KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Let’s all gather, one last time, and say this together: The Royals have no chance to win the World Series.
There. It’s done. Now they can go ahead and win it.
It’s only fair to doubt them one last time. The Royals were not supposed to play in the 2014 World Series, but they did. They were not supposed to win the 2015 American League Central, and they clinched in, like, May. They were not supposed to come back in Game 4 of the Division Series against the Astros, but they did that, too, and they were not supposed to have the bats to match Joey Bats and the Blue Jays, but of course they eliminated Toronto.
And now the Mets are finding out what the AL saw all season: The Royals are the most complete team in baseball—a relentless, disciplined, well-managed (really!) team that wears out even the best of opponents.
The Royals don’t just beat opposing pitchers; they convince them to swallow their tongues. Kansas City’s 7–1 Game 2 win illustrated how maddening the Royals can be for opponents: They scored four runs in the fifth inning without an extra-base hit.
It was one pin-prick after another: Walk, single, single, single, single. It almost seemed lucky, except that the Royals do this all the time. They are the best contact-hitting team in the major leagues. As reserve outfielder Jonny Gomes said Wednesday night, they have a rare combination of skills: They swing early in the count, but they don’t swing at bad pitches. The result is that the ball is so often in play.
That is bad news for a Mets team with lousy infield defense and young, worn-out starters. In Game 2, staff ace Jacob deGrom was not quite as sharp as he normally is. As Game 1 wore on, Matt Harvey looked tired. This is what you would expect from young starters who have never pitched this deep into a season, and it’s why the season is more likely to end in New York in the next three games than with a Mets championship.
If the Mets had drawn the Blue Jays in the Series, they might be in better shape. Toronto is a more potent hitting team than the Royals, but the Mets showed against the Cubs that they can beat a team like that.
The Royals? Their pitching coach, Dave Eiland, summed up their lineup pretty well Wednesday: “Those guys,” he said, “are pains in the butt.”
How balanced are the Royals? They had a .321 on-base percentage against righties and .323 against lefties. They slugged .406 against lefties and .416 against righties. Their designated hitter, Kendrys Morales, is a switch-hitter. Their No. 3 hitter, Lorenzo Cain, led the team in stolen bases. How often do you see that? They had one real weakness, second base, and they turned it into a strength by acquiring Ben Zobrist.
Then there is the manager, Ned Yost, who makes some nutty decisions and gives you the impression he is just along for the ride. It seems pretty clear at this point that people won’t appreciate Yost until he is gone. He excels in two areas: knowing his players and trusting them when the time is right.
Royals fans can pick apart Yost’s in-game decisions, but he may have won Game 2, and effectively this series, simply by the way he set his rotation. Johnny Cueto has not been the Royals’ second-best starter, but Yost started him in Game 2 for a really smart reason: He did not want the mercurial Cueto pitching before a raucous, heckling crowd in New York. He knew if Cueto had a Kansas City crowd behind him, he might look like an ace again. Cueto was magnificent in Game 2. His next start will be Game 6, in Kansas City—or, you know, next year.
“This is one of the closest-knit groups I’ve ever been around,” said Eiland.
Eric Hosmer said that, after his fielding error in Game 1, he went back to the bench and his teammates picked up his spirits immediately. Players can say all the right things in that situation, but it takes strong relationships for the words to sink in. That’s not all Yost’s doing. But some of it sure is.
This World Series is only two games old, but it is starting to feel like the 2008, ’07 and ’06 Series. In each of those years, a surprising young team surged into the World Series, lost early and seemed to accept its fate before the final pitch. The 2008 Rays were the ultimate feel-good story until losing in five to the Phillies. The 2007 Rockies swept two playoff series before getting swept by the veteran Red Sox. The 2006 Tigers emerged from the wilderness of losing and made it all the way to the World Series, only to lose to the Cardinals in five games.
The Mets can still avoid that kind of ending. But it’s hard to see how, unless their starting pitchers regain their form. A year after stunning the baseball world with their run to the World Series, and six months after many experts predicted them to finish with a losing record, the Royals are the surest, steadiest team in the game.
These Royals are reminiscent of the 1996–2001 Yankees, a team that had no holes, incredible plate discipline, exceptional relief pitching and a belief that they would find some way to win in the postseason.
“[Our hitters] grind you down,” said pitcher Chris Young, who pitched in long relief in Game 1 and is scheduled to start Game 4 in New York. “It’s one tough at-bat after the next, and you have to be on your game with every pitch. It’s such a well-balanced lineup, and there’s a lot of different threats from a lot of different angles. That’s why we’re here.”
It’s why they’re going to New York with a 2–0 lead, and why Kansas City should be anticipating a parade.