By Andrew Kahn
Thanks to Wednesday’s 7-1 drubbing, the Royals have a 2-0 lead as the World Series moves to Citi Field in New York. They have outplayed the Mets, for sure, but the series is far from over.
Johnny on the spot
The second time through the order, it looked like the Mets were getting comfortable against Johnny Cueto and his herky-jerky motion. The Kansas City starter faced the minimum through three innings, but got into trouble in the fourth, walking two and allowing a soft run-scoring single. It would have been hard to believe at that moment that he’d not only dominate the rest of the way, but he’d last all nine innings. Lucas Duda’s RBI and his infield single against the shift in the second were New York’s only hits. Daniel Murphy walked in the ninth, the only baserunner Cueto allowed after the fourth. Then again, perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising. Cueto had a similar performance—two hits; retired the last 19 batters he faced—at home in the NLDS clincher. He’s been up and down this postseason—he couldn’t get out of the third in his start against Toronto—but Wednesday night he was special. He struck out four and while there were some hard hit balls that found gloves, there was far more weak contact against the exciting right-hander. It was the first complete game in a World Series for an American League pitcher since Jack Morris went 10 scoreless in Game 7 in 1991.
Even after the devastating Game 1 loss, the Mets felt very confident with Jacob deGrom on the mound. He looked the part of an ace until the fifth inning. It started with a walk to Game 1 hero Alex Gordon. Alex Rios and Alcides Escobar singled to tie the game at 1-1. deGrom retired the next two hitters before allowing three more singles, and it was 4-1 Royals. Pitch location was the issue for deGrom. He elevated an 0-2 pitch over the middle of the plate that Escobar smacked into center. His 0-1 slider caught way too much of the plate and Eric Hosmer went right back up the middle with it:
Kendrys Morales collected his hit on an 0-1 pitch, and Mike Moustakas worked the count full before delivering the final blow. deGrom, who was 3-0 with a 1.80 in this postseason coming in, had been getting stronger later in games. That was not the case in Kansas City, and he only lasted five.
Of course, a big reason behind deGrom’s struggles (and Matt Harvey’s in Game 1) is this Royals lineup. The talk coming in was that Kansas City could hit fastballs, even really good fastballs, and didn’t strike out. The Royals struck out far less than any other team during the regular season, and they only struck out three times in Game 2. As for the fastball hitting, well, deGrom threw 54 fastballs and the Royals did not swing and miss once (according to Brooks Baseball). They’ll swing at first pitch meat balls and while they’ve swung at plenty of pitches out of the strike zone, they often foul them off. They’ve more than held their own against two aces, and roughed up the Mets bullpen in the eighth on Wednesday, collecting three extra-base hits in a three-run inning. Fans not decidedly rooting for the Mets have to be appreciating the Royals approach, as well as their speed and awareness on the bases. The Royals will lose their designated hitter, Morales, for the next three games.
Daniel Murphy had two hits in Game 1 and walked twice in Game 2, scoring the Mets lone run. But he hasn’t been the home run-hitting world-beater he was in the first two playoff rounds, when he carried the Mets offense. Although his barking at the umpires in Kansas City has been troubling, his performance through two games has been acceptable. The problem for the Mets is that the rest of the lineup hasn’t stepped up as Murphy has returned to Earth. As mentioned earlier, nobody other than Duda managed a hit against Cueto, and the Mets could have scored more despite their 11 hits in Game 1. It’s easy, now, to blame the five days the Mets had off after beating the Cubs in the NLCS for their offensive struggles. But if they want to make this a series, they have to find their groove again quickly. That means harder contact against the hittable pitches. Now would be a good time for Yoenis Cespedes and Wilmer Flores, who are a combined 1 for 17 in the series, to get hot.
Ya Gotta Believe?
As was the case in the first two rounds, the Mets hope to have the pitching advantage the next two games. The dropoff from Cueto and Edison Volquez to Yordano Ventura and Chris Young, the projected starters for Games 3 and 4, respectively, might not be as steep as it was for the Dodgers and Cubs when their top two guns weren’t pitching, but it’s still significant. Meanwhile, the Mets turn to the talented Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz as the series moves to New York. In other words, this series is not over. While the team that won the first two games of a best-of-7 playoff series has won the series 65 out of 78 times (and 41 out of 51 in the World Series), the Mets lost the first two games of the 1986 World Series before winning in seven. In fact, they lost the first game by one run and the second by six, just as they’ve done so far in 2015. Will Curtis Granderson lead off Game 3 with a home run, as Lenny Dykstra did for the Mets, kickstarting a big inning and a blowout win? Tune in Friday night to find out.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about baseball and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com and his Scoop and Score podcast is on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn