The Kansas City Royals had one chance to clinch the World Series last year, that coming in Game 7 when their opponent, the Giants, had the same opportunity and, ultimately, seized it. This year, the Royals will have three chances, but given how well they have been playing all postseason, they seems unlikely to need that many. Indeed, given how devastating, and sloppy, the Mets’ Game 4 loss was, there’s a strong sense that this Series will come to an end tonight. If so, Kansas City will claim its first championship in 30 years and just its second in franchise history.
Royals at Mets
Series: World Series Game 5, Royals lead Series 3-1
Start Time: 8:07 p.m. ET
Starting Pitchers: Edinson Volquez (1-2, 4.37 ERA) vs. Matt Harvey (2-0, 3.38 ERA)
• Of the 80 best-of-seven series in which one team jumped in front 3-games-to-1, 39 of them ended in Game 5. Just 17 of those series, 21%, saw the team trailing come all the way back to win it. The last time that happened was the 2012 National League Championship Series when the Giants overcame that deficit against the Cardinals. The last time a team completed such a comeback on the road, which the Mets would need to do, was the Red Sox’s famous comeback from down 3-0 in the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. The last time a team came back from 3-1 in the World Series was 1985, when, coincidentally, the Royals turned the trick to win their first and still only championship. The last time a World Series team completed such a comeback on the road was 1979, when the Pirates did it against the Orioles.
• Edinson Volquez and Matt Harvey both turned in bare-minimum quality starts in Game 1 (6 IP, 3 R), which took 14 innings to decide. Volquez took the mound that night unaware that his father had passed away just hours earlier. (He was informed after being removed from the game and left the Royals to return home to the Dominican Republic. Volquez was back with his team on Saturday and was in the dugout at Citi Field throughout their Game 4 win.) He walked off the mound for the last time that night with his team trailing 3-1, but Kansas City rallied in the bottom of the sixth off Harvey for two runs, their first of two comebacks that night en route to a 5-4 win.
Harvey has since admitted that the cumulative fatigue of the season may have been a factor in that performance. He has now thrown 208 innings between the regular and postseasons. He also commented on the nine days of rest he had going into that start, saying “I felt like I had no idea how to pitch . . . I only threw 80 pitches, but I worked so hard from pitch one, and really didn’t feel like I had anything to work with.” Harvey will make this start on a normal four days' rest and will pitch with the knowledge that this will be his final start of the season.
• Mets manager Terry Collins did not learn his lesson from the first two games about the danger of letting his starters face the Royals hitters for a third time. In Game 3, he let Noah Syndergaard go through the heart of Kansas City's order for a third time with a mere two-run lead in the sixth inning. The Royals loaded the bases with two outs, but Syndergaard got a groundout to escape the jam. Emboldened, Collins let Steven Matz hit for himself in the bottom of the fifth in Game 4 with K.C.'s lineup having just turned over for the second time in the top of the fifth. Matz lasted just two batters in the sixth, giving up a double and an RBI single before getting the hook, shrinking New York's lead from 3-1 to 3-2 in a game it eventually lost.
One would assume that, facing elimination, Collins will be more proactive in the middle innings of this game, particularly with his preferred middle men, Bartolo Colon and lefty Jonathan Niese, having retired the side in relief of Matz in the sixth inning of Game 4, neither having thrown more than 11 pitches.
When facing a Mets starter for a third time in a game in this Series, the Royals’ hitters have gone 10-for-23 with two doubles and two walks. That works out to a .435/.480/.522 line in 25 plate appearances. They have driven in seven runs in those 25 PA.
• If there was any bright side to Game 4 for the Mets it was the fact that they forced Kansas City manager Ned Yost to get into his bullpen early and use Wade Davis for two full innings. Davis’s 27 pitches were his fifth-highest total of the season, and he hasn't pitched on consecutive days after throwing more than 25 pitches since last year’s Division Series. At the very least, that suggests Davis will be limited to one inning in this game. He did have three days of rest prior to pitching in Game 4, but Ryan Madson, Luke Hochevar and lefty Danny Duffy have each pitched in both games at Citi Field. Madson and Hochevar both returned from seasons lost to injury this year and neither has pitched on three consecutive days at any point this season. Meanwhile, Duffy who wasn’t moved into the bullpen until late September, hadn’t pitched on two consecutive days this season prior to Saturday night.
That cuts both ways. Collins used his top three relievers with a six-run lead in Game 3 and then used them again in Game 4, when he actually needed them, only to watch Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Famlia collaborate on blowing the game (with a big assist from Daniel Murphy). Familia threw only nine pitches in Game 4, and Clippard should really be demoted below Hansel Robles on the Mets’ bullpen depth chart at this point. However, Reed threw 20 pitches in Game 4 and hasn’t pitched on three consecutive days, regardless of pitch count, since April 2014.
Both bullpens will be important in this game. Volquez hasn’t recorded an out in the seventh inning in any of his five starts this postseason. Harvey is admittedly fatigued. Playing in the National League park creates an additional reason for either to be removed when their turn in their batting order comes back around in the middle innings. For what it's worth, Volquez is a career .083/.106/.101 hitter; Harvey is a career .128/.134/.191 hitter and a terrible bunter who has successfully executed just two sacrifice bunts all year.
• The Mets have held a lead in the fifth inning or later in every game of this Series, but the only time they converted that lead to a win was in Game 3 when they scored four insurance runs in the sixth. The Royals have scored 16 runs in the fifth inning or later in this Series compared to just four runs in the first four innings of the first four games combined.
The Royals’ comeback prowess isn’t limited to this series. According to Richard Justice of MLB.com, they have now scored 44 runs in the seventh inning or later, the most ever in a single postseason, breaking the record of 36 set by the 2002 Angels. And a SportsCenter tweet after Game 4 pointed out that Kansas City has won games this postseason in which it had win probabilities of 18%, 1 %, 25%, 8%, 10% and 16%.
If the Mets can’t build a significant early lead against Volquez, or bounce him early and do the same against some of the Royals lower-leverage relievers, it’s difficult to imagine this Series returning to Kansas City.