World Series Game 2 preview: Can deGrom, Mets down Cueto, Royals?
By somewhere around the 11th inning of Tuesday night’s World Series Game 1, a game the Royals won 5–4 in 14 innings, I was convinced that we had achieved peak baseball, and that Major League Baseball should have simply awarded the Commissioner’s Trophy to the winner and been done with it. And though they will play out the remainder of this Series, I find it difficult to believe that Game 1 can be topped. Nonetheless, the Mets are surely happy to have additional chances, and their odds of winning are particularly good for Game 2 thanks to the pitching matchup.
• deGrom has won all three of his starts this postseason, the worst of which saw him allow two runs in six innings with seven strikeouts. That start, which came in Game 5 of the Division Series against the Dodgers, also proved that deGrom can keep even an elite opponent in check when he’s not sharp. The 27-year-old righty has now thrown 211 innings between the regular and postseasons, 32 1/3 more than his career high from last year, and is starting Game 2 of this series rather than Game 1 in part to gain the extra day of rest, seven in total.
• In his last start—NLDS Game 3 against the power-hitting Cubs—deGrom allowed just two runs in seven innings and threw far fewer fastballs than in a typical outing: 50 of his 100 pitches were curves or changeups, and just 43 were four-seam fastballs or sinkers. Look for a similar mix in this game against the fastball-hitting Royals. In Game 1, Matt Harvey threw just 37.5% fastballs, the lowest percentage in any of his 68 major league starts, per Brooks Baseball.
• The changeup is deGrom’s best pitch; he throws it in the mid-to-upper 80s, roughly 10 mph slower than his fastball. Hitters have swung and missed at nearly one third of the changeups he has thrown this October dating back to his final regular-season start.
• It’s tempting to say that we know at least one pitch won’t be a fastball: the first pitch to Royals leadoff man Alcides Escobar in the bottom of the first. I say “tempting” because I would have thought Harvey and the Mets' coaching staff would have known better than to throw a first-pitch fastball for a strike to Escobar. The Royals' shortstop, a good fastball hitter like many of his teammates, has swung at the first pitch in the first inning in each of the Royals’ last eight games; on Tuesday, he stayed true to form, hitting a first-pitch 95-mph fastball for an inside-the-park home run off Harvey to lead off Game 1.
• Like Harvey, deGrom has the advantage of unfamiliarity in this start. The only man on the Royals’ World Series roster to have faced him before is backup catcher Drew Butera, who won’t get into the game unless Salvador Perez is forced out by injury. Butera is 0-for-3 with a strikeout against deGrom.
• Cueto draws the start in this game rather than Game 3 because he has allowed 12 runs in 5 1/3 innings in the two postseason road starts in his career that didn’t end early due to injury. In total, he has a 19.06 road ERA in the postseason compared to a 3.32 ERA in three home starts. The last time he pitched in Kansas City, he was facing an Astros team that had blown a late lead in the previous game and suffered a dispiriting loss. Cueto allowed a single and a two-run home run in the second inning of that game, but those were the only base runners and runs he allowed in eight otherwise dominant innings. That remains his only quality start in the postseason, as well as his only postseason win.
• Cueto faced the Mets in late June, while he was still with the Reds, and held them to two runs over six innings, but the lineup he faced did not include David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Yoenis Cespedes, Travis d'Arnaud or Michael Conforto. The rookie leftfielder has never faced Cueto, but d’Arnaud is 3-for-5 with two doubles and a walk against the righthander, and Curtis Granderson has two home runs and four walks against him in 16 plate appearances.
• Based on their respective performances at the plate in Game 1 and the way in which Conforto and Cespedes played Escobar’s leadoff hit into a home run, Juan Lagares will be starting Game 2 over Kelly Johnson and Michael Cuddyer, playing centerfield and pushing Conforto to the designated hitter spot. Game 1 DH Johnson has the best career numbers against Cueto (in a tiny eight-plate-appearance sample) and the platoon advantage, but Lagares did enough late in Game 1 against righthanded pitching (two singles, a stolen base and a crucial run scored) for the Mets to go with their best defensive alignment in Game 2.
• It remains to be seen how much of a hangover effect there will be from Game 1, which lasted 14 innings and took more than five hours to play. What we know for sure is that Bartolo Colon, who threw 50 pitches, and Chris Young, who threw 53, will be unavailable for Game 2. Given that Young was scheduled to be Kansas City’s Game 4 starter and that Edinson Volquez may not be available to start Game 5 following the death of his father on Tuesday, it seems likely that Royals long reliever Kris Medlen won’t be available in this game either, as he may be needed to start Game 4. The only other pitcher whose availability in Game 2 may be impacted by Game 1 is Kelvin Herrera, who threw a season-high 35 pitches in his 1 1/3 innings of work. I doubt Herrera will be completely unavailable in this game, but he may be limited to a batter or two.
• With their 5–4 win in extra innings in Game 1, the Royals are now 5–0 in extra innings and 8–1 in one-run games in the postseason between this year and last. The lone loss in that accounting was Game 7 of last year’s World Series, in which they had the tying run at third base when the final out was recorded.