Amazin' Avenue: Mets high velocity strikeout pitchers versus the Royals' high contact, high average hitters. Which side gives and how have the Royals performed against velocity this season?
Royals Review: The Mets starting rotation is very impressive with their fastballs (as is their hair!) but the Royals handle fastballs quite well, leading the league in batting average on 95+ mph fastballs at .284. They are an aggressive team that makes a lot of contact, finishing with both the fewest strikeouts and fewest walks in all of baseball. Their offensive approach seems to be "see the ball, hit the ball", so I don't expect them to struggle catching up with the fastball.
The problem will likely be with the secondary offerings the Mets pitchers bring to the table. The top trio of Mets pitchers has a deep arsenal of pitches that could give the Royals first, particularly with the changeup. The Royals have seemingly struggled with off-speed stuff all season, especially from southpaws. It is very odd that they have a terrific record against some of the top pitchers in all of baseball, but have struggled with soft-tossing lefties who should probably be in pitching in the Pacific Coast League.
AA: Johnny Cueto has struggled, both down the stretch of the season and in the playoffs. Looking ahead, what should Mets fans expect to see from him and what's your confidence level going into his Game 2 start?
RR: Everything is on the table when Johnny Cueto starts. The Royals acquired him in July from the Reds hoping he'd be the ace starter they could pitch in Game One of the World Series, but the experience has ended up being a huge disappointment. Cueto started okay, but he had a five-game stretch where he gave up 30 runs in 26 innings, easily the worst stretch of his career. He came up huge in Game Five of the ALDS against Houston retiring the last 19 hitters he faced in a 7-2 win, but followed that up with a historically awful performance in the ALCS against Toronto with eight runs allowed in just two innings. It is pretty clear Cueto gets amped up at home and rattled on the road, which is why the Royals will protect him and have him pitch at home in Game Two and (if necessary) Game Six.
Cueto is successful when he's able to work the fastball away and hit the insider corner with his cutter. When he runs into problems, he leaves the cutter out and up over the plate, where it gets hammered. There have been whispers he may have an elbow issue that is not being revealed, but his velocity has been pretty good since he was acquired although his strikeout rate has declined significantly. Certainly his poor September and October have cost him a few million in free agent dollars, although we should still expect him to get a hefty deal.
AA: Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas took a while to develop into quality regulars for the Royals but both had outstanding seasons in 2015. What has been the key in each player's development over the past year?
RR: Hosmer and Moustakas have been key to the Royals success in 2015, but both have slumped badly in the post-season for the most part, saving their hits for the most clutch of situations. Hosmer has always been a very streaky hitter, this year he has been able to limit the poor slumps. His approach at the plate can be maddening at times, with violent home run swings at pitches well out of the strike zone, but for the most part he has been a quality hitter who can work the count and give the Royals the power they need.
The turnaround for Mike Moustakas has been nothing short of miraculous. He was one of the worst regulars in baseball last season, making it curious when Ned Yost tabbed him to be the #2 hitter in the lineup on Opening Day. But the move worked out as Moustakas had a career best season and his first All-Star appearance. He has a much different approach this year after he said he was tired of seeing all of his hits gobbled up by radical defensive shifts last season. He came into this season determined to hit the ball to all fields and he has become an excellent opposite field hitter.
AA: Without Greg Holland, the Royals actually appear better off with Wade Davis throwing the 9th inning. Ryan Madson (blast from the past!) allowed a game-tying 2-run bomb to Jose Bautista in the 8th inning of Friday's game 6 against the Blue Jays. With that hiccup in mind, is there any worry about the Royals' bullpen this series?
RR: I think most fans are a bit concerned Ned Yost has tabbed Ryan Madson to be the 8th inning guy. Madson has been a great story this year - he has been out of baseball since 2011 due to injuries, but the Royals took a flyer on him and he responded with a terrific 2.13 ERA. However he has faltered late in the season and with Kelvin Herrera pitching so well in the post-season after adding a slider, most Royals fans feel more comfortable with Herrera in the 8th inning role.
Other than that, the Royals may have more depth in the pen that they did last year. Luke Hochevar missed last season with injury and he returned this year to be a nice middle relief pitcher. Starter Danny Duffy has pitched well in his few relief outings and is healthier than he was last October when he was nursing a cracked rib cage. Franklin Morales gives the team a nice lefty reliever that they didn't have most of last season.
AA: Ned Yost: people pick on his "strategery" but he's gotten his team to the World Series in back to back years. What should we look for with regards to his tendencies when it comes to bullpen changes, lineups, pinch hitting, pinch running, etc, and how do you think he'll handle the additional strategy (i.e. no DH and lots of BUNTZ!!!!) when the series shifts to Citi Field?
RR: Ned has toned down much of the small ball this year because the team has improved so much offensively. Still, against the Mets talented pitchers, in an NL-park he may revert back to bunting and stealing to scratch out a run. The Royals have been particularly aggressive on the basepaths, twice scoring from first base on a single, so expect the team to press the issue against the Mets as well.
Ned has generally done a good job of having a quick hook in the post-season, not wanting to have his starting pitchers face lineups a third time, but he nearly cost the Royals Game 6 of the ALCS by leaving Edinson Volquez too long, and many questioned his decision to bring in Ryan Madson instead of Wade Davis for a six out save. Having a dominating, deep bullpen covers up a lot of the potential mistakes Ned Yost makes, but it is imperative he has a quick hook with the starting pitchers. The rotation has clearly been a weakness this club, but he can mitigate that weakness by pulling his starters before they run into trouble.
Thanks again to Max Rieper of Royals Review for giving us a preview of the Royals heading into game one of the World Series!