World Series 2015: Series Preview and Game-by-Game Predictions

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 25, 2015

World Series 2015: Series Preview and Game-by-Game Predictions

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    One way or another, the 2015 World Series is going to result in a party three decades in the making.

    On one side is the New York Mets, who are looking to win the Fall Classic for the first time since 1986. On the other side is the Kansas City Royals, who are looking to win it all for the first time since the franchise's first and only title in 1985.

    Want to get up to speed on the matchup and be told very specifically how it'll all shake out?

    Well, you've come to the right place.

    With the World Series set to kick off at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City on Tuesday, we're here to preview the action by looking at lineups, rotations and X-factors. We'll also break down some key matchups and end with a set of game-by-game predictions.

    Step into the box whenever you're ready.

Projected Lineups

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    Projected Mets Lineup

    1. RF Curtis Granderson (L)
    2. 3B David Wright
    3. 2B Daniel Murphy (L)
    4. LF Yoenis Cespedes
    5. 1B Lucas Duda (L)
    6. C Travis d'Arnaud
    7. DH Michael Conforto (L)
    8. SS Wilmer Flores
    9. CF Juan Lagares

    There's not much mystery regarding the first six spots in Terry Collins' lineup. That's been his go-to order against right-handed starters, and the Royals have nothing but right-handed starters lined up.

    The bottom third of the order is where things are harder to predict. But given the size of Kauffman Stadium, Collins will probably want his best defensive outfield. That would mean playing Juan Lagares in center, with Michael Conforto filling in as the designated hitter.

    Regardless of what Collins chooses to do, there's little question he needs to get more production out of guys not named Daniel Murphy. Even with the second baseman's absurd .421 average and 1.462 OPS, New York is hitting just .235 with a .733 OPS this postseason.

    Projected Royals Lineup

    1. SS Alcides Escobar
    2. 2B Ben Zobrist (S)
    3. CF Lorenzo Cain
    4. 1B Eric Hosmer (L)
    5. DH Kendrys Morales (S)
    6. 3B Mike Moustakas (L)
    7. C Salvador Perez
    8. LF Alex Gordon (L)
    9. RF Alex Rios

    We can bicker and argue about whether Alex Gordon should be batting eighth, but this is the way Ned Yost has been playing things in October. This is his lineup, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

    Besides, it's been working just fine. Led by Alcides Escobar (.954 OPS) and Ben Zobrist (.933 OPS) at the top, Kansas City's offense has been the best of the postseason so far, collectively hitting .271 with a .777 OPS.

    One thing to keep in mind, though: The Royals will lose a big weapon when this series shifts to Citi Field for Games 3, 4 and, possibly, 5. Kendrys Morales will be forced to the bench, and that will rob K.C. of a guy with an .872 OPS and four homers this October.

Projected Rotations

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    Projected Mets Rotation

    1. Matt Harvey
    2. Jacob deGrom
    3. Noah Syndergaard
    4. Steven Matz (L)

    Now, we put the word "projected" above, but it's not necessary. Terry Collins has made this rotation official, with the idea being to hit the Royals with his two best guys first and allow Noah Syndergaard to take the ball in his preferred environment in Game 3.

    "We like going into Kansas City with our [No.] 1 and 2 guys," Collins said, via Anthony DiComo of MLB.com. "Noah's pitched great at home. We thought that's a good mix."

    It's not like Collins could have chosen a bad order for his rotation. New York starters have been killing it this postseason, riding their electric stuff to a 2.65 ERA and a ratio of 69 strikeouts to 18 walks across 54.1 innings in nine games.

    Projected Royals Rotation

    1. Edinson Volquez
    2. Johnny Cueto
    3. Yordano Ventura
    4. Chris Young

    Ned Yost has yet to announce his rotation for the World Series, but Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reported "all signs point toward" Edinson Volquez getting the ball for Game 1.

    As for who follows Volquez, it's possible that Yordano Ventura will get the nod over Johnny Cueto for Game 2. However, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star said the Royals don't want to use Cueto on the road. Given that he fell apart in his last two postseason road starts—the 2013 National League Wild Card Game and Game 3 of the American League Championship Series—that's a wise idea.

    Regardless of how Yost chooses to line them up, he needs his starting pitchers to do better in the World Series. Through 11 postseason games, Kansas City's starters have managed just a 5.56 ERA across 55 innings.

Potential X-Factors

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    Michael Conforto, DH, Mets

    With New York getting to use the designated hitter at Kauffman Stadium and the Royals starting nothing but right-handers, Michael Conforto figures to see his share of action. If he can shake off his postseason slump (.433 OPS), the .841 OPS he posted in the regular season suggests he could arise as a difference-maker in the bottom third of the Mets lineup.

    Jon Niese, LHP, Mets

    As noted by Grantland's Jonah Keri, one of the Toronto Blue Jays' biggest issues in the American League Championship Series was that they didn't have anybody in their bullpen who could shut down the Royals' slew of talented left-handed and switch-hitting bats. It's now New York's turn to answer that challenge, and the task could fall to Jon Niese. He's the only lefty reliever the Mets have used this postseason, and he may see his share of the action increase in the World Series.

    Kendrys Morales, DH/PH, Royals

    As we noted earlier, it will be a blow to the Kansas City lineup when Kendrys Morales is forced to the bench when the series shifts to New York. But if there's a bright side, it's that he could be a hell of a pinch-hitting weapon for Ned Yost late in games. Morales won't get many chances at Citi Field, but that doesn't mean he won't have a shot to make a big impact.

    Johnny Cueto, SP, Royals

    Nobody has any clue which version of Johnny Cueto Kansas City is going to get in the World Series. He's been mostly lousy as a Royal, posting a 4.76 ERA in the regular season and falling flat in two of his three postseason starts. But with eight innings of two-run ball in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, he showed he's still capable of dominating on a good day. Kansas City must hope he has at least one more of those left in him.

Key Matchups

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Royals Pitchers vs. Daniel 'Babe Ruth' Murphy

    Or maybe he's Daniel "Barry Bonds" Murphy. Or Daniel "Roy Hobbs" Murphy.

    Whatever you want to call him, Murphy has been a human torch (another good nickname) this postseason, hitting .421 with seven home runs and a 1.462 OPS. If Kansas City must do one thing, it's ensure that he doesn't hurt them like he hurt the Los Angeles Dodgers and, especially, the Chicago Cubs.

    If the Royals can do that, they could find themselves in good shape. After all, if you take away Murphy's contributions, New York has hit just .207 with a .624 OPS in the postseason.

    Mets Hitters vs. Royals Starters

    Regardless of whether it's Murphy or someone else who's responsible, chances are New York is only winning the World Series if its offense comes alive against Kansas City's starters.

    They're the vulnerable ones. Beyond their 5.56 ERA, they've given up 48 hits and 29 walks in 55 innings. And these numbers should probably be worse. The third time through the lineup has been a challenge for Royals starters, but they have yet to pay a heavy price.

    If the Mets can put a stop to that and make life even tougher for Kansas City's starters, they won't have to worry about trying to overcome the Royals' bullpen. Given that said bullpen has a 2.85 ERA and 59 strikeouts to 11 walks in 41 innings this postseason, suffice it to say that would be advantageous.

    Royals Hitters vs. High-Octane Mets Fastballs

    If there's one thing New York pitchers can do, it's bring the heat. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz all live in the mid- to upper 90s with their fastballs, and the same goes for stud closer Jeurys Familia.

    But while said heat gave the Mets an advantage over the Dodgers and Cubs, Kansas City presents a challenge. Royals hitters ranked first in batting average and second in slugging percentage and had the lowest strikeout rate against 95-plus mph fastballs in 2015, per Baseball Savant.

    If Kansas City lives up to this performance in the World Series, the biggest advantage New York has had to this point in the postseason may be rendered useless.

Game 1: Mets Follow Matt Harvey's Lead to Victory

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    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    Pitching Matchup: Matt Harvey vs. Edinson Volquez

    Venue: Kauffman Stadium

    The first hard thrower the Mets will put to the test against the Royals will be Matt Harvey. Conveniently, he might also be the one hard thrower the Mets have who presents the toughest matchup for the Royals.

    Though he averaged 95.9 mph with his heat, Harvey relied on his fastball less often than Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard did in the regular season. He's also shown on multiple occasions that he can pitch backward, which is something he did to dominate the Blue Jays, another excellent fastball-hitting team, back in June.

    Assuming Harvey does that again in Game 1 against the Royals, he should be able to negate their advantage against the hard stuff.

    Meanwhile, the Mets offense looks like a tough matchup for Edinson Volquez, who lives or dies by his two-seamer. New York's .321 average and .497 slugging percentage against right-handed two-seamers, per Baseball Savant, suggest he's likely to die by it against the Mets.

    So, look for the Mets to stake Harvey to an early lead and for him to take it from there.

    Series: Mets Lead 1-0

Game 2: deGrom and Cueto Duel, Royals Win Bullpen Battle

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Pitching Matchup: Jacob deGrom vs. Johnny Cueto

    Venue: Kauffman Stadium

    If Jacob deGrom sees Matt Harvey overwhelm the Royals by pitching backward in Game 1, then here's thinking he'll look to do the same thing in Game 2.

    Though deGrom relies on his heat more than Harvey does, we just saw him throw only 43 percent fastballs in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs. That resulted in seven innings of two-run ball, a performance deGrom could well repeat in Game 2.

    That would put pressure on Johnny Cueto to match deGrom pitch for pitch. And as vulnerable as he's been in a Kansas City uniform, he should prove equal to the task. He only got better with each pitch the last time he took the mound in front of the Kauffman Stadium faithful in Game 5 of the American League Division Series. And if he could do that against a dangerous Houston Astros lineup, he should be able to do it against a slumping Mets lineup.

    If Game 2 turns into a duel between deGrom and Cueto, it will ultimately be decided by the bullpens. That's where the Royals have the advantage, as the Mets don't have the depth to match up against Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson.

    Kansas City hitters have been money in the late innings this postseason, batting a collective .387 in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Assuming there's more where that came from, a late rally will put Game 2 in the Royals' pocket.

    Series: Tied 1-1

Game 3: Ventura Outlasts Syndergaard in Battle of Flamethrowers

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    Pitching Matchup: Yordano Ventura vs. Noah Syndergaard

    Venue: Citi Field

    If Game 3 does indeed end up being a matchup between Yordano Ventura and Noah Syndergaard, the Citi Field radar gun will get a workout. Of all the starters who threw at least 100 innings in the regular season, they were two of the three hardest throwers.

    To this end, we know how well the Royals tend to do against high velocity. But with Ventura on the mound, an equally important question is how the Mets handle high velocity.

    Answer: not well.

    Against 95-plus mph heat, New York ranked 28th in the majors in batting average and 13th in slugging percentage and had the 10th-highest strikeout rate, per Baseball Savant. It's not nearly on Kansas City's level when it comes to hitting gas, and that's a disadvantage you can expect Ventura to exploit.

    Even if we only pencil the Royals in for a couple runs off Syndergaard, that should be enough. All Ventura has to do is overwhelm Mets hitters with heat for six innings, and then he can hand the ball to fellow hard throwers Ryan Madson, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis to finish things off.

    Series: Royals Lead 2-1

Game 4: Mets Have No Answer for Chris Young's High 'Hard' Ones

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    Pitching Matchup: Chris Young vs. Steven Matz

    Venue: Citi Field

    At first glance, a matchup between Chris Young and Steven Matz might look like a mismatch that favors the Mets. Whereas Young is an old-timer who only throws in the high 80s, Matz is another golden-arm whippersnapper who lives in the mid-90s.

    But then again, maybe not.

    Matz may throw hard, but we've been over how well-equipped the Royals are to handle velocity. And that's likely to create more of a problem for Matz than it will for Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard. Matz relies on heat for almost 70 percent of his pitches, and right now none of his secondary offerings stands out as a true putaway pitch.

    As for Young, he's a tougher matchup for New York than his modest radar gun readings indicate. His thing is living up in the zone with his fastball, and that could spell trouble for a Mets offense that hit just .203 against high hard stuff in 2015.

    Game 4 could be a laugher in favor of the Royals.

    Series: Royals Lead 3-1

Game 5: Starters Falter Early, Syndergaard and Murphy Rescue Mets

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    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    Pitching Matchup: Edinson Volquez vs. Matt Harvey

    Venue: Citi Field

    Game 5 will bring the second edition of the Game 1 matchup between Edinson Volquez and Matt Harvey. And just like in Game 1, Volquez's bread-and-butter two-seamer probably won't do him much good against the Mets.

    The difference this time, however, is that Harvey may not be much better.

    Harvey is undeniably a better pitcher than Volquez and arguably New York's most talented all-around starter. But he also missed all of 2014 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and his 202 innings this year are many more than his previous career high (178.1). 

    So, you can't help but wonder when Harvey is going to run out of gas. Perhaps that happens in Game 5, which would put the Mets in need of rescuing.

    That's where Noah Syndergaard could come in handy. Terry Collins showed in Game 5 of the National League Division Series that he's willing to use Syndergaard's Mjolnir-ish arm in relief in an elimination game. And it's not hard to imagine Collins going back to the well to find relief for Harvey in Game 5 rather than save Syndergaard for a Game 7 start that may never come.

    If Syndergaard can give Collins a handful of innings, the Mets will be able to avoid using the soft underbelly of their bullpen. That will create this situation: One big hit could win it.

    And if we're going to pick a guy for a big hit, how about Daniel Murphy? He's already homered off Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta this postseason. He might as well add one off Wade Davis in the later innings of Game 5 to send the series back to Kansas City.

    Series: Royals Lead 3-2

Game 6: deGrom Outduels Cueto, but Mets Bullpen Can't Hold Lead

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Pitching Matchup: Jacob deGrom vs. Johnny Cueto

    Venue: Kauffman Stadium

    Admittedly, we went out on a bit of a limb in predicting that Johnny Cueto would be up to the task of hanging with Jacob deGrom in Game 2.

    So, we're not going to go there again in looking ahead to Game 6.

    This time, we can expect deGrom to be the better pitcher of the two. Beyond having the ability to pitch backward, there's the fact that he's been tough as nails in each of his postseason starts. He would not be overwhelmed pitching in an elimination situation in Game 6.

    But while the Royals may not be able to beat deGrom, they should at least be able to chase him from the game well before he's able to hand the ball to Jeurys Familia. The Mets' bridge to Familia would have to hold strong for them to win such a Game 6.

    That's not happening.

    Without Noah Syndergaard or Matt Harvey to turn to, New York would need to rely on the likes of Bartolo Colon, Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard to get the ball from deGrom to Familia. Against a Kansas City lineup that has been money in the late innings, that's a recipe for disaster.

    So, it's only natural that the Royals would mount a rally and take the lead. They would turn that lead over to Kelvin Herrera and then Wade Davis. Game. Set. Match.

    Series: Royals Win 4-2

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs and MLB.com unless otherwise noted/linked.