MIKE FITZPATRICK, AP Baseball Writers
HOWIE RUMBERG, AP Baseball Writers
A position-by-position look at the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals going into the World Series, starting Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium:
Mets: Lucas Duda. A streaky slugger with a good eye when he’s going well, the quiet Duda was given an everyday job early last season over Ike Davis in a wise evaluation by the Mets. Duda has delivered on that promise of big power, with 57 homers and 165 RBIs over the past two years. He’s worked hard to become a better-than-you-think fielder, and he busted out of a bad slump with a homer, two doubles and five RBIs in the NL Championship Series clincher at Wrigley Field.
Royals: Eric Hosmer. The two-time Gold Glove winner finally became the middle-of-the-order force the Royals were hoping for when they drafted him third overall in 2008. He set career highs of 93 RBIs and 98 runs this season while raising his batting average nearly 30 points to .297. He struggled at the plate in the AL playoffs but knocked in 11 runs on 10 hits in 45 at-bats.
Mets: Daniel Murphy. There’s a new Mr. October in the Big Apple. Always a good contact hitter, Murphy worked all year on generating more power. Something started to click in the second half and he set a career high with 14 home runs. That was just the beginning, though. The 2014 All-Star, who can become a free agent next month, has homered in a record six consecutive postseason games. He batted .529 (9 for 17) against the Chicago Cubs to win NLCS MVP honors, and is hitting .421 with seven homers and 11 RBIs in nine postseason games overall. He credits his No. 3 spot in the lineup and first-year Mets hitting coaches Kevin Long and Pat Roessler. Murphy can be shaky on the bases and in the field, but his all-around performance in the playoffs was spectacular.
Royals: Ben Zobrist. A trade-deadline acquisition from Oakland, Zobrist took over at second base down the stretch when Omar Infante went out with an oblique injury in mid-September. Zobrist has had an impressive postseason, hitting .325 through the first two rounds, including four doubles and two homers in the ALCS. He has World Series experience with Tampa Bay in 2008.
Edge: Mets. Murphy is on a roll.
Mets: Wilmer Flores. Nearly traded in late July, Flores became an instant fan favorite when cameras caught him crying during a game because he thought he’d been jettisoned by the only organization he’s ever played for. He began the season as the starter and took over again in the playoffs when Ruben Tejada broke his leg on a late takeout slide by Chase Utley of the Dodgers. Flores had 16 homers this year and delivered several clutch hits. He’s limited on defense but has been more consistent since his early-season struggles.
Royals: Alcides Escobar. A pest in the leadoff spot and a whiz with the glove, Escobar has blossomed this October. He likes to swing early in the count, and he set a record with hits to start four straight playoff games in one series. The ALCS MVP, Escobar is the postseason hits leader with 17, one more than Murphy.
Edge: Royals. Escobar is on a roll.
Mets: David Wright. A respected leader and the longest-tenured active player in the majors with one team, Wright has finally reached the World Series. The team captain fought through various injuries during a string of losing seasons and waited since 2006 to get back to the playoffs. Sidelined more than four months this year because of a strained hamstring and spinal stenosis, Wright hit a titanic homer in late August on his first major league swing since mid-April. He’s not quite the offensive threat he once was, but remains an important piece of the puzzle for New York. After going 1 for 16 with seven strikeouts in the NLDS, he picked it up against the Cubs.
Royals: Mike Moustakas. Like Hosmer, the 27-year-old “Moose” took a big step forward at the plate this season. The second overall draft pick in 2007 earned his first All-Star selection in his fifth season and set career highs in most major offensive categories, finishing with an .817 OPS. But aside from his homer in Game 6 of the ALCS, Moustakas struggled in the first two rounds.
Mets: Travis d’Arnaud. The injury-prone d’Arnaud has been plenty productive when healthy for the last year and a half. He was acquired from Toronto in the same trade that netted Noah Syndergaard. Throwing and game-calling are not necessarily strengths, but d’Arnaud frames pitches very well. He has power to all fields and batted .206 with three homers and six RBIs in nine playoff games.
Royals: Salvador Perez. The big catcher earned his third straight All-Star nod and should be a favorite for his third Gold Glove in a row, too. Banged up in the first two rounds, Perez kept right on grinning and playing. And hitting balls over the fence. He had only three hits in the ALCS but two were homers. He also connected twice in the Division Series and has six RBIs overall. Remember, too, he homered off Giants ace Madison Bumgarner in the World Series opener last fall.
Mets: Yoenis Cespedes. Acquired from Detroit just before the July 31 trade deadline, Cespedes was a perfect fit, giving the Mets the powerful right-handed bat they desperately needed in the middle of the lineup. A legitimate five-tool player with a rocket arm, he helped New York pull away in the NL East by going on an incredible tear at the plate that even inspired some MVP talk. But the Cuban star received a cortisone shot for his sore left shoulder after exiting the NLCS finale. He says he’ll be ready for Game 1.
Royals: Alex Gordon. Played only 104 games this season because of a severe groin injury that sidelined him for two months. One of the game’s best defensive outfielders, he’s also a potent bat in the 8-hole for a deep Royals lineup.
Edge: Mets, if Cespedes is healthy.
Mets: Juan Lagares. A Gold Glove winner last season, Lagares lost his everyday job because of his struggles against right-handed pitching. He was relegated to the bench and sporadic at-bats vs. lefties once Cespedes arrived. Kansas City has all right-handers in the rotation, but with the DH in play, Lagares could be a starter in the expansive outfield at Kauffman Stadium. He’s done well in his platoon role this postseason, too.
Royals: Lorenzo Cain. Showed off his speed in scoring the most important run of the ALCS — a dash home from first base on a single for the go-ahead run in the clinching Game 6 against Toronto. Cain topped last season’s breakout year, adding some pop (16 homers) to a .307 average with 28 steals. The first-time All-Star hit .300, stole two bases and drove in five runs vs. the Blue Jays, all while showing off his extraordinary range in the outfield.
Mets: Curtis Granderson. An unsung savior for New York in his second season with the team, Granderson filled a huge hole in the leadoff spot. He hit 26 homers, scored 98 runs and drew 91 walks in finishing with a .364 on-base percentage and 70 RBIs. In the playoffs, he stole four bases, had a five-RBI game and upped his OBP to .385. The rare Mets player with World Series experience, Granderson made it in 2006 with Detroit and went 2 for 21 (.095) with seven strikeouts against St. Louis.
Royals: Alex Rios. An offseason acquisition to replace Nori Aoki, the 34-year-old Rios is making the most of his first trip to the postseason in a 12-year career, batting .368 with a home run in the ALCS. Got caught on replay with his foot off the base on one of his pop-up slides and nearly got nabbed again during the series against Toronto.
Mets: Michael Conforto or Kelly Johnson. Drafted just last year and called up from Double-A on July 24, the 22-year-old Conforto immediately showed he could handle big league pitching. Displaying power to all fields and advanced skills at the plate, he batted .270 with nine homers and 26 RBIs in 56 games. Now, he’s on the cusp of joining Ed Vosberg and Jason Varitek as the only players to appear in the Little League World Series, the College World Series and the major league World Series, according to Little League. Conforto, who hasn’t faced much left-handed pitching, went 1 for 15 with a home run in the playoffs. He could remain the starter in left field against the Royals if New York keeps Lagares on the bench. … Johnson was acquired from Atlanta along with Juan Uribe on the same day Conforto was called up. A veteran pro at the plate, Johnson provides experience and potential sock from the left side.
Royals: Kendrys Morales. Signed after the Royals declined their contract option on Billy Butler, Morales has been a boon for Kansas City’s offense. He had 22 homers and 106 RBIs with a .290 average during the regular season and hit four more long balls during the playoffs.
Mets: They’re young, they throw hard and they have imposing nicknames. But there’s so much more to all those live arms the Mets rebuilt around. New York’s fearsome foursome of Matt Harvey (The Dark Knight), Jacob deGrom (the deGrominator), Syndergaard (Thor) and Steven Matz is polished beyond their years. The steady poise and nasty stuff they’ve shown in the postseason has been something special. Harvey will start Game 1 in Kansas City, all that uproar about his innings limit a thing of the past. He went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. The star right-hander is a drama magnet, but he loves a big stage. He shut down the Cubs in the NLCS opener and won both his playoff starts. Last season’s NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom gets Game 2. He was 14-8 with a 2.54 ERA before going 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in three postseason outings. Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24) hits 100 mph with his fastball and even made his first career relief appearance in Game 5 of the Division Series against the Dodgers. Fellow rookie Matz, the Long Island lefty who grew up a Mets fan about 50 miles from Citi Field, hasn’t been asked to go very deep in his two postseason assignments. But the team thinks so highly of him, it pegged him for the October rotation after only six major league starts (4-0, 2.27). The group has combined for 147 career regular-season starts, by far the fewest for a World Series foursome, according to STATS. New York threw 5,752 pitches clocked at 95 mph or faster this season, STATS said. Kansas City ranked second with 4,315.
Royals: The starting staff is the weakest aspect of the sound Royals. Yordano Ventura became a star during last year’s postseason and was the team’s opening-day starter, but the flame-thrower struggled with his control and emotions and was briefly demoted to the minors this season. He’s been inconsistent in October, brilliant at times and beatable at others. Free-agent signee Edinson Volquez had his second 13-win season in a row, after one with Pittsburgh. Volquez tossed six shutout innings in the ALCS opener, then fell apart in the sixth inning of a Game 5 loss. The big trade-deadline arrival, Johnny Cueto, has been perplexing. He was 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts for Kansas City, then went out and was nearly untouchable in the deciding Game 5 of the Division Series vs. Houston before having one of the worst starts of his career in Game 3 of the ALCS. Chris Young, the 6-foot-10 Princeton grad, got the call in Game 4 after a long layoff and was superb for 4 2-3 innings.
Mets: Promoted from setup man to closer in early April when Jenrry Mejia was handed the first of two long drug suspensions, Jeurys Familia has been invaluable in the ninth inning — and sometimes earlier. He earned 43 saves this season, matching the franchise record, and finished with a 1.85 ERA in 76 appearances. Then he saved five games in eight scoreless outings during the NL playoffs, getting six outs to protect a one-run lead in the deciding Game 5 of the Division Series at Dodger Stadium. The bridge to Familia was built with two summer trades. Seventh-inning reliever Addison Reed has been lights-out when entering with nobody on, but ineffective when inheriting runners. Experienced setup man Tyler Clippard is an accomplished All-Star, but hasn’t been at his best lately. Beyond that, the Mets have hard-throwing rookie Hansel Robles and two starters in the bullpen: lefty Jonathon Niese and 42-year-old Bartolo Colon. They’ve been effective when called upon in October, but this isn’t exactly the deepest bullpen ever seen in a World Series.
Royals: Wade Davis showed in that nerve-racking ninth inning of ALCS Game 6 that he has the stomach and the stuff of a top closer. Previously a stellar setup man, Davis stepped in last month to replace Greg Holland, who had Tommy John surgery. And with the return of Luke Hochevar from elbow surgery and the addition of reclamation project Ryan Madson, the Royals’ beast of a bullpen might be just as good as last year’s crew. Kelvin Herrera, Davis and Hochevar were unscored upon against Toronto. Danny Duffy and Franklin Morales are the left-handers who could be called on to contain New York’s dangerous left-handed hitters.
Mets: Reserve infielder Juan Uribe, winner of two World Series rings, hopes to return from a chest cartilage injury that’s sidelined him since late September. That would give New York more right-handed thump on the pine to go with an aging Michael Cuddyer. Johnson was 5 for 13 (.385) as a Mets pinch-hitter during the regular season, including a clutch homer at Washington off Stephen Strasburg. But in the playoffs, Johnson struck out four times in six at-bats. Tejada’s injury prompted New York to call up Triple-A shortstop Matt Reynolds, who has never played in the majors. Lefty-swinging outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis has some pop. He could be replaced on the roster if Uribe is healthy.
Royals: Kansas City sticks with its starters. The reserves had only three at-bats in the six-game ALCS. But speedy Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson can be late-inning game-changers on the bases. Paulo Orlando, who often spells Rios for defense in right field, is 2 for 3 this postseason.
Mets: Terry Collins. Oldest skipper in the majors, the 66-year-old Collins is managing in the postseason for the first time. So far, he’s had the perfect touch. Popular with his players and opponents alike, Collins made several gutsy and unconventional decisions that paid off in Game 5 against the Dodgers. GM Sandy Alderson called it a masterful job. Collins also turned the Mets loose on the bases during their NLCS sweep against a Cubs team that had trouble holding runners — even though New York ranked last in the league in steals this season. A baseball lifer who has managed in Japan, Venezuela and minor league towns all over the country, Collins has embraced his long-awaited opportunity this October and become a cheerful story.
Royals: Ned Yost. Went from being criticized for some of his curious moves last season to finishing third in AL Manager of the Year voting. After reaching his first World Series as a skipper in 2014, he’s been on a mission to win it all this time. The Royals are a very disciplined team, striking out the fewest times in the majors this season. They’re crisp on defense and make smart decisions on the bases. Yost’s biggest challenge is managing his bullpen, which could get a lot of work in the World Series.
Pick: Mets in 6. Again, if Cespedes is healthy.
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