Tagged: Ned Yost

And Now It Begins – Mets and Royals Pick Up Where They Left Off

By Paul DiSclafani

wright-cespedesThe beauty of Opening Day is that everyone gets to start at 0-0. Both the Mets and Royals are looking to put 2015 in the rear view mirror.  Well, the Mets more than the Royals.

The Royals are primed to celebrate their first World Series Title in 30 years with a flag raising ceremony in front on their home crowd on Opening night, followed by receiving their Championship rings two days later. Both ceremonies will take place front and center, with the Mets watching (or not watching) from the visitor’s dugout.

Captain David Wright addressed the mood of his team and how it will feel on Opening Night as the Royals open up old wounds as they celebrate with their fans.

“It’s impossible to simulate World Series atmospheres,” Wright said, “but with them getting their rings and raising the banner and things like that, I think it would give a little bit of motivation. But I also think they deserved it. They outplayed us during the World Series, no question.”

The Mets have had all offseason to lament their performance in the World Series, falling to a far superior Royals team. Although they had a lead in every one of the five games, they managed to win only once.  But the theme of both training camps seemed to be that it’s time to turn the page.

”A lot of guys here were not in the World Series. At some point, you turn the page and get ready for 2016, and for us that was this spring,” Wright said. ”It stinks to fall a little bit short, but it was a heck of a run. We just can’t keep talking about last year.”

Even KC manager Ned Yost, who has guided his Royals to two consecutive World Series appearances, cautioned that it is not as easy as it looks. The last time a team made it to the World Series three consecutive years was the Yankees (1998-2000) and before that, the Oakland A’s (1972-74).

”It’s extremely difficult to maintain that, and just to get there,” Yost said. ”Our focus in spring training was getting off to a good start, and at the end of the year, having an opportunity to fight our way back. Because it is, it’s a fight. Everyone starts the year with those aspirations and dreams of making it to a World Series, but it’s very difficult to do.”

For the first time in baseball history, the two teams that met in the World Series will meet again on Opening Day.

If the Mets want to learn from their mistakes in the 2015 season and win the World Series for the first time in 30 years, all they have to do is look across the field at the Royals and follow their lead. The Mets road back to the World Series begins right where it left off in 2015.

THE SERIES:

The Mets (90-72) and the Royals (95-67) meet for two games on Sunday Night and Tuesday afternoon at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City.   The Mets finished 2015 with a 41-40 road record, while the Royals were an impressive 51-30 at Home.

THE STARTERS:

Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71) will start Opening night for the Mets against Edison Volquez (13-9, 3.55). Harvey had a medical scare earlier in the week with a blood clot in his bladder, but he has been cleared to make this start.  Volquez and Harvey met in Game 1 of the World Series, but didn’t factor in the decision as the Royals prevailed in 14 innings.  Both gave up three earned runs in their six innings.  They hooked up again in Game 5, another extra inning game that they Royals won, this time to take the World Series Crown.  Harvey was brilliant for 8 shutout innings and Volquez was poised to be on the losing end, having surrendered just two runs, one earned.

Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24) was set to face the newest KC starter, Ian Kennedy (9-15, 4.28 with San Diego), but a hamstring injury may force former Met Chris Young (11-6, 3.06) to start instead. Syndergaard was the only Mets pitcher to win in the 2015 Fall Classic, winning Game 3 of the series.  Syndergaard started the game by throwing the first pitch over the head over leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar and the Mets responded with two home runs in a 9-3 win.

WHAT TO EXPECT:

Nobody really knows. The Royals are the World Champions, playing in front of their home crowd for the first time since winning the World Series almost 1,200 miles away in Citi Field.  Obviously, there will be plenty of emotion and pride as they raise their banner and receive their Championship rings.  The Mets have had a difficult spring as far as results on the field are concerned, failing to win in 14 straight “games” at the end of the Spring and although everyone insist that they don’t count (and they don’t), there were a couple of red flags.

Understanding 100% that the “results” of the games in the Spring are bogus, individual performances over the course of an entire Spring need to at least be considered.

Consider this: The Mets hit just 17 home runs in 25 Grapefruit League games, seven of them from players who didn’t make the Opening Day roster and one  came from the backup catcher.  David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda hit one each – and they played a combined 45 games and had 125 AB’s.  Add in Michael Conforto, who hit two HR in 49 AB’s, and that’s just 5 HR in 174 AB’s.  Not exactly the type of numbers that will light up the Mets Home Run Apple.

A little more concerning are the relief pitching individual numbers. Antonio Bastardo pitched nine Spring innings, but gave up 8 runs (7 earned) and 10 hits.  Remember, relief pitchers are only charged with runners they put on base that scored.  Addison Reed surrendered 9 hits in his 8.2 innings (3 earned runs) and Jeurys Familia 8 hits in his 7.1 innings (also 3 earned runs).  Granted, pitchers admit to “working on things” during the Spring, but it is still a little disconcerting.

So what can we expect for this Opening Series between the best teams from 2015 in each league? Both teams think they have a lot to prove after their success / failures in the postseason and both teams want to get out of the gate quickly, but frankly, who doesn’t?  Both teams are all saying the right things and the Royals backtracked on their supposed “revenge” on Syndergaard’s opening pitch of Game 3, but one thing remains…

The 2016 Mets want to be the 2015 KC Royals, a team that returned to the World Series and finished the job. The 2015 Royals started last season sweeping the Chicago White Sox at home and went on to win their first seven games, making a statement to everyone in the American League that their 2014 appearance in the World Series was no fluke.  Let’s see what the Mets can do behind Harvey and Syndergaard now that everything “counts” again.

You can also read my full 2016 Mets preview: Final Observations and Predictions or my compact season preview: Opening Day Countdown.

Mets on the Brink, Turn To Matt Harvey To Save Season

By Paul DiSclafani

murphy WS Game 4And now it’s up to The Dark Knight to save Gotham City.

After blowing two leads in Game 1 and falling in extra innings to the Kansas City Royals, the Mets wasted two home runs by rookie Michael Conforto and blew leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in Game 4 now finding themselves on the brink of elimination in the World Series.

Postseason hero Daniel Murphy’s error in the eighth allowed the Royals to tie the game after Tyler Clippard was unable to protect a 3-2 lead, getting the first out and then walking the next two batters. Jeurys Familia relieved Clippard and got a ground ball from Eric Hosmer, but the slow roller went under Murphy’s glove and into right field, allowing Ben Zobrits to score from second to tie the game.  Mike Moustakas singled on the next pitch, just past the diving Murphy, scoring Lorenzo Cain to give the Royals the first and only lead they would need for the night, 4-3.  Salvador Perez took care of the insurance run, following with another RBI hit to right, plating Hosmer and it was 5-3.

“There’s no way to describe it. It hurts when you feel like you got a direct hand in a ballgame,” Murphy said. “I didn’t do the job. That’s the most frustrating thing.”

As the Royals celebrated their 5-3 win at Citi Field after escaping the bottom of the ninth by doubling Yoenis Cespedes off first to end the game with the tying runs on base, Mets fans were shaking their heads at how they could be in this position. In a game that seemed to be leading up to the Mets tying the series with Matt Harvey on the mound for a pivotal Game 5, they imploded, allowing the Royals back into it and eventually handing Game 4 to them.

The Royals, who set a major league record with their sixth comeback win of the postseason from at least two runs, are now just one win away from their second World Series title.

“There’s just a belief amongst the guys that it doesn’t matter what the score is, what the lead is, what the deficit is. The guys just believe that they’re going to find a way to get it done,” Kansas City starter Chris Young said.

“What they did tonight is what they’ve been doing the whole playoffs,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s a group of guys that have the utmost confidence in themselves. I don’t think at any point these guys thought that they were going to lose tonight.”

Mets manager Terry Collins could not disagree. “They truly don’t ever stop.”

This game was filled with strange plays and misplays almost from the start. Rookie left-hander Steven Matz, making only his tenth start in the major leagues, allowed a leadoff single to Alcides Escobar to start the game, but on a 1-2 pitch, struck out Zobrist swinging.  Escobar was running on the pitch and easily stole second, but was called out when Zobrist interfered with catcher Travis d’Arnaud on his follow-through, preventing him from making a throw and Escobar was called out also.

Conforto led off the third for the Mets with a monster home run into the Pepsi Porch (376 feet) just inside the foul pole to give the Mets their first lead of this Halloween night, 1-0. When Wilmer Flores followed with a single on the next pitch, it seemed like the Mets might have starter Young on the ropes.  Young had set down the first six before Conforto’s blast.

Then he bounced a 55-foot curveball, moving Flores to second and he got to third on a Matz sacrifice. With one out, Curtis Granderson lifted a lazy fly ball to right.  With the slow-footed Flores on third, there was going to be a play at the plate.  But Alex Rios settled under the ball and initially thought it was the third out.  A split second later with centerfielder Lorenzo Cain shouting at him, Rios fired the ball home, but Flores scored standing up to make it 2-0 Mets.

“It’s a mental mistake,” Rios said. “But what do you do? You can’t just put your head down. You have to compete. If you put your head down, you’re done.”

The Royals broke through in the fifth for a run to make it 2-1, but Conforto launched another moon shot to center in the Mets half (400 feet) to give the Mets another two run cushion, 3-1 and energizing the crowd.

Matz had held the Royals to a run on five hits to that point, but his night was about to end very quickly. Zobrist doubled to center on the first pitch and Cain followed two pitches later with a single to center, scoring Zobrist to make it 3-2 and ending Matz’ night.  Jonathan Niese and Bartolo Colon got the Mets out of the mess after Cain stole second and went to third when Colon tried to pick him off.  Colon stranded him there winning an 11-pitch battle with Perez, striking him out to end the inning.

Addison Reed pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, but you had the feeling that three runs was not going to be enough in this game against this team.

After the eighth inning debacle and now trailing 5-3, the Mets still had two shots at getting back in the game, but Royals closer Wade Davis would have none of it. Wade set them down 1-2-3 in the eighth setting up the Mets fans for more disappointment in the ninth.

The fans seemed to overcome their shock in the ninth, coming to life after Murphy and the Cespedes singled following a David Wright strikeout to start the inning. With the tying runs on base and the winning run in the form of Lucas Duda at the plate, the fans were once again up and screaming.  Duda hit a soft liner to third that Moustakas grabbed at his shoe-tops, then easily doubled off Cespedes at first who was half-way to second at the time.

And just like that, the Royals take a stranglehold on the series and the Mets will need to turn to their Dark Knight, Matt Harvey, to save their season and punch their ticket back to Kansas City.

Game 5 is the last baseball game of the season at Citi Field win or lose. The Mets and their fans hope there are two more games to play.

 

Game Four Preview – Royals and Mets Prepare for Pivotal Game Four

By: Joe Botana

Steven Matz

Photo credit: Newsday

“Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!”  – The little boy. “The sky is falling!” – Chicken Little

Excessive use of any phrase makes it lose meaning when it really matters. The phrase “must-win game” is one that is often used and abused. Accordingly, we won’t use it to describe tonight’s game four in the context of either team, as it really does not really apply. After tonight, the World Series will either stand at a 3-1 advantage for the Royals, or the Mets will have fought back to a 2-2 tie, and the teams will find themselves in a two out of three playoff. In either case, both teams will still be in a relatively viable position from which to secure the ultimate triumph.

That is not to say that tonight’s game is not pivotal; far from it. For the Mets, it is an opportunity to continue the reversal of momentum they achieved last night, when they sent a clear “we are still here and very much alive” message to the Royals right from the very first high inside pitch from Noah “Thor” Syndergaard to leadoff batter and spark plug Alcides Escobar. A win tonight would give the Mets the edge in momentum and confidence going into game five.

For the Royals, it would be a chance to respond last night’s message with something akin to “yeah, whatever.” They would have reversed the momentum yet again, and would find themselves in a position from which winning just one of the next three games, two of which would be back home at Kauffman Stadium, would secure the Crown which eluded their grasp last year after it was so tantalizingly close, and which they have been single mindedly pursuing ever since.

The Mets will send Chris Young (11-6 / 3.06 ERA) to the mound. Young pitched three innings in relief in the fourteen inning opener and was brilliant, earning the win. In post season, he owns a career 1.45 ERA over four appearances, including two starts. Royals’ manager Ned Yost stated that the 53 pitches Young threw on Tuesday, three days ago, does not affect his plans to use him as the game four starter. It will be interesting to see if something happens tonight that causes this decision to be second guessed. Given the Royals’ dominant bullpen, Yost may be happy to get another effective “half-start” of four or five innings from Young.

Opposing Young will be the much younger Steven Matz (4-0 / 2.27 ERA) who is the newest member of the Mets rotation. In his last appearance, he was pulled by Terry Collins after 4 2/3rd innings, so he did not get credit for the win in the NLCS clincher against the Cubs, but he was sharp and struck out four Cubs batters during that stretch. He took a tough loss against the Dodgers in the NLDS, and sports a post season record of 9 2/3rd innings in two appearances with an 0-1 record and a 3.77 ERA. It will be interesting to see if Mets manager Terry Collins elects to pull his young starter early again tonight and throw a “change-up” from the steady diet of fire ballers they’ve seen so far from his starters in the person of Bartolo Colon.

Why is this game pivotal? The Royals will clearly recall that they held a 2-1 lead last years against the Giants, only to lose that series in seven games. They may also realize that eight of the last twelve World Series teams who evened the series at 2-2 after being down 2-0 went on to win the series. The Mets understand the same historical statistics, and realize that while teams facing a 2-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series, only twenty-nine percent go on to win the series, and only eleven of the twenty-nine teams in the same predicament in the World Series (38%) claimed the crown, they were one of those teams in 1986. Last night was “Go Time” for the Mets, and so it still remains.

The keys to winning are crystal clear for both teams. The Mets will need to keep hitting and scoring runs like they did in game three while preventing the Royals from stretching innings and stringing together hits to produce multiple RBI frames. The fact that there won’t be a designated hitter and Royals pitchers will have to bat gives them a slight edge up in that regard. For the Royals, they will have to get another dominant pitching performance from their starter and bullpen, return to playing solid defense, and show the Mets once again, since they probably forgot after last night, why they had the highest batting average against pitchers who throw over 95 mph.

It is not “must win” – but it is pivotal. And it happens tonight. Don’t miss it!