by Paul West
Noah Syndergaard has a lot on his mind right now.
In just a few hours, he takes the ball to start the first World Series game in the history of Citi Field. He’ll do it in the biggest home game the New York Mets have had in almost a decade, against a team that’s beaten them by a combined seven runs in the first two games of the series. The Kansas City Royals are a balanced, speedy, tenacious team that hunts fastballs and rarely strikes out. This has proven a tough matchup for a Mets staff that’s struck out opponents this year at an astounding rate, and whose Big Four all rely on elite fastballs. This is why Syndergaard’s recent proclamation that he’ll “pitch to my strengths” is potentially troubling.
In Game Two, Jacob deGrom only got the Royals to swing and miss three times. This is astounding for the pitcher who struck out the side in an All-Star Game in ten pitches, and whose fastball is consistently in the upper 90s. Granted, deGrom has seemed less electric in his last two starts, perhaps feeling the cumulative effect of the yeoman-like postseason he’s thrown. But Syndergaard and the rest of the Mets’ rotation should take note not just of deGrom’s start, but of the success of change-of-pace lefty Jon Niese in his relief appearance.
One thing about the Royals to keep in mind: they don’t walk very much, either. Pounding the strike zone isn’t necessarily the best approach with them, nor is pounding them with fastballs–even if that is your strength. One of the keys to Syndergaard’s evolution as a pitcher is his reliable use of his secondary pitches to complement his blistering fastball; this should be the central aspect of his and Travis d’Arnaud‘s gameplan tonight. Heavy, and srategic, use of secondary pitches should be essential to the Mets’ gameplan going forward, in fact.
If the Royals get behind in the count, they foul off pitches to stay alive until they get one they can center. This is why it behooves the Mets’ staff to keep them guessing, and off balance, rather than overpowering them as they’ve done to many other teams. The Royals are a dangerous team when they get on base and keep the lineup rolling. But if kept off kilter and made to chase, they can ground out and pop up meekly. The absence of DH Kendrys Morales will also be a key, as Morales is an experienced switch hitter who can drive the ball and take pressure off others in the lineup.
The Mets’ Big Four has shown that they can pitch with craft beyond their years. If the Mets are going to regain control of the World Series, this will have to be the plan going forward.