In many ways, Game 1 played out exactly along with the major story line heading into the World Series: the power pitching of the New York Mets against the contact hitting of the Kansas City Royals. Look, you don't want to over-analyze this too much because if Jeurys Familia doesn't give up the home run to Alex Gordon the Mets almost certainly win, but the Royals struck out just seven times in 14 innings while the Mets struck out 15 times. Matt Harvey fanned just two hitters in his six innings, unable to hold a 3-1 lead.
The second-year right-hander followed up his Rookie of the Year season with an even more dominant campaign, going 14-8 with a 2.54 ERA. In the postseason, he's won all three of his starts, allowing just four runs in 20 innings while recording 27 strikeouts. Like Harvey, deGrom has an explosive fastball; he averaged 94.9 mph on his fastball in the regular season, seventh-highest among qualified starters. In the playoffs, he's amped that up to 96.1 mph.
He has, however, cut down on his fastball usage a bit in the postseason (62 percent to 56 percent), throwing more curveballs, so we'll see if he sticks with that pattern, especially in light of Harvey throwing his fastball a season-low 38 percent of the time. Was that because Harvey didn't feel like he had good life on the pitch or was it in the game plan to pitch away from the Royals' strength?
The one thing that stood out when examining some of deGrom's numbers is his platoon split: He had a .475 OPS allowed against right-handed batters and .663 against left-handed batters. I asked him about this Monday and he said "I haven't looked at it at all," which seems a little strange. He added "Aren't platoon splits normal?" which of course they are, but his are larger than normal, at least in 2015. Right-handed pitchers against left-handed batters have an average .747 OPS compared to .701 for right-handed, a 46-point difference compared to deGrom's 188-point difference. Of course, he's still better than average against lefties; he just destroys right-handers.
Here's his pitch breakdown against both sides of the plate, including the postseason:
Right-handed batters: Fastball (63 percent), slider (20 percent), changeup (9 percent), curveball (8 percent)
Left-handed batters: Fastball (60 percent), changeup (16 percent), curveball (12 percent), slider (11 percent)
And here's his OPS difference on plate appearances ending with each pitch:
Fastball: 61 points better against RHB
Slider: 105 points better against RHB
Changeup: 413 points better against RHB (this is a sample size thing; right-handed batters were just 2-for-49 against his changeup)
Curveball: 212 points better against RHB
In the end, it's probably still about the fastball more than anything. As with Harvey, deGrom's typical approach to lefties is away.
As we mentioned with Harvey, that's where the Royals' left-handed batters like the ball. Now, deGrom throws both a four-seamer and two-seamer with a few more sinkers. He usually throws the four-seamer about three times as often; maybe he mixes in the sinker a little more. Either way, let the cat-and-mouse game begin.
Ned Yost went with Cueto over Yordano Ventura as his Game 2 starter since that would give Cueto two starts at home if the series ends up going six games; since joining the Royals his ERA at home is two runs lower than on the road, not that it's been good at home. Yost's comment was, "Johnny really feeds off the home crowd."
OK, I'll go along with that. But the bottom line is that Cueto has had one really good start in two months -- his Game 5 outing against the Astros when he allowed two early runs but then retired the final 19 batters he faced and struck out eight in eight innings. That was the Johnny Cueto we saw with the Reds who was one of the best pitchers in the majors. Since Aug. 21, however, a span of 12 starts, he has a 6.82 ERA and has allowed 92 hits in 67.1 innings. After beating the Astros, the Blue Jays pounded him for eight runs in two innings, so nobody can predict how he'll do Wednesday night.
Given the off day before Game 3, Yost should be thinking of going to his pen early. Even though Game 1 went 14 innings, neither team's bullpen was taxed, other than Bartolo Colon and Chris Young. The Royals still have Kris Medlen available as a multi-inning reliever, as well as Danny Duffy, who threw only 14 pitches in Game 1. So unless Cueto is obviously dealing, I like the idea of thinking of this as a bullpen game for the Royals. But we'll see how Yost attacks the game.
The good news with Cueto: He seems to have rediscovered a feel for his cutter. Cueto's cutter was always so tough because it can be a true strikeout pitch; most cutters aren't strikeout pitches but used more in the hope of inducing soft contact. This is the pitch that was getting hammered at the end of the regular season. (With the Reds, his strikeout rate on his cutter was 25 percent; with the Royals, it's been 10 percent.) In his final nine starts, batters hit .426/.436/.722 against it; but in his three playoff starts, he's thrown it 58 times and batters are 1-for-13 against it.
Cueto's fastball velocity hasn't been an issue: 92.3 mph with the Reds, 92.3 with the Royals and 92.8 in the playoffs. Let's see how he fares against the Mets' right-handed hitters -- especially David Wright (.189 in the postseason with nine walks and 14 strikeouts) and Yoenis Cespedes (.250, 13 strikeouts, one walk).
Check these fastball numbers against right-handed batters:
Reds: .538 OPS allowed
Royals regular season: .712 OPS
Playoffs: .833 OPS
If Wright or Cespedes are to break out, it may come against a fastball that doesn't get inside enough.
Cueto can erase all the bad starts with a big performance in Game 2. Historically, the team that goes up 2-0 in a best-of-7 series has gone on to win 65 out of 78 times.