Game 1: Mets (Matt Harvey, 13-8, 2.71 ERA) at Royals (Edinson Volquez, 13-9, 3.55 ERA), Tuesday, 5:07 p.m. PST.
Game 2: Mets (Jacob deGrom, 14-8, 2.54 ERA) at Royals (Johnny Cueto, 11-13, 3.44), Wednesday, 5:07 p.m. PST.
Game 3: Royals (Yordano Ventura, 13-8, 4.08 ERA) at Mets (Noah Syndergaard, 9-7, 3.24 ERA), Friday, 5:07 p.m. PST.
Game 4: Royals (Chris Young, 11-6, 3.06) at Mets (Steven Matz, 4-0. 2.27), Saturday, 5:07 p.m. PST.
Game 5*: Royals (Volquez) at Mets (Harvey), Sunday, 5:15 p.m. PST.
Game 6*: Mets (deGrom) at Royals (Cueto), Nov. 3, 5:07 p.m. PST.
Game 7*: Mets (Syndergaard) at Royals (Ventura), Nov. 4, 5:07 p.m. PST.
(* if necessary)
The case for the Royals: The Royals have been on a mission to get back to the World Series from the moment they fell short in Game 7 last year, with the tying run on third base. They have the experience of going through the playoff gauntlet, which they hope to use to their advantage. Over the past two seasons, the Royals have won 18 of 26 postseason games.
In both of their previous playoff series this year, the Royals offense has showed the ability to rally from behind. Facing elimination in the division series against Houston, they exploded for seven runs over the final two innings to win Game 4.
In Game 2 of the ALCS, Kansas City scored five runs in the seventh inning against Toronto Blue Jays ace David Price to grab a 2-0 lead. In Game 4, the Royals blew open a close one with nine runs over the final three innings. In all, they’ve averaged 5.7 runs per game in the playoffs. Triggering the attack is leadoff man and ALCS MVP Alcides Escobar, who’s hitting .386 in the playoffs (with a .408 on-base percentage) after hitting .257 in the regular season (with a .293 OBP).
Dangerous when behind, the Royals are deadly when they’re ahead. Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera and closer Wade Davis have combined to allow one earned run this postseason in 21 innings (0.43 ERA), with 28 strikeouts and six walks.
The case for the Mets: The Mets – especially second baseman Daniel Murphy – are peaking at the perfect time. After sweeping the Chicago Cubs in the NL championship series, the Mets have won their last five postseason games. Meanwhile, Murphy has hit a home run in a playoff-record six consecutive games.
The Mets are a much better offensive team in October than they were in the first half of the regular season. The addition of outfielders Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline and Michael Conforto from the minors, plus the return of third baseman David Wright helped the Mets go from 28th in the majors in scoring before the All-Star break (3.5 runs per game) to third overall (5.1 runs per game).
The overpowering starting pitching that’s carried the Mets all season has continued in the postseason. Mets starters are 6-2 with a 2.65 ERA in nine playoff starts, holding opponents to a collective .217 batting average. And closer Jeurys Familia has yet to allow a run in 9 2/3 postseason innings.
Strength vs. strength: In Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have three starting pitchers whose fastballs averaged at least 95 mph during the 2015 regular season. The Royals have the majors’ best batting average against pitches 95 mph or better.
Kansas City hitters also had the highest contact rate in the majors this season at 81.9% as well as the lowest walk rate (6.3%). Meanwhile, Mets starters had the top strikeout-to-walk rate (4.18) during the regular season.
That sets up a classic confrontation that we’ll see often in the Fall Classic.
The X factors: Two players acquired by their teams at the trade deadline could have a major impact in how the Series unfolds.
Cespedes has been such an offensive force since coming to New York, hitting .287 with 17 home runs and 44 RBI in 57 regular season games. However, he injured his left shoulder during the NL championship series and admits he’s not 100% healthy. Cespedes will be ready to go when the Series starts.
On the other side, right-hander Johnny Cueto was supposed to be the ace starter the Royals needed to put them over the top. Instead, he’s been wildly inconsistent. Cueto started and won the decisive Game 5 in the division series at home, allowing only a two-run homer in eight brilliant innings and retiring the last 19 batters he faced. But in Game 3 of the ALCS in Toronto, he was shelled for eight runs and was pulled with no outs in the third inning.
Royals manager Ned Yost has slotted Cueto in the No. 2 spot in the rotation so he would be in line to pitch both Games 2 and 6 at home.
Unfamiliar opponents: Unlike last season when the Royals and San Francisco Giants played a series against each other during the regular season, the Royals and Mets haven’t seen each other since 2013.
In the end: Good pitching tends to stop good hitting in the playoffs, but the Royals’ high-contact approach keeps them from going into prolonged slumps. Kansas City also has an advantage defensively, ranking second in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved. (The Mets ranked 21st.)
Look for the Royals to use the four games at home to maximum advantage. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales (.290, 22 HR, 106 RBI) is a major part of the offense, who also gives Kansas City a dangerous pinch-hitter for the games played in New York.
In close games, the Royals bullpen has proved to be the ultimate October weapon, which should be enough to preserve any lead the offense can get them.
Prediction: Royals in 7