Yoenis Cespedes and Matt Reynolds

Series Preview: Royals at New York Mets, June 21-22

This is a weird week for the Royals as they were off Monday and travel to New York for just two road games before returning to the friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium. Now, though, they take on the Mets to complete the road half off their home and home series this season. The last time the Royals were at Citi Field, they were celebrating winning a world championship. Just a hunch, but this series may not feel or be quite as big. Still, it’s a World Series rematch between two teams having up and down seasons as they try to get back to the promised land. The two split their first pair of games this season, and the Royals are 6-5 all-time against the Mets in the regular season to go along with their 4-1 postseason record against them.

Mets Offense

This offense looked like it might be good through April. They were averaging just under five runs per game, hitting a ton of home runs and firing on all cylinders. Since May 1 however, they’ve averaged 3.1 runs per game and just completed a series where they scored four runs in three games against the Atlanta Braves. They’re still hitting home runs, so that’s a dangerous part of their game, but that’s about it for them. Yoenis Cespedes, in his return to the Mets, has been outstanding, even adding some discipline to his game, but he hasn’t had much help. Lucas Duda is hurt and on the DL. David Wright is hurt and out for probably the season. Michael Conforto started out great, but has hit some tough times lately.

If not for Neil Walker, I’d hate to see where this offense is headed. He’s put together a nice season in his first year with the Mets, hitting for power, a decent average and getting on base. Curtis Granderson has been okay with a low average and a good amount of power. They did just acquire Kelly Johnson again, and he’s been solid in his handful of games with the team. They also picked up James Loney to play first for them, if you were curious where they are with that position. He hasn’t been bad either, and he’s still quite good defensively, so that’s a positive for them. Asdrubal Cabrera has basically been okay for them, which is a positive considering their current holes.

Of course, guys like Kevin Plawecki have been really bad. Travis d’Arnaud should be activated to start the series with the Royals, but he wasn’t exactly having a great year before he missed two months. I assume his return means the end of Rene Rivera in the big leagues, but Plawecki really has been awful offensively. Edit: I assumed wrong. Plawecki was optioned. Ty Kelly, Matt Reynolds, Wilmer Flores and Alejandro de Aza make up their bench, which isn’t exactly great. This offense definitely has its issues and mostly because of injury, but they also have their spots where they can really hurt you.

Mets Pitching

It’s all about the starting rotation in New York, and it’s a really good one. They’re led by not so Kansas City fan favorite Noah Syndergaard, who has been absolutely amazing this season. I’ll get into what he’s provided down below. Jacob deGrom has been much criticized this season, but he’s posted a 2.96 ERA and 3.07 FIP in 12 starts this year and is averaging a bit more than six innings per start. I’d say that’s pretty good. Steven Matz has also been great for the Mets this year in 12 starts with a 2.74 ERA and the peripherals to match. The issues have been that Matt Harvey has been an enigma all season and that Bartolo Colon is being counted on for quality innings. Colon has been great this season, but the guy is 43, so you have to hope that you can shift him to the bullpen at some point because he seems somewhat likely to wear down. Father Time is undefeated, after all. Of course, until he wears down, he’s pitching great, so he’s someone to worry about, especially given that the Royals face him in game two.

The bullpen has been decent this year. Jeurys Familia hasn’t blown a single save, which means he has three less this year than he did in the World Series. It kind of feels like he hasn’t been as dominant, but maybe that’s just the decrease in strikeouts talking. He has allowed more base runners and has been more hittable, so that could work out well for the Royals. Addison Reed has been good in his setup role for the Mets, while Hansel Robles and Jim Henderson have had the strikeout pitch really working this year. Jerry Blevins has been fantastic in a LOOGY role. He has 29 appearances and has thrown just 17.2 innings. Antonio Bastardo has been a disappointment for the Mets so far, but he has a good track record. The bullpen is rounded out currently by Erik Goeddel, who has been fine in three appearances. Edit: It appears Jim Henderson is heading to the disabled list and will be replaced on the roster by Sean Gilmartin, a lefty who pitched very well last season in relief for the Mets, but has been starting in AAA.

Forecasts provided by Sensible Weather. For daily MLB weather forecasts, visit sensibleweather.com and follow along on Twitter (@SensibleWeather).

Game 1, Tuesday: Ian Kennedy vs. Bartolo Colon

Colon is in his 19th season and is somehow still going strong. He has a 6-3 record, a 3.01 ERA and continues to exhibit fantastic control with just enough strikeouts to get by. The guy is fun to watch too, but figures to be a little easier to hit than the game one starter. It’s kind of crazy to think that the Royals drafted players a couple weeks ago who were born after the first time Colon faced the Royals back in 1997, but here we are. Colon is 15-10 with a 4.79 ERA in 29 regular season games (28 starts) against the Royals. He faced them in relief earlier this year, but hasn’t started against them since the 2012 season.

Three things to watch for against Colon:

  1. He relies heavily on a sinker that he throws almost two-thirds of the time. It’s not a heater by any stretch, averaging about 88 MPH. He also throws a four-seam fastball about 25 percent of the time that comes in between 90 and 91 MPH. His other three pitches are a changeup, slider and cutter, and he uses them all sparingly. Only the changeup has really been hit hard, so he’s definitely a tough one to crack.
  2. Colon throws a ton of strikes, so you’d think that he’d be a good candidate to swing at the first pitch, but not as much as you’d think. Opponents have hit .300 when they end the at bat on the first pitch, but for very little power. He is a guy you want to get to early as he’s allowed a .291/.322/.427 line the first time through the order and then that drops each subsequent time he faces hitters. So score early, score often or there might be trouble.
  3. Colon has essentially no platoon split this season, but he’s been good against everybody, mostly because he just doesn’t walk hitters. He’s only faced one Royals hitter more than nine times, and that’s Morales, who has just four hits in 20 at bats against him. Cain has a double and three RBIs against him (you might recall that double in the 12th inning) while Escobar has two hits against him. That’s about it, but the sample is incredibly small for most hitters.

It’s been a rough few starts for Kennedy after starting the season so great for the Royals. Maybe getting back to the National League and facing a struggling offense will help him get back on track. Over his last three starts, Kennedy has a 7.85 ERA in 18.1 innings with eight home runs allowed. This kind of stretch was the fear many had with him. Hopefully he can turn things around. He’s still striking a good amount of hitters out and limiting walks well enough, but he just hasn’t been good lately. He’s 5-2 with a 4.47 ERA in nine career starts against the Mets. Cabrera, De Aza, Loney, Walker and Granderson have all crushed the ball against Kennedy, so that isn’t a great sign, but I guess that’s why they play the game.

The Forecast

First Pitch Temperature: 81 F
Wind: SW at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Cloudy
Precipitation: 20% chance of showers/thunderstorms. Any rain should remain mainly light, so this game will likely be played as scheduled.

Game 2, Wednesday: Danny Duffy vs. Noah Syndergaard

The big righty is 7-2 with a 1.91 ERA and a FIP that’s even better. He’s struck out more than 11 batters per nine innings while walking just over one per nine innings. That’s outstanding. He’s also limited hits, hasn’t allowed homers and has thrown really, really hard. All in all, this is a guy who has become one of the best pitchers in baseball very quickly. He’s allowed more than two runs in a start just three times all season, and in one of those starts, one of the runs was unearned. The Royals obviously faced him in the World Series last year, and he was okay, but he was fantastic in the second game of the season, going six innings and giving up no runs on three hits on the day the Royals were given their World Series rings. This is a very tough matchup for the Royals, obviously.

Three things to watch for against Syndergaard:

  1. This is unreal to type, but Syndergaard throws his fastball a little more than a quarter of the time and averages better than 99 MPH on the pitch with good movement. Yikes. He also throws a sinker a little more than the fastball. It’s relatively slow, averaging about 98.6 MPH. His slider is dirty, and comes in hard at 92 while his changeup is faster than many fastballs, averaging 90-91 MPH. He also throws a curve that can be unfair when it’s on. Amazingly, that fastball has been the pitch that’s been hit, but that’s relative. He’s allowed a .250 average and .417 slugging percentage on that.
  2. There’s so many stats that are impressive when discussing Syndergaard. Maybe it’s that he’s allowed just a .588 OPS when he’s behind in the count. It could also be that he’s allowed a .597 OPS when he sees hitters a third time. It could also be his 21.33 strikeout to walk ratio at home in eight games. Whatever it is, Syndergaard is really, really good. This is a tough game for anyone, but especially a team that struggles to hit anyway on the road.
  3. The one area that might be construed as a slight, slight weakness is that Syndergaard has allowed a .660 OPS to lefties. Yes, he’s that good that a .660 OPS is considered a weakness. He’s limited righties to a .192/.216/.263 line. Whoa. No Royals have much experience against him, but Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar each have two hits against him while Salvador Perez and Kendrys Morales have hits of their own. Morales even has a double. Of course, he likely won’t play in this one, so there’s that.

Duffy is coming off a tough start where he still gutted through five innings even though he was bit by the home run bug. He didn’t seem to have the same great command we’d been seeing from him in his last start against the Tigers, but he was still decent enough. It was the swings and misses that were missing from his game on the 16th. The Mets should help with that, you’d think, given their offensive struggles. Duffy has still been just so good in his return from the rotation with a 3.25 ERA in 36 innings over seven starts. He’s still averaging just 14.4 pitches per inning, which is amazing for him. He faced the Mets in relief earlier this season, throwing 1.2 scoreless innings and gave up a run in 2.1 innings during the World Series last year. Conforto homered against him in the World Series, and Cabrera has hit him well in 10 at bats, but nobody else has had success against Duffy in their careers, though the sample is obviously quite small.

The Forecast

First Pitch Temperature: 81 F
Wind: W at 8-14 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny
Precipitation: 0%

The Prediction

When you go up against a team with pitching like the Mets have, it’s always a struggle, but I think the Royals find a way to split the series and head back to Kansas City feeling good. Knowing this team, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tag Syndergaard and get shut down by Colon. It’s just been that kind of season.

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