It’s 1985 vs. 1986, all over again.
This time, though, one team gets a chance to win a World Series without strings attached.
In 1985, the Kansas City Royals won their last and only championship, against the rival St. Louis Cardinals, and it took a blown call by first-base umpire Don Denkinger to make it happen.
In 1986, the New York Mets won their last and second championship, against the Boston Red Sox, and it took an epic error by first baseman Bill Buckner to make it happen.
This time, it’s Royals vs. Mets, starting Tuesday night in Kansas City.
It’s not the World Series everybody expected — the Royals were just 20/1 to start April, and the Mets 33/1 — but it’s an intriguing one, all the same.
The Royals are back in the World Series for a second consecutive year, trying to make up for last year’s loss, which saw them fall, literally, 90 feet short. Alex Gordon, the potential tying run, was stranded at third in the ninth inning of Game 7.
Meanwhile, the Mets — owned by Michigan alum and big-time booster Fred Wilpon and managed by Midland, Mich., native Terry Collins — are the real stunner here, a team that figured at the start of the season to be no match for the pitching-heavy Washington Nationals. But the Mets hopped on the back of their own trio of aces with electric fastballs, and with the help of July addition Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers, they took off.
It’s a funny game, baseball.
You never really know how things are going to play out.
Of course, that doesn’t stop media folks from trying to make sense of it. Here goes!
Everyone was drooling over the rotation the Nationals had put together, after they signed Max Scherzer last winter. They should’ve been more enamored with the high-octane arms in Queens, with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. That’s nasty, there — especially now that the Mets and Harvey are over their lame, public, innings-limit dispute. The Royals rotation can’t compete with the stuff, though it can come a whole lot closer if trade-deadline pick Johnny Cueto finally starts pitching like the guy who, not too long ago, was looking like he’d be cashing in on a $160 million deal this winter. Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura have the stuff, but lack the consistency.
This was the main reason the Royals made the run they did a year ago. When they led through six or even five innings, the game was pretty much over. It opened some eyes around MLB, with fellow execs trying to find a similar recipe for their own relief corps. Kansas City isn’t quite as dominant in the bullpen this year, especially with no Greg Holland, but it’s still pretty darn tough, with the transition of Wade Davis to the closer’s role, and the re-emergence of Ryan Madson, who missed three full seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Mets are solid there, too, with summer acquisitions Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed helping out, and closer Jeurys Familia turning into a star before our eyes this year.
Their total runs scored aren’t much different. The Royals scored 41 more for the season, though the Mets really picked up the pace at the plate after Cespedes joined them from Detroit. In 57 games after the trade, he had 17 home runs and 44 RBIs — and he’ll be the most feared hitter in this series, assuming his ailing shoulder responds from a cortisone shot he took last week. Daniel Murphy has been a hell of a story, homering in six straight playoffs games, but he’s not the threat Cespedes is, nor is ex-Tiger Curtis Granderson or Lucas Duda. For the Royals, they were buoyed this year by the resurgence of Kendrys Morales. The Royals may be lacking the biggest names at the plate, but they’re very deep.
The Mets have a little thump to turn to, with Travis d’Arnaud, Michael Conforto and Kelly Johnson, though one of them will have to DH in games in the American League parks. Johnson will get first crack at that. One thing to watch is the health of Juan Uribe (chest). If he’s healthy, that’s valuable experience for the Mets, Uribe having played in 44 playoff games and won two World Series. The Royals’ one thumper threat off the bench is Paulo Orlando. Their biggest asset off the bench is Jarrod Dyson, who can enter a game and pretty much steal a base at will (26 for 29 this year), then stay in to play very good defense.
Well, the Royals have been here — just last year, in fact. You would think that would help them, and it just might. That said, nine times in baseball history, a team has lost at least two consecutive World Series — most recently, the 2010-11 Texas Rangers and 1991-92 Atlanta Braves (the 1907-08 Tigers were the first to do it). As for the Mets, they’re well-rested, though as we’ve seen in recent years, getting a break between the League Championship Series and the World Series can do more harm than good (hello, Tigers!). Since 1996, teams that swept the LCS have gone 0-4 in the World Series, including the ’14 Royals.
Royals skipper Ned Yost gets a lot of criticism from across baseball, though making back-to-back World Series will go a little ways in silencing that. The biggest gripes: Yost, 61, likes to bunt, and he likes roles for his relievers — but, hey, what’s most important is his players seem to have taken on Yost’s personality. He also has them always believing they’re never out of a game. As for Collins, 66, this is his first playoff appearance, in his 11th season managing, with three different teams. Like Yost, he’s a spitfire. Don’t be surprised if we see at least one ejection during this World Series.
It’s so tough to say, because this might just be the most evenly matched World Series we’ve seen in quite some time. The Royals are relentless, in all phases of the game. The Mets are so much better than most people think. There’s a good chance we’re going to see several close games, maybe even seven of them. The Royals need Johnny Cueto to be Johnny Cueto, and the Mets need Yoenis Cespedes to be fully healthy. Whichever happens could determine the 2015 World Series champion.
Mets in 7