Royals follow blueprint, while Mets have questions
Kansas City takes 2-0 World Series lead into Game 3 in New York on Friday
By Richard Justice
KANSAS CITY -- The Kansas City Royals have been pretty much what we thought they'd be. They're tough and smart and patient, smartly constructed, expertly managed.
They're also clearly comfortable on baseball's biggest stage. Why shouldn't they be? This isn't their first rodeo. From the moment the Royals lost Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, they set their minds and jaws on finishing the deal this season.
The Royals beat the New York Mets again on Wednesday night, this time a 7-1 win in Game 2 of the 2015 World Series in front of a roaring crowd of 40,410 at Kauffman Stadium. They're the 39th team to begin a World Series with two victories at home, and of the previous 38, 31 have gone on to win the World Series. They'll try to make it a 3-0 lead on Friday night at Citi Field (7:30 p.m. ET airtime on FOX, game time 8 p.m.).
The Royals won Game 2 with a two-hit, 122-pitch complete game from Johnny Cueto. Offensively, it was the usual: seven singles, two doubles and a triple. It was running the bases hard and keeping the pressure on the Mets beginning in the fourth inning. Not that they would have needed a lot of offense with the way Cueto threw the ball.
We begin every World Series with certain questions about both teams. For the Royals, the question was about the quality of the starting pitching. We love their defense, bullpen and deep, deep lineup. But the Mets had gifted young starting pitchers capable of controlling a series.
If Kansas City couldn't match New York's starters, it was going to be in for a fight. At the moment, it's not even close. The Royals' starting pitching has been better.
Kansas City manager Ned Yost has used three of his four projected World Series starters -- Edinson Volquez, Chris Young and Cueto -- in these first two games. In 18 innings, they've allowed four runs, three of them by Volquez in the first six innings of Game 1. Young finished that 14-inning Game 1 win with three shutout innings of relief, and Cueto was dominant in Game 2, allowing only one run.
Now about the Mets. As the World Series shifts to New York for at least two games and possibly three, they are the team with the questions.
• Are the young starting pitchers getting worn down?
• How much offense can the Mets generate if Daniel Murphy isn't Superman?
• Finally, can the Mets recapture the magic they had in beating the Dodgers and the Cubs?
First, the starting pitching.
Neither Matt Harvey nor Jacob deGrom was at his best in Games 1 and 2. Harvey allowed three runs in six innings, deGrom four runs in five innings.
"We win because we ride our starting pitching," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "When they struggle, we're going to struggle, and that's what's happened."
Maybe this is to be expected. Harvey's 208 innings are nearly 30 more than he pitched in 2013. He missed all of 2014 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and his workload has been a point of debate for months.
Harvey's average fastball velocity peaked at 97.6 mph in mid-July. It was 94.7 mph in Game 1 of the World Series, and afterward, he admitted he hadn't been feeling his best.
Harvey attempted to work around his lack of fastball command by throwing just 30 four-seam fastballs (compared to 109 in his previous two starts). He mixed in more breaking pitches and changeups.
Likewise, deGrom's workload could be catching up with him. He has thrown 216 2/3 innings in 2015 after 178 2/3 in '14. deGrom's fastball velocity has remained in the 96-mph range, but both the results and the Royals' relentless approach seem to have taken a toll. His 94 pitches generated just three swings and misses, an indication that his stuff lacked its usual crispness.
The Mets will turn to rookie right-hander Noah Syndergaard in Game 3 on Friday night at Citi Field. He's at 192 2/3 innings after throwing 133 in 2014. However, Syndergaard has been solid in the postseason with a 2.77 ERA in two starts and a relief appearance.
Starting pitchers downplay radar-gun readings at this point in the season. They emphasize that every pitcher is tired, and that even if their fastball lacks some edge, their task is to locate the ball and change speeds and come up with a combination that works.
They say that every starting pitcher has to learn how to succeed without his best stuff, so velocity and fatigue shouldn't be an excuse.
The Mets' starting pitching was so good against the Dodgers and the Cubs that it covered up an offense that was carried by one man. In the first two rounds, Murphy hit .421 with seven home runs. His teammates hit .207 and also hit seven home runs.
Now with Murphy having cooled off a bit, going 2-for-9 with no home runs and two walks in the World Series, the Mets have scored five runs in 23 innings. Third baseman David Wright (2-for-11), outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (1-for-10) and catcher Travis d'Arnaud (1-for-9) have been unable to get anything going.
"We'll go home, regroup on the off-day and get ready for Game 3," Murphy said.
That's the message. The Mets believe their ride is far from over. They hope to feed off the energy of a packed ballpark at Citi Field on Friday, as well as three months of magical baseball.
"Right now, we've just got to focus on Friday's game," Wright said. "We can't think about the hole that we're in."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.