Back in March, the New York Mets were 28-1 long shots to win a championship, much like the Royals. Yet here in the last week of October these are the two teams left standing, one certain to end a lengthy decades-long championship drought. General Manager Sandy Alderson took over the franchise in 2010, when the organization was in disarray following the embarrassing revelation that the ownership team, the Wilpons, had been defrauded in the Bernie Madoff scandal, leaving in doubt how much could be spent on team payroll. The team cut back on salaries and redeveloped the minor league system. Just five years later, the Mets are in the Fall Classic for the first time since 2000.
For much of the year, the Mets did not look like a team destined for October play. As late as July 2 they were at the .500 mark at 40-40. The problem seemed clear, the offense stunk. Through the first four months of the year, the Mets had the worst offense in the league, averaging just 3.5 runs per game. At the end of July, with the team still trailing the first-place Washington Nationals by a few games, the Mets gambled and acquired slugger Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers. The result was spectacular. The Mets won 20 of 28 games in August and catapulted into first place. The team averaged 5.4 runs per game after August 1. Cespedes himself hit .287/.337/.604 with 17 home runs in 57 games, fueling MVP discussion.
The Cespedes trade was not the only reason the Mets offense improved however. The team got long-time star third baseman David Wright back in August after he had missed time with a back injury. Catcher Travis D'Arnaud also returned in August in what had been an injury-riddled season. Rookie Michael Conforto was promoted in late July, replacing disappointing free agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer. The Mets will be without shortstop Ruben Tejada who broke his leg on the infamous Chase Utley slide in the NLDS. Matt Reynolds, who has never appeared in a Major League game, could replace him on the roster.
Overall, the Mets finished seventh in the league in runs scored with 4.2 per game. They finished third in home runs and led the league in doubles, but were just sixth in slugging due to the third-worst batting average in the league at .244. Their offensive numbers suffered a bit at home due to a .233 batting average at Citi Field compared to .255 on the road. They led the league in runs and home runs in the second half, so the offense seems to be clicking at just the right time.
New York had the fewest steals in the National League with just 51 with a poor success rate of 67% on steal attempts. They are a conservative team on the bases, getting picked off just eight times, and finishing with the fewest outs on the basepaths in the National League. Defensively, the Mets struggle in the infield, with Wright, Flores, and Murphy all liabilities on the field. The outfield has been quite good since Conforto replaced Cuddyer, especially when Juan Lagares gets on the field. Curtis Granderson improved significantly in the metrics after an awful defensive season in 2014. Cespedes is nursing a shoulder injury from the NLCS that could hurt his defense.
The strength of the Mets is clearly the starting rotation. The team features a trio of flamethrowers who can all hit the high 90s on the radar gun in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard. The rotation is not just about the heater though, those pitchers have deep repertoires of plus secondary offerings.
Game One starter Matt Harvey was an All-Star in 2013 before Tommy John surgery derailed his career temporarily. He has bounced back nicely this year although there has been controversy about an innings-pitched limit that Harvey has decided to ditch. Harvey finished strong, giving up just 15 runs over his last nine starts, seven of those runs coming in one poor start against the Nationals on September 7.
Jacob deGrom is the reigning Rookie of the Year and finished fourth in the league in ERA in his second season this year. He brings a fastball that can reach the upper 90s and an arsenal of pitches to keep hitters off balance. By pitch value, both his fastball and changeup were in the top ten among all starters in baseball this season. He also brings a plus slider, bringing comparisons to Pedro Martinez in his mastery of the three pitches.
Noah Syndergaard and his golden flowing locks can bring a fastball that hits triple digits. He adds a curveball and a changeup to that offering and has added a slider late in the season for a devastating combination that has allowed him to strike out 20 hitters in 13 post-season innings.
Steven Matz is also a Tommy John surgery survivor who began this season in High A ball but ended up making six regular season starts for the Mets before joining the post-season rotation. Matz averages 94 mph with the heater to go along with a plus changeup. His curveball has been a work in progress, and he has not had much of a split, or a reverse split against lefties through much of his career.
The Mets bullpen was middle-of-the-road in ERA at 3.48, although they were fifth-best at striking hitters out. Right-hander Jeury Familia was excellent in his first season as closer, converting 43-of 48 save opportunities with a fastball in the upper 90s. However the team lacks much depth in getting the ball to him, relying on Tyler Clippard, acquired at mid-season from the Athletics, as the setup man. Reliever like Sean Gilmartin and Addison Reed were freely available talent that ended up performing adequately for the Mets. New York was 68-8 when leading after six innings.
The Mets shouldn't seem like they were the best the National League had to offer if you look at the stats. They went 53-24 against the five National League teams that lost 90 or more games and had the second-easiest schedule in all of baseball. But with Cespedes in the lineup and their hitters mostly healthy, they finally seem to have a complete team that is playing their best baseball right now. October baseball frequently comes down to pitching, and the Mets bring that in spades. The Royals are going to have to work to get those fireballing starters out of the game and work on the Mets pen if they want to keep the Mets from celebrating their first championship since 1986.