The Mets and Royals square off in the World Series beginning Tuesday night in a clash of teams few predicted would be here in October. The Mets are a bit of a mystery for Royals fans, since the teams have played just three games in the last decade, with the last matchup in 2013. We wanted to learn more about the National League champions, so we talked to Steve Schreiber of Amazin' Avenue.
Royals Review: The Mets have gone through quite a rebuild since GM Sandy Alderson took over in 2010. Was there an expectation that the team was headed in this direction and how far ahead of schedule are they?
Steve Schrieber: It was quite the long rebuild for us and I think even as recently as mid-July, there was some open question as to whether the Mets were really on the right track. The pitching looked as good as ever but the offense was slogging along at the bottom of most of the National League categories and guys like Eric Campbell, John Mayberry, and Kevin Plawecki were getting way too many at bats. Most fans were wondering if the team would make trades for hitters or if they'd just hope and wait on David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud to return from the DL.
Well, the trades made by Alderson leading up to the trade deadline for Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and eventually Yoenis Cespedes were all really, really huge and the promotion of Michael Conforto further bolstered the outfield. Once Wright and d'Arnaud returned to action, the team took off like a rocket and here we are! Looking back on it, the Mets were on the right track and as a whole were probably right on schedule (or a touch behind, if you want to count Matt Harvey's Tommy John surgery last season as a year setback). They just needed a boost to the offense and they sure got it with those moves.
Royals Review: There has been some drama over Matt Harvey and whether or not his innings are limited following Tommy John surgery. Has the team put all that past them and what do you expect from Harvey in this series?
Steve Schrieber: Certainly for the very near future (i.e. the World Series), the team has put the drama behind them. After the somewhat infamous game against the Yankees in September where Harvey came out after five scoreless innings with a 1-0 lead and the Mets bullpen ended up giving it away, Harvey essentially told Scott Boras to go shove his innings limit where the sun doesn't shine (metaphorically) and told the Mets he wanted to pitch as much as they needed him the rest of the way. Since then, Harvey's been quite good outside of a slight hiccup in the NLDS and he's basically throwing on a regular schedule and workload. What happens with Harvey after the season and in the future is certainly up in the air but I suppose it's not a whole lot different than the case of most young, controllable players. For the most part, Mets fans love Harvey and he's an excellent pitcher. It'd likely take quite a lot for that relationship to disintegrate to the point of him leaving, at least prior to free agency.
Royals Review: In addition to Harvey, the Mets feature three more fireballing starters who average nearly or over a strikeout per inning pitched in Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. What weaknesses, if any, do these guys have?
Steve Schrieber: Well Steven Matz has the worst hair of the three. It's a very typical twenty-something hairstyle, kind of a buzz cut but he makes it work. Dude's from Long Island, so we can let it slide.
In all seriousness, it's tough to find huge weaknesses with deGrom. He's been outstanding from start to finish this year and when he's on, he pairs his mid to upper 90's running fastball with pinpoint command. He can hang a slider here and there but opponents typically have trouble squaring him up. Syndergaard is a beast with his fastball that sits upper 90's and the "hook from hell", as Terry Collins once labeled it. All of the Mets pitchers have excellent control, especially for power guys, and don't walk many hitters. If Thor has a weakness, it's probably that his four-seamer can be a bit straight at times but at 97-99, that's typically not a huge issue. Matz's biggest issue has probably been with running up his pitch count early. He's also got great stuff, sitting 94-94 with the fastball but likely due to inexperience, hasn't gone particularly deep into starts.
Royals Review: Daniel Murphy went on a tear in the National League Championship Series, with home runs in six straight games. What has gotten into him?
Steve Schrieber: That's a great question. Hitting coach Kevin Long has really worked with Murph this season to do more damage when he makes contact, part of which involved some mechanical changes to get him into a more powerful starting position at the plate (he's a little more crouched, closer to the plate, and pulling the ball more frequently than he ever has in his career).
Even before the barrage this postseason, Murphy hit a career high 14 home runs – you might think small potatoes, but that came in only 130 games and 538 plate appearances. More to the point, his .168 ISO this season was a career high (his career mark is .135) and he did that all while nearly halving his strikeout rate (easily a career best at 7.1% this season). So the signs were somewhat in place for a possible breakout, it's just that nobody could've expected him to put on the kind of show he's put on this month (and you wouldn't expect that from anybody). In any case, hopefully he can keep it up for a few more games.
Royals Review: Yoenis Cespedes has been on a tear since being acquired by the Mets, hitting .287/.337/.604 with 17 HR in 57 games. What kind of impact has he had on the lineup and is there a chance the Mets retain him beyond this year?
Cespedes' impact has been immense, as the numbers will tell you. He put together an extended run from mid-August through mid-September that was just as eye-popping as Murphy's playoff run and really carried the offense. His defensive contributions should also be noted, as he's taken over center field and done a fine job out there, while showing off his unbelievable outfield arm on multiple occasions. I'm not particularly enamored by talk of "fear", "presence", and "protection" in the middle of a lineup, as some analysts talk about but Cespedes pretty clearly made his teammates better and at the least, allowed guys like Lucas Duda, Travis d'Arnaud, and David Wright, for example, to go through slumps without tanking the entire offense.
Thinking about the chances of Cespedes staying next year, the odds are likely somewhat low that he's back with the Mets going forward just given Sandy Alderson's stance on "second-generation contracts" (do a Google search for Alderson's comments about the contract the Nationals gave Jayson Werth a few years back). I do however think that with the World Series run and subsequent cash flow, the chances have increased a little bit. He's such an incredibly talented player, his power is a perfect fit in the lineup, he can play center field and left field, and he clearly loves New York City. Mets fans would certainly love to watch him with the Mets going forward.
Royals Review: Terry Collins has the reputation for being a hard-nosed manager who can be tough on players. Is that still accurate? What kind of manager is he now and how do Mets fans feel about him now that he has his team in the World Series?
Steve Schrieber: Oh, Terry Collins. I'll tell you right off the bat that the guy is certainly not the greatest tactician in the league (though he's definitely not the worst either and he might actually be in the top half, which is more an indictment on MLB managers) but he's gotten a lot out of his teams every year since taking over. We may kill his bullpen usage and over-reliance on platoon splits, we're sometimes confused by his lineup choices, how often he uses the double switch, or why Michael Conforto is not allowed to face a f@#&ing lefty pitcher.
But he's done a fine job overall. There's a reason why he survived four sub-.500 seasons and it's because he's become an excellent communicator with his players. The hard-nosed reputation is mostly a thing of the past these days, as I can't recall him really ever losing his mind in a presser, throwing players under the bus, or flipping the proverbial buffet table in the clubhouse. He comes off as somewhat intense in his press conferences but from everything we know about him, he's changed a lot from his time in Houston and Anaheim, and for the better. Some Mets fans will tell you he's the worst manager ever in the world (he's not – Jerry Manuel and Art Howe are just two in Mets history who are appreciably worse) but I've grown to like him, even with his quirks. He's a good guy, the team plays hard for him, and he also gives a stinkin' good press conference. "CRIPES!", as Terry would say.
Many thanks to Steve for his time. You can read all the latest Mets news and analysis at Amazin' Avenue.