The Royals are back in the World Series, this time against the New York Mets. We had a chance to talk with our friends at MLB Network's Intentional Talk, co-hosts Chris Rose and Kevin Millar, to get the national perspective on the two league champions.
The Royals and Mets will face off in the World Series in a matchup few predicted at the beginning of the year. What is it about these teams that have allowed them to defy expectations?
Chris Rose: Lets start with the Royals. I know neither of us predicted them in the World Series, or even winning the division or Wild Card. I think a lot of people didn't. I think losing James Shields was big. We thought there were maybe other teams in that division that were just better. Maybe we underestimated their magic formula. You still look at that rotation even after Johnny Cueto deal and I can't believe for the second straight year this is the team representing the American League in the World Series. But when you put the ball in play as much as they do, when you strike out as little as they do, when you play defense the way that they do, they are in every game. They really maximize 27 outs. We have seen that time and time again.
As far as the Mets go, Kevin and I did a few games out at Citi Field earlier this year back in May, and the Mets were so-so. When we came back in mid-August after the Cespedes deal, it was like watching two different teams.
Kevin Millar: Absolutely. The Mets were one of the worst offensive teams in baseball the first time we were around and then once Yoenis Cespedes got traded over there, it was like a rejuvenation. It made everyone around him better, like they had a New York superstar on the club.
The Mets got a big offensive boost when Daniel Murphy went on such a tear during the NLCS. Kevin, what is it like when a player gets locked in like that?
Kevin Millar: Everything is so slow. Right now Daniel Murphy is hitting everything - fastballs off Jake Arrieta, cutters off Jon Lester - he's hitting the ball as well as I've seen any Major League hitter square a baseball up. He's not a huge home run guy - I think he's only hit home runs in back-to-back games in his career once, but the game is so slow for him right now.
What is the national perception of these two managers? Ned Yost is a polarizing figure but is starting to earn the benefit of the doubt from some fans. How does he contrast with Mets Manager Terry Collins?
Chris Rose: First of all with Yost I think the national perception is still that they're winning in spite of him. I don't know if that's fair, but that's the perception. I think he has to do something in this series, to get Ryan Madson out of that eighth inning role. I know that maybe the most important part of the game may be the seventh inning, and that's why they keep Kelvin Herrera there and it all depends where they are in the lineup and who is on base, but it almost blew up in his face on Friday and I think that's something he's going to have to deal with. Even if the Royals win I don't think he's going to get a lot of the credit. Its probably not fair but I think that's probably the way its going to go.
With Terry Collins its entirely opposite end of the spectrum. I applaud him because the first two times he was a manager in this league with the Astros and Angels, it was like he was going to blow up at any time. If something went wrong - BOOM! - the guy was like a firecracker. We spent a decent amount of time with him this year and there wasn't a more pleasant manager to be around. Its so hard for anyone to change, but he's a guy that learned to change in his 60s and I applaud him for that. He's like a totally different dude. With all the fires he had to put out - the Matt Harvey stuff, the month they weren't hitting the ball out of the infield - he handled it beautifully. He seems real too, there's no "manager speak" to him. He's just a regular guy that happens to wearing a baseball uniform for a living.
The Mets have some fireballers who can hit the upper 90s. What kind of approach do hitters take with guys with that kind of stuff?
Kevin Millar: This is a really unique series because you can put these Mets pitchers up, take the name off their jerseys and put them up with the greats right now. You look at the performances they put on, and its up there with what Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling did for us in 2004, only they had more accomplishments in their careers at that point. You have four young men [Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz] that are power arms with amazing velocity on that fastball, and they're not just relying on the fastball. You look at a guy like Noah Syndergaard who mixes in with his fastball a straight changeup and a breaking ball and he can throw them for strikes. They're able to throw their secondary pitches for strikes at any time.
As a hitter, you try to pick up a tip that those pitchers are giving up, but you have to be ready to hit that fastball. The Royals, the one thing they do is make contact, so they can handle the fastball. It will be a good cat-and-mouse game - can Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz establish their breaking ball and their secondary stuff for strikes? The Royals will want to get into a hitter's count because they know they'll be getting some heat.
The Mets pitchers are talented but inexperienced in post-season play, while its the Royals who have the post-season experience. Does that give Kansas City any kind of advantage?
Kevin Millar: I always though experience was overrated until I made the post-season. The first year I made it in 2003, I was a nervous wreck and it goes by really fast. The next year in 2004, things seemed to slow down because of my experience.
I think the game has changed though. The game is so much younger now, that you're seeing all these young players taking the stage and saying "we belong here." Its not like the Mets are this crafty veteran club. Their club is majority three-years-and-under service time guys. I don't think experience is a factor because these clubs seem young already.
It looks like you guys had a lot of fun this year on Intentional Talk with Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer. How does the Royals chemistry compare to other clubs? Does it give the Royals an advantage?
Chris Rose: I think the fact that a lot of them grew up together in the minor leagues is helpful. Its pretty neat that they won championships down below and for the second straight year they're in the World Series. They supplemented themselves with a few free agents now and there like Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales and the trade for Johnny Cueto, but a lot of these guys came up together. The fact they can say "hey we did this when were young and dumb and 20 and now we're rich and 25", its kind of cool.
Kevin Millar: This is a team where everyone understands their role. There is no one in the lineup trying to do too much. You see a lot of the game being played the right way, the way the Royals play it. Everyone is important in that clubhouse, so that means something. A lot of that is the culture they've created, its not Ned Yost, its the coaches, its the players that have done that.
Chris Rose: Let's also be honest, how often when a team makes a championship do the teams say "we did it, even though that guy over there is a jackass"? I guess we heard about it in the days of the Red Sox and "25 cabs for 25 guys" but we haven't really heard it much lately. I mean Barry Bonds was a jerk, but he hit eight home runs in the post-season and the Giants nearly won it [in 2002].
Kevin Millar: Yea, I'm not saying you can win without talent, but it is a factor.
What kind of storylines will you be looking for in this series?
Chris Rose: I want to see if the Mets can pick up where they left off against the Cubs. History says its a hard thing to do when you sweep a LCS, those teams don't typically fare well in the World Series. The Mets need to re-start the engine. In Kansas City, that joint will be jumping. Another thing is, the Mets bullpen, it has been great so far in the post-season. I have confidence in the Royals bullpen, even with the Madson thing, but I want to see if [Mets closer] Jeurys Familia can get it done. Lets say the Mets are down 2-1 in the series and Familia needs to get five critical outs against one of the toughest post-season lineups. Can Familia do that? That's a big question mark going into this.
Kevin Millar: I think for the Royals, can they finish the unfinished business that they left last year? You heard in spring training they expected to come right back here and they expect to win. This team has the eye of the tiger. This will be good, evenly matched World Series.
We hope Kevin is right. We'll be watching Intentional Talk which will air at the site of the World Series every day at 4 p.m. CT on MLB Network. Many thanks to Kevin and Chris for their time.