The 111th World Series features a historic matchup: Did you know this is the first time two expansion franchises have met in the Fall Classic? That’s right, each of the previous 110 series included at least one of baseball’s original 16 franchises. Pretty remarkable, huh?
Not that the Mets and Royals don’t have plenty of their own history, of course. New York owns two titles (1969, 1986) and two other World Series appearances (1973, 2000). Kansas City owns only one title (1985) to go with two other appearances (1980, 2014). Either way, the winner of this series is going to end a championship drought of at least 29 years.
How do the two teams stack up? And who do we think will prevail? Nationals Insider Mark Zuckerman offers five points in favor of the Mets, while Orioles Insider Rich Dubroff gives five reasons to pick the Royals. Enjoy…
MARK ZUCKERMAN’S CASE FOR NEW YORK…
1. The best rotation in baseball
With all due respect to the Nationals and everyone who gushed over their rotation heading into Opening Day — yes, including yours truly — the Mets actually have baseball’s best group of starters. How good? You can make a legitimate case for any one of three young right-handers to start Game 1 of the World Series, with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard a collective 6-1 with a 2.36 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings pitched so far this postseason. Harvey gets the ball for the opener, but those three young aces are positioned to start six of a possible seven games in the series. And it’s not like Game 4 starter Steven Matz is any slouch. These guys are the real deal, and the fact they can consistently provide six or seven innings per start (unlike the Royals’ erratic rotation) means Terry Collins doesn’t have to worry about going to his bullpen too early.
2. An explosive lineup
Has one team’s lineup ever been so completely transformed in-season like this one? On July 31, the Mets ranked last in the majors in runs scored. Yes, last. From that point on, they ranked second (behind only the crazy-explosive Blue Jays). The addition of Yoenis Cespedes obviously made a huge difference, but it’s not all on him. David Wright returned from a long DL stint. Michael Conforto was called up from Class AA and became an immediate contributor. Travis d’Arnaud continued to develop. Curtis Granderson was an experienced force at the top of the lineup. And then Daniel Murphy … well, he turned into Babe Ruth. Put that all together, and you’ve got a lineup that can out-slug anybody right now.
3. A veteran-laden bench
Just as important as the Cespedes acquisition were the additions of Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson to the Mets roster. They’ve since been bumped from the lineup, but they’re both experienced and dangerous bats for Collins to summon when he needs something off the bench. (Johnson serves as DH in Game 1, hardly a disadvantage for the AL club.) New York also has Michael Cuddyer, a true professional hitter. Late in a tight ballgame, you can just about guarantee the Mets will send a productive batters to the plate with a good chance to deliver.
4. Jeurys Familia is near-perfect and can go multiple innings
The Royals’ bullpen gets all the love, but how about the job the Mets’ closer has done this month? Familia’s total pitching line through the NLDS and NLCS: 9.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K. Opponents are batting a pathetic .065 against him. Right-handed batters are 0-for-12. With an upper-90s fastball and a forkball that dives down in the zone, Familia is able to induce nothing but groundballs and weak contact. And he has already shown the ability to record more than three outs, doing that three times in eight total appearances so far. No, the Mets’ setup men don’t compare to the Royals’ setup men. But the dominant rotation and dominant Familia afford Collins the luxury of not needing very much bridge work.
5. The magic factor
Let’s be honest here: The Mets have had something special going on for three months now. Nobody — and I mean NOBODY — thought they’d make the postseason, let alone, the World Series in late July. They looked like a trainwreck, especially after their proposed Carlos Gomez trade fell through. Since then, just about every possible thing that could go their way has gone their way. And that has continued through the playoffs. Call it intangibles, call it confidence, call it destiny. Whatever you want to call it, the Mets have it.
Why Mark likes New York to win the World Series
There’s only one thing that leaves me leery about picking the Mets: The long layoff they just sat through. They had five full days off between the NLCS and World Series, and if you don’t think that can be a problem, you haven’t been paying in recent years. The last four teams that swept their LCS (and thus subsequently had a long layoff) went on to lose the World Series, three of them in five games or fewer. That’s troubling, because all that momentum and magic the Mets built up could have disappeared in the last week. That said, the Royals just had three days off themselves, so it’s not like they haven’t had a chance to cool off in the interim. And ultimately, I just can’t get past New York’s trio of aces and deep lineup and bench. This isn’t a perfect team, but they’ve played just about perfectly for months now. I was a skeptic throughout, but no more. Mets win in 6.
RICH DUBROFF’S CASE FOR KANSAS CITY…
1. The Royals’ hitters are much more experienced than the Cubs
Chicago featured a lineup of powerful, young players who had difficulty adjusting to the Mets. While Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are terrific, they’re still inexperienced. The Royals have an experienced lineup with players that have lots of postseason experience. Six of their nine regulars (Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez) came within an eyelash of winning the World Series a year ago. Two of the three regular additions (Kendrys Morales and Ben Zobrist) have plenty of postseason experience, and the third (Alex Rios) played in more regular-season games without reaching the postseason than anyone.
2. These guys can score in a hurry
Twice in this year’s playoffs, the Royals have scored five runs in an inning to turn a loss into a win. Kansas City was six outs from elimination in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the ALDS against Houston. The Royals began the inning with five straight singles and turned a 6-2 deficit into a 7-6 lead. In the Game 2 of the ALCS, Kansas City scored five in the eighth on six hits — five singles and a double — and after falling behind 3-0, they led 5-3. The Orioles saw this quick work, too. On Aug. 24, they led the Royals 3-1 after 5 1/2 innings. Kansas City scored seven runs on eight hits, dizzying the Orioles. No team in baseball has this combination of speed (their 104 stolen bases were second in the majors) and terrific fundamentals. Cain’s dash home from first base with none out on a single was the play of the postseason.
3. Kansas City’s starters may not be as good as New York’s, but they’re still plenty good
Anyone would rather have Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard’s future than the Royals’ four, but Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez and Chris Young are good enough to keep Kansas City in any game. Sure, Cueto has struggled since coming over to the American League, and has been fragile in opposing parks in the postseason, but current Mets batters are hitting just .205 against him, and the ultra-hot Daniel Murphy is 3-for-17 with no homers off Cueto.
4. Daniel Murphy can’t stay this hot, and the Mets may get cold
No one can hit home runs in seven straight postseason games. Until Murphy came along not a single Met in the team’s 54 seasons had hit a home run in six straight games. The Mets will have been off five days since eliminating the Cubs, and that can’t help. Only once in the Division Series era, which began back in 1995 has a team which won the LCS in four straight games won the Series. That was in the first year of the Division Series when the Atlanta Braves beat the Cleveland Indians.
5. The Royals bullpen is superb
Greg Holland went down in September, and Wade Davis took over as closer. What were Davis’ numbers this season? He was 8-1 with an 0.94 ERA. Davis averages an astonishing 4.4 hits per nine innings. Ryan Madson, who was saved from the scrap heap this season, took Davis’ place as a setup man. He was 1-2 with a 2.13 ERA and struck out more than four times as many as he walked. Kelvin Herrera is an effective bridge, and among these three, none are prone to giving up home runs. Danny Duffy, the Royals’ fifth starter, can be a long man, if necessary.
Why Rich likes Kansas City to win the World Series
The Royals and Mets have played just nine games against each other, but will play each other at Kauffman Stadium to begin the 2016 season. That’s never happened before. Every year, National League partisans claim that the American League team will be at a disadvantage in the World Series because they lose the designated hitter. Let’s put that argument to bed. In the 20 World Series since the Division Series began, the AL and NL have each won 10. In 2013, John Farrell found a way to use David Ortiz in St. Louis, and this year, Ned Yost can find a way to use Morales at Citi Field, too. Kansas City’s lineup is far better than New York’s, and its pitching, which had some issues with Toronto, will shut down the Mets’ hitters. A deep lineup, good starting pitching and outstanding bullpen give this one to the Royals in five.