The World Series: Royal Relievers & Mets Aces

The World Series starts Tuesday night and the matchup between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets looks about as even as you can get. Las Vegas agrees. The Royals are a narrow favorite, with a betting line of (-105), while the Mets are (-115), an edge you can probably attribute to the homefield advantage being with Kansas City. This World Series looks like a battle between two evenly matched offenses, and one bullpen-oriented staff going against one that relies on its starters.

Kansas City’s bullpen prowess is well-established after last year’s postseason run and now two more great performances in the series wins over Houston and Toronto in this season’s playoffs. It’s more than just the Kelvin Herrera-Ryan Madson-Wade Davis triumvirate that locks down games after the sixth inning. Manager Ned Yost can also turn to Luke Hochevar or Franklin Morales, both effective and both capable of longer outings if need be.

The Royals’ starting pitching is more problematic. Johnny Cueto dominated in Game 5 of the Division Series against Houston and was rocked by Toronto in the ALCS. If Cueto pitches like he does in the regular season—like an elite starter—then Kansas City is going to win the World Series. If he’s up and down, he joins a rotation with Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez. That’s a core three starters of whom you have no idea what to expect.

New York has no such concern with its starting pitching. Matt Harvey will open the series, Jacob de Grom goes in Game 2 and Noah Syndergaard is lined up for Game 3. These are power arms that work deep into games and all—especially de Grom—have demonstrated their postseason bona fides in the series wins over the Dodgers & Cubs, both better teams than anyone KC had to face in the American League.

The problem Mets manager Terry Collins has is this—what if his starters can’t get to the eighth inning consistently? New York’s closer Jeurys Familia is great, an able match for Kansas City’s Davis. The bridge from the starters to the rotation is shakier. Maybe starter Jonathan Niese, in the bullpen for the postseason, can get the job done. Maybe Tyler Clippard can. If they can, the Mets will win the World Series. But that’s a bridge Collins really hasn’t had to try and cross in this postseason because the starters have been so great. All it takes is one game where the bridge collapses to swing the Series.

Offensively, both teams are in good shape. Each team has several players who bring the complete package of getting on base with consistency and driving the ball for power—either for home runs or into the gaps. Kansas City has Eric Hosmer, Ben Zobrist, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Kendry Morales. New York has Travis d’Arnaud, Lucas Duda, David Wright, Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson.

Each team also has a middle infielder that stepped up with a big postseason and was MVP of their respective League Championship Series. For Kansas City, that’s Alcides Escobar. New York’s hero needs no introduction, as the Legend Of Daniel Murphy keeps growing with each game in October.

So what’s your preference, starting pitching or the bullpen? Answer that and you’ve got the winner. If you’re really unsure, you can look at the homefield factor. It’s an underrated part of the World Series because the overall success of home teams. But in the final two games of the Series, Games 6 & 7 specifically, home teams have a very high success rate, Madison Bumgarner’s road heroics last year notwithstanding.

The success rate is high enough that it’s fair to say that Kansas City will have the edge simply by getting the Series back home for the final two games. Homefield doesn’t protect you from getting swept out early, but it’s a big edge later on. It’s a factor that doesn’t matter until it matters.

In spite of that…I’m going to pick the Mets. I’ve had a respectable record in predicting these playoffs, with four of the six series correct, including underdog calls on both Mets’ triumphs (though I did miss with favored Toronto in the ALCS). At the end of the day, I still believe in starting pitching more than the bullpen. I think de Grom’s got the moxie to deliver a big road win and I’ll say he wins Game 6 to clinch the Series.