This is a World Series matchup virtually nobody expected but everybody can appreciate. When the Royals and Mets begin their best-of-seven adventure Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium (7:30 ET airtime on FOX, with game time slated for 8), they'll both be able to justifiably assert that they've come further than most outsiders envisioned.
In overcoming the power-packed lineups of the Astros and Blue Jays, the Royals have completed the incredibly difficult task of repeating as a pennant winner in this well-balanced sport, and now they'll look to do what they were unable to do one year ago and get that elusive fourth win in the Fall Classic.
The Mets outlasted a Nationals team widely predicted to run away with the National League East, then took down the powerhouse Dodgers and the up-and-coming Cubs to get to their first World Series trip in 15 years.
Though both of these teams are a testament to the difficulty of analyzing things on paper, this is how they seemingly match up, position by position:
Catcher: Though his season was stunted by injury, Travis d'Arnaud made huge strides this season in limited time, raising his on-base percentage 38 points, to .340, and hitting 12 homers in just 67 games. He's coming off a strong NLCS showing in which he went deep twice in 15 at-bats. But we'll defer here to the more veteran Salvador Perez, who, despite taking an absolute beating behind the plate in the ALCS, is a superb defender and leader who has four homers and a double with six RBIs so far this postseason. Slight advantage: Royals
First base: As if wrapping up the NL pennant in Game 4 of the NLCS wasn't reason enough to celebrate, the Mets had to be downright giddy that the game featured a sudden offensive upswing from Lucas Duda, whose homer, two doubles and five RBIs ended a 3-for-24 postseason funk. That said, Eric Hosmer has generally been the more consistent hitter, and he's also a superb defender at the position. Advantage: Royals
Second base: Under ordinary circumstances, you'd have to love Ben Zobrist here. The Royals' midseason trade pickup has provided a big boost this postseason (.320 average, six extra-base hits), accentuated again by his first-inning home run in the Royals' Game 6 pennant-clincher Friday night. But there is nothing ordinary about Daniel Murphy's postseason. You've probably read or heard a few things about it, but, in case you missed it, he's got a 1.462 OPS, seven homers, two doubles and 11 RBIs in nine games. He's homered in a record six straight postseason games. He'd get the advantage over Rogers Hornsby right now. Advantage: Mets
Shortstop: The Mets, of course, are on their second shortstop of October, thanks to Chase Utley's takeout of Ruben Tejada. Wilmer Flores (7-for-24) has certainly held his own in his Tejada's stead. But Alcides Escobar, who was named MVP of the ALCS, is the clear winner here. Clear advantage: Royals
Third base:Mike Moustakas hit a huge home run in Game 6 of the ALCS, and David Wright had a big RBI double to get the Mets going against Jake Arrieta in Game 2 of the NLCS. Other than that, both of these guys have had their share of offensive struggles on this stage so far. They had similar rate stats in the regular season, with the obvious caveat that Wright was limited to 38 games because of spinal stenosis. If you want to give the edge to Moustakas, who showed tremendous offensive growth this season, it's understandable. But in absence of a clear edge, we'll go with the Captain, who has waited a long time for this moment and could be inspired to capitalize on it. Advantage: Mets
Left field: The Mets have spelled rookie Michael Conforto, who came straight to the big leagues from Double-A in July, against left-handed starters and used Yoenis Cespedes in left (and Juan Lagares in center). But the Royals don't have any lefties on tap, so we'll assume Conforto is the guy here. Save for a home run off Zack Greinke, he's looked overmatched in October. Alex Gordon worked his way back from an awful groin injury and is best described as overqualified for his No. 8 spot in the Royals' batting order. Advantage: Royals
Center field: Probably the toughest call on this list. Lorenzo Cain can impact the game in every single facet. You saw him hustle home with the go-ahead run in Game 6, and he's agile enough to cover virtually all three outfield spots at once. As for Cespedes, few players can impact a game with one swing like he can. This is basically a coin flip, but Cespedes' left shoulder issue that required a cortisone shot tilts the needle ever so slightly in Cain's favor. Slight advantage: Royals
Right field:Alex Rios had appeared in more games than any active player without a postseason appearance, and he's made the most of his first October, batting .368 with a homer, two doubles and four RBIs. But Curtis Granderson's bounceback 2015, in which his OPS rose more than 100 points from '14, has been huge for the Mets, and he's continued to ignite the top of their lineup in October, with a .385 OBP. Advantage: Mets
DH: The AL team ought to have the advantage here annually, obviously. Clearly, the Royals are in a good spot with Kendrys Morales, who was a Comeback Player of the Year candidate with his 22-homer showing. He's hit four more this month. A Michael Cuddyer /Kelly Johnson platoon would seem the most likely option for the Mets for the games at Kauffman Stadium. Advantage: Royals
Starting pitching: We know this game is unpredictable. But nothing within this game is more unpredictable right now than a Johnny Cueto start, and that uncertainty looms over a Royals rotation. Yordano Ventura has shown some serious maturation over the course of this season, and we know Edinson Volquez and Chris Young can give this team a chance to win. But there's obviously something special going on with this largely homegrown and flamethrowing Mets rotation (Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz), which has a 2.65 ERA in 54 1/3 postseason innings so far. Clear advantage: Mets
Closer: Not enough is being written or said about what a fantastic job Jeurys Familia has done since taking over for the twice-suspended Jenrry Mejia. He saved a franchise-record-tying 43 games in the regular season and has been nails in October, pitching 9 2/3 scoreless innings and going 5-for-5 in save situations. But Wade Davis, with a 0.90 ERA going back to the beginning of 2014 (postseason included) is the best reliever in the sport, as evidenced again by his ability to retire possible MVP Josh Donaldson for the final out of Game 6. Slight advantage: Royals
Bullpen: The Royals are at the point where they just hope for five quality innings out of their starting pitcher, knowing they can start dripping into their deep bullpen from there. While it's true that Ryan Madson surrendered the tying runs in Game 6 against the Blue Jays, it's also true that he and Kelvin Herrera and Luke Hochevar rate as more reliable than not. And while the Mets' setup situation was aided by the in-season additions of former closers Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed (and we all love seeing Bartolo Colon in long relief), the Royals get the late-inning edge. Advantage: Royals
Bench: Lagares' speed is a factor for the Mets, and the veteran Cuddyer is a nice option to have waiting in the wings. But the Royals can change games late with their pinch-running combo of Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore. Advantage: Royals