by Paul West
After a thrilling magic carpet ride of a regular season and a surprisingly dominant NLCS, the New York Mets have one more hill to climb. They’ll face a Kansas city Royals team that’s back for the second year in a row and hungry for their first title since 1985, the year before the Mets’ last title. Here are some of the keys to a possible Mets World Series win.
A STRONG START BY HARVEY
While many expected Jacob deGrom to get the Game One start, it will instead be Matt Harvey who kicks off the series for the Mets. This is probably for two reasons, both related to fatigue. For deGrom, he’s been a workhorse this postseason; his fastball, while still retaining its velocity, has at times seemed to lose a bit of its electricity. He’s pitched through it masterfully, but as their current de-facto ace the Mets want to maximize his effectiveness in his final starts. Meanwhile, the narrative surrounding Harvey’s post-surgery innings accumulation has more than worn out its welcome but it’s still a legitimate concern. Harvey is way past Dr. James Andrews‘ recommended (and probably well-advised) cap, and while he’s pitched well in October, he won’t be able to go deep into games and he’ll probably only make one start this series. While his performance has been admirable, every impending Harvey start has a cross-your-fingers feel to it because of how many innings he’s thrown in his return season. The Mets want him to retain his rhythm for one last good start, before likely being limited to a relief role. This also lines deGrom up to pitch multiple games as well as at least one in relief in a possible Game Seven–which would likely be started by Noah Syndergaard. Harvey loves the big stage and embraces big games, and he’ll come out with guns blazing–but if he’s too pumped up, he might rely too much on trying to throw it past a team who’s known for hitting fastballs well.
A WELL-RESTED FAMILIA
After starting spring training as an afterthought in the Mets’ closer conversation, Jeurys Familia was dominant for most of the regular season. He’s been lights-out in October, having already tied the franchise record for a single postseason with five saves. One of these saves was of the two-inning variety, and like deGrom he’s been a workhorse in the playoffs. Since the Mets finished the NLCS quickly, Familia should be able to let it all hang out for the last series of 2015. This is no small matter against a Royals team that’s scored almost two-thirds of its postseason runs in the final three innings of games.
MURPHY GETTING HELP
When you factor out Daniel Murphy, the Mets are just hitting .207 this postseason. It must be remembered that postseason team batting averages can’t be expected to be high; teams that make the playoffs usually do so at least partly thanks to pitching. But while Murph was busy breaking the postseason record for consecutive games with a home run, the rest of the Mets were mostly held in check. To be fair, people like Curtis Granderson and David Wright have come up with timely hits; to be fair, the Mets have faced the top three in the NL Cy Young race in the first two rounds; to be fair, Lucas Duda and Yoenis Cespedes seem to be heating up, and Grandy was actually hot for part of early October. Travis d’Arnaud‘s blast that took a bite out of the Citi Field apple was a sign that might be warming up, as well. But the Royals’ starting pitching is the most vulnerable part of their team, and they have the most vulnerable rotation of the three they’ve faced so far. The Mets will need contributions from other parts of their lineup if they’re going to bring home the title.
The Royals are the best team in baseball at hitting fastballs, and they’re the hardest team in baseball to strike out. At first glance, this would seem to be a problem for a rotation that throws historically hard and racks up strikeouts in bunches. Upon further inspection, it bear noting that the Royals don’t walk very much, either, and they tend to face relatively few pitches per at-bat. They also don’t fare too well against lower velocities, which means the Mets will have to pitch with craft rather than pure power. This is something the Mets’ aces are good at; over the course of the season, Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard (and to a lesser degree Steven Matz, who’s still getting his feet wet at the big league level) have all improved at executing their breaking pitches and succeeding when they don’t have their best stuff. If they can pitch to contact and keep the Royals off the bases, they can avoid the late-inning scraped-together rallies that have kept the Royals alive.
The Mets’ biggest advantage against the Royals might be the quality and depth of their starting pitching. But there are other factors in play, and if the Mets are going to win their first World Series since 1986 it will take more than power pitching and a single hot bat. They’ll have their work cut out for them, but they’ve proven they’re up to the task.