In case you haven't heard by now, the Mets lost last night in Game 1 of the World Series. They led Kansas City 3-1 after five innings but blew that lead and another one they took in the eighth. In the bottom of the 14th, the Royals finally broke the 4-4 tie on a sacrifice fly by Eric Hosmer.
Losing big games always hurts, but this one especially so because it featured a blown save by reliable closer Jeurys Familia. The game appeared close to over after he recorded the first out in the ninth inning on an easy ground out, but then Alex Gordon crushed a 1-1 fastball way over the center field wall to ensure that we'd go into extra innings.
It was predictable that the Mets would struggle to score against the likes of Wade Davis and Ryan Madson, but Chris Young? The former Met is someone you'd think New York's powerful left-handed bats could take advantage of, but the team put just one runner on base in the three innings pitched by Young.
We probably won't see the veteran right-hander again in Game 2, especially if the Royals still plan on starting him in Game 4, but there are other players whom the Mets need to adjust to in order to tie this series up before it heads back to Queens.
First of all, it would be surprising if Terry Collins didn't switch up his starting lineup tonight. Many fans thought he'd be better off with Juan Lagares in center field due to Kansas City's ability to put the ball in play, but instead Collins went with his standard outfield alignment featuring Yoenis Cespedes in center and Michael Conforto in left. Lagares did enter the game eventually and record a pair of hits (albeit one on a bunt), but not before Conforto and Cespedes managed to turn a routine fly ball by Alcides Escobar into an inside-the-park home run.
With Conforto now hitting 1-for-17 this postseason, it looks like it's time to give Lagares (7-for-16 with superior defense) a shot at a starting outfielder job, at least for Game 2.
The Mets knew defense would play a big role in this series, but I think they also expected Matt Harvey to strike out more than two batters in his six innings. Before last night, the right-hander had only gone that many innings with that few strikeouts once before in 2015 (June 10 vs. San Francisco). If Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard similarly struggle to miss bats in their starts, New York's big starting pitching advantage could be neutralized. One big thing to watch for tonight is if deGrom can get some whiffs after striking out 27 batter in his first 20 postseason innings.
As Tyler Clippard showed in his short appearance (four batters faced, two strikeouts), the Royals are a team that it could pay to pitch backwards to. The reliever was able to dismiss Hosmer quickly by starting him off with changeups when he was looking to hammer a fastball. Once ahead in the count, Clippard finished off his opponent with a high fastball that Hosmer couldn't catch up to.
This strategy was also noticeable when the Mets pitched to Escobar after his first inning round-tripper. Harvey gave up the home run on a first-pitch fastball, but the rest of the game saw the leadoff man flailing at offspeed stuff on the first pitch of his at-bats. He finished 1-for-6 at the plate.
Another key for Mets victory will be to score early and often on Kansas City starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, who has been inconsistent this postseason with one excellent start under his belt, but also one that was mediocre and one that was a disaster (the most recent in Toronto). It hasn't just been October, though, as Cueto has a 4.76 ERA and 1.45 WHIP since being dealt from Cincinnati to the Royals at trade deadline.
In two months and 81.1 regular season innings with Kansas City, Cueto saw his strikeouts per nine innings drop dramatically from eight to six. Unsurprisingly, that has led to more hits and more home runs give up by the veteran right-hander. It looks as though Cueto isn't fooling hitters as much with his breaking stuff, and that could be due to changes in movement and velocity.
No matter what the cause of Cueto's issues is, he has only struck out more than five batters in a start once since the beginning of September, so the Mets ought to put the ball in play and give deGrom a lead to work with. If they are unable to do that, it's unlikely that the Royals will give them another opportunity to score in the eighth inning, where last night the Mets appeared to steal a run. Not only did Kansas City skipper Ned Yost fail to challenge an extremely close call at second base on a Lagares steal attempt (in which the manager had nothing to lose), but Wilmer Flores drove in the run thanks to a rare error by first baseman Hosmer.
The fact that the Mets didn't win the game after a couple of fortunate breaks makes last night's defeat all the more heartbreaking, but the team has a chance to take control of the series with nine innings of solid baseball tonight. Given their resiliency thus far, you have to like the Mets' chances.
Prediction: Mets even the series.