World Series Preview: The Mets and Royals are the vanguard of modern baseball

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Last week everyone wanted to talk about “Back to the Future Part II” and, if they were baseball fans, they wanted to talk about that film’s prediction — and punchline — that the Cubs would win the 2015 World Series. The thing about this World Series, however, is that if someone did travel to the present from the 1980s, they wouldn’t think that the Royals facing the Mets would be all that crazy. Indeed, to a time traveler from 30 years ago, the 1985 and 1986 champs facing off in the Fall Classic would seem like a pretty straightforward proposition.

Yet here we are. And for as unlikely as this matchup may have seemed even a couple of years ago, we’re getting what has all of the makings of an epic matchup of two teams at the absolute top of their games. And, what’s more, two teams playing a style of baseball which, a few years from now, we’ll likely talk about as being quintessential 20-teens baseball: contact, defense, smart, aggressive base running and young pitchers pushing 100 m.p.h. and striking out guys by the boatload.

The Royals made it back to the World Series with the help of a lineup which didn’t feature anyone who hit more than 22 home runs. But it was a lineup which the Astros and Blue Jays can attest is anything but powerless. You can cruise against them for a while but then they’ll string together a couple of hits. Oh, wait, it’s five. Maybe they’ll steal a base or three. Or, if even if you can keep them from doing that, they’ll just score from first base on a single. Next thing you know they’ve put up three or four runs and your little lead is gone. If the game is close there is never a time you feel really confident against them. And if it’s close and in their favor you never feel like you have a chance against that bullpen, particularly Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis.

The Mets, on the other hand, never really let you get going in the first place. How can you against Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard? If you’re going to beat them you’re going to have to do it in a low scoring game. Preferably with someone like Clayton Kershaw pitching for you. Oh, you don’t have someone like Clayton Kershaw? Well, that’s a shame. In the meantime Daniel Murphy, with power and plate coverage on loan from God, Satan or someone else more powerful than we can know, is hitting homers every game and you’re starting to do crazy things like entertain the notion of pitching to Yoenis Cespedes, as if that’s the safe option.

We can argue about whether today’s game is more aesthetically pleasing than the game of past eras. Whether take-rake-baseball of the 1990s and 2000s is preferable to the pitching-heavy game we see now. But it’s hard to argue that the Royals and Mets aren’t masters of the current craft, with the Mets’ rotation looking nearly unstoppable and the Royals’ relentless, honey badger-like attack about the best one possible to contend with it. Between that and solid-to-spectacular defensive players all over these rosters, this series is the exact opposite of time travel. It represents the vanguard of baseball in the year 2015.

Let’s do a quick breakdown of the component parts:

LINEUPS:

Forget the season-long stats, this Mets lineup is a totally different beast now than it was all year. Since the trade deadline — just before which the Mets picked up Yoenis Cespedes — the Mets have been among the hottest offenses in the game. Between that pickup and the return from the disabled list of both David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud, the offensive attack of the Mets has been transformed. And that’s before you take Daniel Murphy’s recent tear into account. Cespedes left Game 4 of the NLCS early with a bad left shoulder, but he got a cortisone injection and said he expects to be ready for Game 1.

The Royals, as stated above, are full of tough outs up and down the lineup. And, much like the Mets, got a major boost late with an addition (Ben Zobrist) and a starter returning from injury (Alex Gordon). Even the guys who were pretty easy outs all year have toughened up in the playoffs. Most notably Alcides Escobar, the ALCS MVP, who batted .386 with five extra-base hits in the playoffs after failing to get on base at a .300 clip all year. As always, the AL will be at a disadvantage when playing in the NL Park due to losing the DH. Kendrys Morales has four homers and 10 RBIs in the playoffs but will likely be on the bench when the series moves to Citi Field on Friday.

Advantage: METS, but only slightly. Mostly because Murphy can’t still keep raking. Can he?

ROTATIONS:

The biggest advantage either team has in this series is the Mets’ advantage in the starting rotation. Every single one of the Mets’ top three starters — Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard — is better than anyone in the Royals’ top three of Johnny CuetoYordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez. As such, it doesn’t matter much that Ned Yost hasn’t set his Series rotation yet, because the Mets have and always will have the edge here. If we go to fourth starters, Steven Matz is better than Chris Young and Kris Medlen too. Heck, if two Mets’ starters are run over by the Good Humor truck, they still have Bartolo Colon, who would likely be in the Royals’ playoff rotation if he played for them. Really, no matter what else we say about the matchups in this series, the Royals’ chances begin and end with their ability to make something happen against the Mets’ starters. No one has done it yet.

Advantage: METS

BULLPENS:

Even with Greg Holland gone for the season with Tommy John surgery it’s impossible to claim that the Royals’ bullpen is anything but intimidating. Wade Davis has shown he can go multiple innings if he has to and, as Game 6 of the ALCS showed, even a rain delay can’t stop him. Kelvin Herrera is almost as good. If Ned Yost needs more than three innings from the two of them Ryan Madson is waiting. He’s been great all year, his shaky ALCS Game 6 appearance notwithstanding.

For the Mets, it’s all about getting it to Jeurys Familia, who hasn’t given up a run — and hasn’t given Mets fans a reason to sweat — in the playoffs. It’s a little dicey beyond him. The Mets’ starters, however, have been making that bridge to Familia a short one. Even, if necessary, filling in as setup men on their days off themselves. Indeed, look for Noah Syndergaard to make at least one relief appearance in a close game.

Advantage: ROYALS

MANAGERS:

Ned Yost was a butt of jokes in last year’s playoffs before suddenly looking like a genius by the time the World Series ended and solidifying that status in year in which the Royals cruised to the AL Central title. Chalk that up more to circumstance and hindsight analysis than anything else, however, and know that we’re always a move or two — most likely with the bullpen — which will allow us to turn “Yost” into “Yosted” (Pro tip: if your name is being turned into a verb, you’re probably not having a good day). This could’ve happened in Game 6 of the ALCS, in fact, when Yost let Wade Davis sit out in the bullpen while Madson gave up the lead thanks to a Jose Bautista home run. The upshot: when the game goes according to plan, Yost is fine. If he has to improvise, bad things can happen.

The only knock anyone has ever had on Terry Collins came years and years ago when he was a younger man and didn’t have much control over his clubhouses in Houston and Anaheim. He’s a steady hand now, whose in-game decisions aren’t questioned all that often. If his starters continue to do what they’ve been doing all postseason, he’ll have even fewer second guessers.

Advantage: METS

PREDICTION:

The last World Series game which took place was an epic battle in Kauffman Stadium where amazing pitching, hitting to contact and base running decided everything. It only seems appropriate that we’re right back here again. And, if anything, pitching, hitting to contact and base running seem poised to be an even bigger part of what’s about to go down.

For my part, it’s hard to pick against good starting pitching. And the Mets don’t have good starting pitching. They have GREAT starting pitching. And for that reason I’m not picking against them here. This is a very evenly-matched series overall, but give me the fireballers every time: METS in SIX.

Marlins clinch 1st playoff berth since 2003, beat Yanks 4-3

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Forced from the field by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins returned with enough force to reach the playoffs for the first time since their 2003 championship.

An NL-worst 57-105 a year ago, they sealed the improbable berth on the field of the team that Miami CEO Derek Jeter and manager Don Mattingly once captained.

“I think this is a good lesson for everyone. It really goes back to the players believing,” Mattingly said Friday night after a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees.

Miami will start the playoffs on the road Wednesday, its first postseason game since winning the 2003 World Series as the Florida Marlins, capped by a Game 6 victory in the Bronx over Jeter and his New York teammates at the previous version of Yankee Stadium.

“We play loose. We got nothing to lose. We’re playing with house money.,” said Brandon Kintzler, who got DJ LeMahieu to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded after Jesus Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th. “We are a dangerous team. And we really don’t care if anyone says we’re overachievers.”

Miami (30-28), second behind Atlanta in the NL East, became the first team to make the playoffs in the year following a 100-loss season. The Marlins achieved the feat despite being beset by a virus outbreak early this season that prevented them from playing for more than a week.

After the final out, Marlins players ran onto the field, formed a line and exchanged non socially-distant hugs, then posed for photos across the mound.

“I can’t contain the tears, because it’s a lot of grind, a lot of passion,” shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “It wasn’t just the virus. Last year we lost 100 games. But we came out this year with the hope everything was going to be better. When we had the outbreak, the guys who got an opportunity to help the organization, thank you for everything you did.”

Miami was one of baseball’s great doubts at the start of the most shortened season since 1878, forced off the field when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19 following the opening series in Philadelphia.

“Yeah, we’ve been through a lot. Other teams have been through a lot, too,” Mattingly said “This just not a been a great situation. It’s just good to be able to put the game back on the map.”

New York (32-26) had already wrapped up a playoff spot but has lost five of six following a 10-game winning streak and is assured of starting the playoffs on the road. Toronto clinched a berth by beating the Yankees on Thursday.

“I don’t like any time somebody celebrates on our field or if we’re at somebody else’s place and they celebrate on their field,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “I’m seeing that too much.”

Mattingly captained the Yankees from 1991-95 and is in his fifth season managing the Marlins, Jeter captained the Yankees from 2003-14 as part of a career that included five World Series titles in 20 seasons and is part of the group headed by Bruce Sherman that bought the Marlins in October 2017.

Garrett Cooper, traded to the Marlins by the Yankees after the 2017 season, hit a three-run homer in the first inning off J.A. Happ.

After the Yankees tied it on Aaron Hicks‘ two-run double off Sandy Alcantara in the third and Judge’s RBI single off Yimi Garcia in the eighth following an error by the pitcher on a pickoff throw, the Marlins regained the lead with an unearned run in the 10th against Chad Green (3-3).

Jon Berti sacrificed pinch-runner Monte Harrison to third and, with the infield in, Starling Marte grounded to shortstop. Gleyber Torres ran at Harrison and threw to the plate, and catcher Kyle Higashioka‘s throw to third hit Harrison in the back, giving the Yankees a four-error night for the second time in three games.

With runners at second and third, Aguilar hit a sacrifice fly.

Brad Boxberger (1-0) walked his leadoff batter in the ninth but got Luke Voit to ground into a double play, and Kintzler held on for his 12th save in 14 chances.

Miami ended the second-longest postseason drought in the majors – the Seattle Mariners have been absent since 2001.

Miami returned Aug. 4 following an eight-day layoff with reinforcements from its alternate training site, the trade market and the waiver wire to replace the 18 players on the injured list and won its first five games.

“We’re just starting,” said Alcantara, who handed a 3-2 lead to his bullpen in the eighth. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

TOSSED

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected for arguing from the dugout in the first inning. Plate umpire John Tumpane called out Judge on a full-count slider that appeared to drop well below the knees and Boone argued during the next pitch, to Hicks, then was ejected. Television microphones caught several of Boone’s profane shouts.

“Reacting to a terrible call and then following it up,” Boone said. “Obviously, we see Aaron get called a lot on some bad ones down.”

ODD

Pinch-runner Michael Tauchman stole second base in the eighth following a leadoff single by Gary Sanchez but was sent back to first because Tumpane interfered with the throw by catcher Chad Wallach. Clint Frazier struck out on the next pitch and snapped his bat over a leg.

SLOPPY

New York took the major league lead with 47 errors. Sanchez was called for catcher’s interference for the third time in five days and fourth time this month.

REMEMBERING

Mattingly thought of Jose Fernandez, the former Marlins All-Star pitcher who died four years earlier to the night at age 24 while piloting a boat that crashed. An investigation found he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system. The night also marked the sixth anniversary of Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT

RHP Deivi Garcia (2-2, 4.88) starts Saturday for the Yankees and LHP Trevor Rogers (1-2, 6.84) for the Marlins. Garcia will be making the sixth start of his rookie season.