even the most ardent defenders of Royals GM Dayton Moore would have thought that totally insane.