Dan's Dugout: Will Mets sweep World Series too? • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Will Mets sweep World Series too?

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Twenty years have passed since postseason play was expanded to include a Division Series — an extra round of playoffs that made it more difficult for the best teams to reach the World Series.

In 1995, they did: the pitching-rich Atlanta Braves faced and defeated the homer-happy Cleveland Indians in six games.

The best teams have reached the last round again, with the New York Mets favored to keep the Kansas City Royals from a world championship that narrowly eluded them last fall.

Jeurys Familia has 50 saves this season. Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

Jeurys Familia has 50 saves this season.
Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

If the experts are right that good pitching stops good hitting, how about great pitching? With four flame-throwing starters plus a closer who chews up hitters and spits them out, the Mets made mincemeat of the Chicago Cubs, sweeping the National League Division Series in four games.

It just might happen again.

Several obstacles pose formidable obstacles for the Royals.

The biggest one may be unfamiliarity; the entire Kansas City roster has only one lifetime hit against the fabulous foursome from New York. With the Mets in the National League East and the Royals in the American League Central, the vagaries of interleague play have kept them estranged — especially since the current Mets rotation reached the majors.

A second reason to bank against the Royals is the designated hitter, which will keep Kendrys Morales WSKCballbenched for the three New York games that start Friday. All Morales did was lead the Royals in home runs and runs batted in during the regular season. The first Royal to reach triple digits in RBI since Billy Butler in 2012, Morales had a league-best 53 RBI with two outs.

Without Morales, the burden will be greater on Mike Moustakas, whose 22 homers tied Morales for the club lead. A first-time All-Star this season, Moustakas had career peaks in average, doubles, homers, runs scored, and runs batted in.

Unlike the Mets, who hit 177 home runs during the regular season, the Royals rely on reaching base, stealing whenever possible, and taking the extra base. The highlight of their season so far came in the sixth and final game of the American League Championship Series against Toronto, when fleet leadoff man Lorenzo Cain scored from first base on a single — duplicating the 1946 pennant-winning sprint of Hall of Fame outfielder Enos Slaughter.

Mike Moustakas swings a big bat for the Royals

Mike Moustakas swings a big bat for the Royals

Cain, who started in the 2015 All-Star Game, hit career peaks in virtually every batting department. He had a league-best .372 average with two outs, finishing with a .307 batting mark and .361 on-base percentage. His 56 steals over the last two years rank ninth in the major leagues.

The Royals can also count on Sal Perez, their offense-oriented catcher; Gold Glove first baseman Eric Hosmer, whose 93 RBI and .363 on-base mark were career bests; versatile switch-hitter Ben Zobrist, who won the second base job from Omar Infante; surprise Championship Series MVP Alcides Escobar, a notorious first-pitch swinger; and impending free agent Alex Gordon, a Gold Glove leftfielder whose .377 on-base percentage topped the club.

A wild-card team that stretched San Francisco to a seven-game World Series last summer, the Royals won their first AL Central title (they were in the Western Division when they reached the 1985 World Series, which they won).

While Madison Bumgarner was a one-man show for the Giants last October, any one of the Mets starters has the potential to follow suit. As a result, even having home-field advantage may not help the Royals.

Even though the stats show Kaycee clobbered high-velocity pitching at a .297 clip, they never saw such a steady diet in the American League.

Matt Harvey, the 2013 National League All-Star starter, will pitch the opener, followed by 2014 NL

Noah produces a flood of strikeouts Photo Credit: Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

Noah produces a flood of strikeouts
Photo Credit: Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and 2015 rookies Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. None has allowed more than three runs in any of their nine postseason starts so far.

Though he missed a year after Tommy John surgery, Harvey has the most experience. Matz, the lone lefty, has the least. But none seem to be rattled by raucous crowds on the road. Maybe they’re too young to be scared; deGrom is the old man of the group at 27.

If anyone falters, manager Terry Collins can call on ancient control artist Bartolo Colon or lefty Jon Niese, starters not needed in an offseason overloaded with off-days.

The Mets might use Tyler Clippard or Addison Reed, set-up men during the season, but won’t have to worry about young starters wilting in the non-existent heat of late October.

And speaking of heat, Dominican closer Jeurys Familia wants to add to his 2015 total of 50 saves — 43 during the season and seven during the nine playoff games his team has played.

Kaycee is counting on Johnny Cueto

Kaycee is counting on Johnny Cueto

Kansas City will counter with Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura, and Chris Young. Ventura had a 2.38 ERA over his last 11 starts, while Volquez kept the homer-happy Blue Jays off the scoreboard for six innings in the ALCS opener. Cueto, acquired from Cincinnati at the trade deadline, was disappointing in his new digs but always has the potential to perform like an All-Star.

Manager Ned Yost will use his bullpen early and often — which may be a good thing. Kris Medlen, the long man, was once a standout starter. Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera, and closer Wade Davis form such a solid unit that injured Greg Holland (torn UCL) won’t be missed. The Kansas City pen compiled a league-best 2.72 ERA and kept the ball in the park.

They will need to do that against Daniel Murphy, a lefthanded hitter who has hit seven postseason home runs — including one each in the last six games. A tough man to fan, Murphy has a 1.462 OPS (on-base plus slugging) mark since the pressure cooker started percolating.

Murphy, a singles hitter who became a slugger, bats between team captain David Wright, an ideal No. 2 hitter, and slugger Yoenis Cespedes, a rifle-armed outfielder coming off a 35-homer season. Cespedes, acquired from Detroit on the July 31 trade deadline, was as hot in August as Murphy is now. But he hurt his shoulder playing golf before NLCS Game 4 and needed a cortisone shot.

In addition to Wright, the Mets have a fine table-setter in Curtis Granderson, like Murphy a lefthanded

David Wright is a key man in the No. 2 slot Image Credit: Agent Field

David Wright is a key man in the No. 2 slot
Image Credit: Agent Field

hitter. In his second year with the team, he evolved into a leadoff man capable of drawing a walk, stealing a base, or hitting the ball out of the park. He has a .385 on-base percentage in the current postseason.

Because he bats lefthanded, rookie leftfielder Michael Conforto can count on starting every game against Kansas City’s righty-heavy rotation. At 22, he’s produced in the clutch, shown power potential, and played well in the field.

First baseman Lucas Duda gives the Mets yet another lefthanded bat capable of changing a game with one swing. He broke out of a playoff slump with a 3-for-4 outburst in the last game of the NLCS against the Cubs. One of his hits was a three-run, first-inning homer that put the Mets ahead to stay.

Travis d’Arnaud, a fine defensive catcher, also can reach the fences — as he proved by hitting “the Big Apple” with a line-drive homer last week. The Mets put a big X on the red home-run feature to mark the spot.

Although the team will miss slick-fielding shortstop Ruben Tejada, backup Wilmer Flores could compensate with an extra-base hit here or there.

Our pick? Kansas City’s pesky, tough-to-fan offense will make life more difficult for Mets pitchers but their sustained excellence, coupled with timely hitting that attacks the Kaycee starters early, will make the Mets Kings of Queens for the first time since 1986.

The pick: Mets in four.

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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