The World Series is finally here, with Game 1 of the Fall Classic pitting Matt Harvey and the Mets against Edinson Volquez and the Royals in Kansas City.
Thirty years ago today, the Royals won their first and only championship, beating the cross-state Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. Exactly one year later, the Mets beat the Red Sox in Game 7 of the Fall Classic to win their second and most-recent title. Back-to-back champions in the mid-‘80s, New York and Kansas City will now battle for the title.
The Royals, who spent most of the last three decades compiling one losing season after another, enter this matchup as the more established team; they are the defending American League champions and were 90 feet away from tying Game 7 of last year’s World Series before Madison Bumgarner and the Giants secured the final out. For the Mets, this is their first World Series appearance since they lost to the Yankees in 2000 and the culmination of their first playoff run since '06.
• One constant in this series is that, because these teams have not played each other since 2013, the Royals’ hitters have not faced the Mets’ young starting pitchers. In fact, Harvey is the only New York starter who has faced any Royal on their World Series roster; Alex Rios is the only Royal that has faced him. That confrontation came in May 2013 in what remains the best game of Harvey's career and one of the best-pitched games in Mets history, as Rios’s infield hit with two outs in the seventh inning was all that stood between Harvey and a perfect game as he shut out the White Sox at Citi Field.
• It takes more than a blazing fastball to dominate like that. Harvey can hit 98 mph on the radar gun, but he misses a higher percentage of bats with his curveball, slider and changeup than with his heater. In fact, based on the outcomes when he throws them, the curve and slider are his two best pitches.
• Harvey enters this start having thrown 202 innings between the regular and postseasons, 22 more than his supposed hard-cap of 180. He had to battle through his Division Series start against the Dodgers, but, placing more emphasis on his off-speed pitches, he excelled in his Game 1 start in the NLCS against the Cubs, allowing just one run and striking out nine through 7 2/3 innings before getting bounced by a Kyle Schwarber solo home run. He enters this game with nine days' rest, one more than he had going into his Division Series start.
• Volquez hit 98 on the radar gun in his last start, doing so for the first time since last July; his velocity has taken a big jump late in the season. His results remain mixed, however: He has walked four men in each of his three starts this postseason, none of which has gone past the sixth inning. In each of those starts, he has run into trouble his third time through the opposing lineup. Even in his dominant Game 1 outing in the ALCS (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R), he walked the first two men he faced in the sixth and, though he stranded both runners, his pitch count swelled to 111 in the process. Volquez will be on five days' rest following his ALCS Game 5 start.
• Among the Mets with extensive exposure to Volquez is NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy; he has faced the veteran starter more than any other Met and is 6-for-15 with a double and three walks against him. Much of that success came just last year, when Volquez was re-establishing himself with the Pirates. One of the big questions coming into this game is whether or not Murphy can continue his hot postseason hitting after five days off. Getting to face Volquez to start Game 1 bodes well for Murphy remaining comfortable at the plate.
• As a team, the Mets have a .378 career on-base percentage against Volquez. Look for New York's hitters to take a patient approach with the often-wild righthander, particularly the top three men in the order: Curtis Granderson (who is 0-for-9 against Volquez, but with three walks), David Wright and Murphy.
• If Murphy hits a home run in this game, he will tie Barry Bonds (2002), Carlos Beltran ('04) and Nelson Cruz ('11) for the most home runs in a single postseason. He would also extend his record streak of six consecutive playoff games with a home run, dating back to Game 4 of the Division Series. The regular-season record, incidentally, is eight consecutive games.
• The other Mets hitter to watch closely after that five-day layoff is first baseman Lucas Duda. He had just started to get his timing down in the NLCS after slumping through the first seven games of the postseason and broke out in Game 4, going 3-for-4 with a walk, two doubles, a home run and five RBIs. Duda worked hard over the last five days to maintain that timing, and if he succeeded, he could have huge impact on this series.
• Contrary to the growing perception, Royals leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar does not swing at the first pitch of every game. However, he has swung at the first pitch of Kansas City’s last seven games and done so in nine of their 11 games this postseason. He doesn’t always get a hit on those swings, either: Escobar actually has just three hits on those nine swings (though he twice swung and missed, then got a hit on the second pitch, with one of those second-pitch hits being a triple). In total, on 11 first-inning first pitches, Escobar has two singles, a double, a groundout, a flyout, two foul balls, two swings and misses, and has taken one ball and one strike. Escobar also has a ten-game hitting streak entering this series. The all-time postseason record is 17, held by Hank Bauer, Derek Jeter and Manny Ramirez; if this series goes seven games and Escobar gets a hit in every one, he’d tie the record.
• Lefty Kelly Johnson will be the Mets’ designated hitter against Volquez in this game; it will be Johnson’s second start as a designated hitter this season, the other coming in Boston on June 15 while he was with the Braves. Michael Cuddyer has better career numbers against Volquez and more experience as a DH, but the Mets have placed greater emphasis on the platoon advantage than on those small-sample splits.
• Johnson getting the call at DH is further evidence that the team is not concerned about Yoenis Cespedes’s sore left shoulder, as he should be starting in centerfield. Cespedes came out of Game 4 of the NLCS in the second inning due to pain in the shoulder, was diagnosed with swelling in his acromioclavicular (AC) joint and received a cortisone shot, but he told the media on Monday that his shoulder was feeling “110%.”
• Another New York injury worth keeping an eye on is Granderson’s left thumb, which he jammed on a slide in the NLCS. Granderson had his thumb in a cast over the weekend, but the cast was gone on Monday, and he will be in the lineup for this game.
• It is supposed to rain all afternoon in Kansas City, but the precipitation should taper off soon after the scheduled first pitch. This game could start late or during a light drizzle, but I do expect it to be played.
• Update: Both teams have made one change to their rosters for the World Series. The Mets have activated veteran infielder Juan Uribe, who has been out since Sept. 25 with chest injury; he replaces rookie infielder Matt Reynolds, who had replaced Ruben Tejada after the latter’s injury in the Division Series. That’s a big upgrade for the Mets, as Uribe is a slick fielder with power in his bat, a handful of postseason home runs and two World Series wins under his belt (with the White Sox in 2005 and the Giants in '10). Reynolds, by comparison, had yet to make his major league debut and did not appear in a game for the Mets this postseason.
If Reynolds’s presence on the Mets' roster seemed crazy, hold on to your monocles for the Royals’ roster move: They have dropped speedster Terrance Gore and added shortstop prospect Raul Mondesi (son of the former Dodgers rightfielder). Mondesi is 20 years old and has played just 81 games above A ball, all of them in Double A, where he hit just .243/.279/.372 this year. The switch-hitting Mondesi balances the Royals' bench, which had three outfielders and just one backup infielder in the previous two rounds.
As for why the Royals have chosen to go with Mondesi over an infielder who actually played for them this season: Omar Infante is out with a strained oblique, Cheslor Cuthbert is more of a corner man, and Orlando Calixte’s big-league career consists of him going 0-for-3 over two games in April. Mondesi is likely on the team for his speed and defense alone, and as a top prospect, he’s likely the best athlete available for that spot. Still, if he appears in this series, he will become just the second player in modern history to make his major league debut in the postseason (the first was the Athletics' Mark Kiger, whose only major league appearances came in the 2006 ALCS) and the first to do so in the World Series. It still may be another two years, however, before he makes his regular-season debut.