The 2015 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets is a juicy matchup on paper for many reasons. You have pitching power versus an extremely balanced offense; a club whose last title was 1985 versus one that hasn’t won it all since 1986; East Coast versus the Midwest; and, last but not least, two teams powered by homegrown talent rather than free-agent mercenaries.
Neither the Royals (14th) nor Mets (15th) has a payroll near the top 10, so we have two cases of underdog teams as well, so to speak. (Why ESPN’s experts continue counting out K.C., however, remains a puzzle.) Both slayed the much-hyped dragons from their respective leagues in the championship series and are featuring unconscious play from Daniel Murphy and Alcides Escobar, two postseason heroes few expected to see shine in October.
However, only one team may win, and since Vegas is calling the Fall Classic a tossup, someone has to argue against Victor Barbosa’s case for the Mets. Here are five reasons the Royals will win the 2015 World Series.
1. The Royals offense is relentless
To call the Royals offense “versatile” doesn’t begin to broach the subject. Kansas City can single-and-double you or first-to-third you to death. And that’s before the knockout blow comes from someone like Kendrys Morales or Salvador Perez. Against Toronto pitching, which was stacked with David Price and Marcus Stroman at the top of the rotation, K.C. hit .294 and averaged over six runs per game.
What makes the Royals so relentless is their ability to make contact. They struck out 6.01 times per game in 2015, by far the fewest of any MLB team. (The Cubs, whom Mets pitchers feasted on in the NLCS, led all MLB with 9.37 SO per game.) Contact just doesn’t mean putting the ball in play, either. Fouling off pitches tires out pitchers and enables hitters to get the pitch for solid contact, and this lineup does that with the best of them. This persistence has fueled the now-standard Royals rallies against elite pitching in the postseason.
But the best example of how lethal a weapon this offense is may have come in the clinching game of the ALCS versus the Blue Jays. When Eric Hosmer laced a long single to right, Lorenzo Cain took off from first base and never stopped running, scoring what became the winning run. How rare was the event? According to Inside Edge scouting, it was the only time such a thing happened in 2015 (runner on first, not in motion, scoring on a single with fewer than two outs). The scouting report on Jose Bautista in right was solid, and Cain executed in fantastic fashion.
If you think the Mets rotation will neutralize this offense with blistering fastballs, we present our second point.
2. K.C. hits fastballs better than any team
The Mets showed just how dominant, fire-breathing pitching can lay waste to a good offensive team against the Cubs in the NLCS. No team can run out as many pitchers throwing over 95 miles per hour as New York. However, Kansas City batters are the best at hitting high-octane heaters, and the faster they come, the better they are.
In an amazing stat cited by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh, we see Royals hitters are unfazed by fastballs that come in anywhere from 94 miles per hour or greater. The team swing-and-miss percentage remained virtually consistent for K.C. even when fastballs topped 96 miles per hour. Other Major League hitters get worse, team by team, as fastball velocity increases, but the stats show the Royals remain able to make solid contact. The faster the pitch, the bigger advantage they had compared to other teams. The Mets’ cryptonite may not be effective here, and there is no question the Cubs were an easier assignment.
3. K.C.’s defense is superb
Can anyone find a weak spot in the Royals defense? The eyeball test fails miserably, so we turned to the advanced stats to find out some more information. It turns out they can’t help us in the slightest. At every position, Kansas City features elite or above-average defense, and the meat is in the outfield, where Alex Gordon and Cain lead the charge.
As we saw repeatedly in the Mets wins versus the Cubs and Dodgers, New York has a knack for taking advantage of the opposition’s blunders in the field. The Royals don’t give up these types of runs like either of those teams. The double-play tandem of Escobar at short and Ben Zobrist at second has already put up many highlight-reel plays in the postseason. At the corners, Hosmer is a Gold Glove winner at first and Mike Moustakas is a perennial favorite for the award at third.
Even the pitchers and catchers are good at preventing runs by stymieing the running game, an area where the Cubs were weak. If the Mets want to win this series, they will have to hit a lot of balls that elude Royals fielders (ideally, over the wall). On the other hand, New York’s below-average infield defense will be tested by a team that is so adept at making contact. Big advantage here for K.C.
4. Don’t sleep on the Royals rotation
We admit the Mets have an advantage in starting pitching, but just how big is that advantage? Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez gave up a combined 9 ER in four NLCS starts (21.2 IP) against the most feared lineup in Major League Baseball. What they didn’t provide in length they delivered in stinginess. After all, you want to prevent runs in the postseason, right? When you can throw out guys from the bullpen like Ned Yost can, you worry about innings later.
Aside from the ALCS Game Three stinker from Johnny Cueto, the Royals starters neutralized a lineup that is deep from one through nine, and that includes a DH, folks. (No NL rules in that series.) The rotation delivered nearly the same performances against a hot Astros lineup in the ALDS as well.
Barring more Ruth and Gehrig imitations from Yoenis Cespedes and the mighty Murph’, the Mets have a tougher task ahead of them than some writers will lead you to believe. And by the way, Jason Hammel and Kye Hendricks won’t see any action in this series.
5. The bullpen seals the deal
We shouldn’t have to talk much about the Royals bullpen. They turn games into six-inning affairs on a regular basis and aren’t fazed by typical challenges that get the best of ‘pens. (Take this one: runners on second and third with nobody out in the ninth inning of a one-run game in the ALCS clincher. Not even Josh Donaldson could plate a run off Wade Davis.)
Aside from shakiness from Ryan Madson and the bases-loaded gapper Kelvin Herrera allowed to Tulo (after inheriting runners), the dominance has been as promised in the postseason. The nastiness ends (or begins, depending on your perspective) with Davis, who allowed two baserunners in 4.0 IP while saving two ALDS games then nabbed a win and a save in two ALCS appearances. He has not allowed a run in the postseason.
Herrera (5.2 IP, 0 ER, 10 SO) and Luke Hochevar (3.0 IP, 0 ER) combined to throw the equivalent of a complete-game shutout in the Toronto series, so we would say they’re tuned up as well. If the Mets are losing in the later innings of the World Series, we just can’t see a way for them to break out against this crew.
Prediction: Royals in 6
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