NEW YORK — The Kansas City Royals hold a 3 games to 1 lead over the New York Mets as we head to Game 5. We’ll break down the starting pitchers but there’s a good chance this game — and season — comes down to what happens with the bullpens. In the postseason, the Royals have scored 39 runs in the first through sixth innings and, remarkably, 44 runs from the seventh inning on. That’s how the Royals have rallied from deficits of at least two runs in six different wins, a postseason record. It’s why they’re 5-5 when trailing after five innings after going 11-53 in the regular season. It’s why they’re one victory from their first World Series title since 1985, which also happens to be the last time a team rallied to win the World Series when down 3 games to 1.
Volquez allowed three runs and six hits in six innings in Game 1, learning after he was removed from the game that his father had died earlier in the day. After flying down to the Dominican Republic for the funeral, he re-joined the team Saturday night. He said he threw a little bit on the side on Friday and played catch in the batting cage on Saturday to try to stay in some sort of routine.
“I wish he could be here right now and enjoy every game that I pitch,” Volquez said after Game 4. “And tomorrow I’m going to be thinking of my mom, and the rest of my family is going to be so happy to see me pitch. My mom told me before I got here: ‘Go over there and enjoy the game like you always do and be proud.'” It will certainly be an emotional game for Volquez to pitch, but it could be something that he channels into pitching the game of his life. And with his team up in the series, he faces a lot less pressure than Matt Harvey has to deal with.
In his four postseason starts, Volquez has been pumped up, leading to increased fastball velocity, from 93.7 mph on average in the regular season to 95.4. Because of that, he’s been throwing his fastball more often, although he didn’t throw it as much in Game 1 as he did in his previous three playoff starts. He threw his changeup 32 percent of the time in Game 1.
It’s been a key pitch for him all season, especially against left-handed batters. In the regular season, lefties hit .197/.242/.230 against it; in the playoffs, they’re hitting .160/.267/.280. So that suggests jumping on his fastball early in the count, except Volquez can be wild — he has 13 walks in 22.2 innings in the postseason. It’s kind of an effectively wild approach overall, as Volquez has allowed just a .203 average and .304 slugging percentage in the playoffs.
Wade Davis threw two innings and 27 pitches in Game 4, becoming the first closer since Mariano Rivera in 2009 with multiple six-out saves in one postseason. Considering he pitched just one inning in the first three games I don’t see why he couldn’t pitch two innings again. It’s the World Series! That said, Ned Yost seemed to indicate after Game 4 he’d prefer not to do that. Kelvin Herrera didn’t pitch in Game 4, so if Yost uses one of his late-inning guys for more than three outs, it’s most likely to be Herrera. Yost should also have confidence in Luke Hochevar, who has thrown 8.2 scoreless innings in the postseason with six hits and zero walks. Kris Medlen hasn’t pitched in the series and Danny Duffy is available, so the bullpen is in good shape.
This is still the strength of the team. The Royals are up and heading home if they lose, but Yost should still go for the kill and go to the pen early, even if Volquez looks strong.
Of course the Mets’ season will come down to Harvey trying to save it for another day, as Ian O’Connor writes. How else could it have played out?
The story from Game 1 was Harvey’s reluctance to his use fastball. Maybe that was because he didn’t seem to have great command of it.
Overall in 2015, he throws his fastball 60 percent of the time, but check out his usage in his three playoff starts:
vs. Dodgers: 65 percent
vs. Cubs: 53 percent
vs. Royals: 38 percent
It certainly appears that he’s hitting a fatigue point. For the season, he’s averaged 95.8 mph on his fastball, but he’s been under 95 in four of his past five outings, the start against the Dodgers when he averaged 95.9 while pitching on eight days of rest being the exception. Harvey threw his changeup 25 percent of the time in Game 1, a season high and double his average usage, so let’s see if goes to that pitch again or mixes in more sliders and curveballs.
For all the talk about how well the Royals hit fastballs, they actually haven’t hit as well in the playoffs against fastballs as they did in the regular season:
Regular season: .319/.375/.491
Of course, considering you’re facing better pitching in the playoffs, the fact that the Royals are coming close to their regular-season production is impressive.
Obviously, Terry Collins is in a different bullpen situation than Yost, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be quicker to his relievers since the Mets’ pen isn’t as deep or as good. He may simply choose to live and die with Harvey and then try to figure out how to get the ball to Jeurys Familia, who has two blown saves but still is the guy Collins has to trust in the ninth inning. It all adds up to those late innings again being decisive.
Is this the last game of the 2015 season? I’m going to say yes. But I’ve been wrong on all my predictions.