2015 World Series echoes Mets’ and Royals’ mid-’80s classics

1 11 2015

The challenges and opportunities of this World Series continue to echo those from 1985 and ’86, the last two times the Royals and Mets won.

I blogged Friday comparing the 2015 Royals to the 1986 Red Sox, after Jim Brady noted the first similarity to the ’80s (third straight day I’ve used this tweet in a post):

A win Friday night set the Mets on the course Jim wanted. He gladly retweeted this ’80s echo from a fellow Mets fan:

The Royals’ win last night (in contrast to the ’86 Mets, who tied the Series in Game Four), set up a another fascinating and coincidental parallel to those Back to the Future days:

Of course, each of those World Series is burned into the hearts and memories of the four teams’ fans, particularly because of Game Six. The ’85 Royals scored two runs in the ninth to win, 2-1, and the ’86 Mets scored three in the 10th to win, 6-5.

Jeff Edelstein, a former mutual colleague of Jim’s and mine, was clinging to hope in the ninth inning last night, again remembering Game Six in ’86:

Each of those mid-’80s Series featured a 1960s expansion team, taking on a storied original major-league franchise.

Say “Game Six” to a Mets fan or a Royals fan and you don’t have to say which year. They know what you mean. The Royals lost in six games to the Phillies in ’80, but fans were excited that year just to be playing. Memories of that Game Six have faded with time, the pain eased in ’85. After a 29-year absence from the World Series, the Royals returned last year and lost to the Giants, but Game Seven is the one fans will always remember. Game Six means only 1985 to a Royals’ fan.

The Mets won a World Series before ’86, but the Miracle Mets of ’69 needed only five games. The 2000 Mets lost to the Yankees in five. The only other Mets’ series to go beyond five was ’73, when they lost to the A’s in seven games. Here’s a question for Mets fans: Do you remember who won Game Six that year? I’ll tell you later.

In both mid-’80s Series, Game Seven was almost a formality. It was as if the Game Six losers didn’t remember 175, when the Reds lost a classic Game Six, then bounced back the next night to win. The ’85 Cardinals and ’86 Red Sox played lackluster seventh games, triggering celebrations that Mets and Royals fans savor, a feeling each side yearns to feel again finally this week.

Red Sox and Cardinals fans remember the mid-’80s Game Sixes painfully. But they also cherish memories of other classic sixth games with extra-inning heroics: Carlton Fisk waving his homer fair in 1975 and David Freese’s blast to center in 2011.

The Mets’ job tonight is to try to push the 2015 Series to Game Six.

Comparing ’15 Mets and ’15 Royals

Since my argument with Jim prompted me to compare the teams that seized 2-0 leads in ’86 and ’15, I’ll do the same now with the teams facing 3-1 deficits: the ’85 Royals and ’15 Mets. I don’t have the stamina or time to research and write as lengthy an analysis this time, and I’m sure you don’t want to read something that long. So here’s a quicker breakdown:

By position

Catcher: Jim Sundberg (KC) over Travis d’Arnaud (NY). I’m impressed with d’Arnaud, but Sundberg wins on experience, six Gold Gloves and his game-winning slide at home to cap that epic Game Six comeback. If d’Arnaud can match Sundberg’s ’85 heroics, Mets’ fans will cherish the memory in 2045, I promise.

First base 

Lucas Duda (NY) over Steve Balboni (KC). Both were 29-year-old power-hitting first-basemen. I loved Bonesy, but last night’s post about friendly baseball arguments defended the high value I placed on post-season play in my earlier analysis, as well as some cherry-picking of post-season RBI stats. So I gotta be consistent. Bonesy was good in the ’85 Series, including a single in that Game Six ninth inning. And here’s some Met-favorable cherry-picking. Duda has rocked this post-season, with more RBI (seven) in nine games than Balboni (four) had in 14 games.

Second base 

Frank White (KC) over Daniel Murphy (NY). White wins on career and regular-season offensive heft and eight career Gold Gloves. Murphy’s homer-binge against the National League gave him a strong post-season edge that would have made this close if he’d continued in the World Series. But he’s 2-for-13, and last night’s defensive blunder would live in infamy if it had happened in a Game Six. It might anyway.

Shortstop 

Remember David Letterman’s Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter? Wilmer Flores wins this easily for the Mets. Roland Americo Biancalana had a respectable .278 batting average in the ’85 World Series, but Manager Dick Howser pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning anyway.

Third base 

David Wright hit a big homer to start the Mets’ Game Three rout, a nice moment for a guy who’s been struggling to come back from injuries. But Hall of Famer George Brett wins this easily. I doubt Wright or any Mets’ fan would argue.

Left field 

Lonnie Smith played for three World Series champions in the 1980s (’80 Phillies, ’82 Mets and ’85 Royals) and came within a Jack Morris shutout of a fourth ring with the Braves in ’91. It was as if he was photobombing championship-team pictures. Smith had a strong ’85 World Series and his defensive replacement, Lynn Jones, added a triple, something he hadn’t done during the regular season. (If your nickname is “Skates,” you get a defensive replacement.) So Smith wins this matchup. But I gave Rookie Michael Conforto some credit last night when he broke out of his post-season slump with two homers last night:

Fun fact, since this is usually a blog about the Yankees: Brett had an even more frustrating post-season game than Conforto had last night, hitting three homers off Catfish Hunter but still losing, 6-5 in the 1977 ALCS (not the last Catfish reference in this post, by the way). And, if you loved or hated Howard Cosell, or never heard him, you have to watch and listen to this video account:

Center field

 Willie Wilson played well in ’85, but it wasn’t one of his best seasons. He hit .367 in the World Series, though. Yoenis Céspedes is an electrifying player whose power has brought the Mets this far. If they charge back to win this Series, he probably will supply important power. But he’s 3-for-17 so far with 1 RBI, and he’s had costly defensive and base running misplays in this World Series. Advantage to Wilson, but Céspedes has Series-changing potential.

Center Field Fun Fact No. 1: If the Royals had lost, tying the Series, the goat would have been Royals’ right fielder Alex Ríos, who thought he was catching the third out of the third inning, when really he was catching a sacrifice fly, which requires an immediate and accurate throw to the plate. The throw he made after jogging a step or so toward the dugout would have easily nailed the runner. But Ríos got off the hook when Céspedes made the game’s last out, taking off from first base on a one-out line drive to Mike Moustakas and getting doubled up easily. Have two guys in the same World Series game ever lost track of outs? In such costly circumstances?

Fun Fact No. 2: Wilson hit 13 inside-the-park homers in his Royals career, but none in ’85.

Fun Fact No. 3. Only two players since 1985 have matched the 21 triples Wilson had that season: Lance Johnson of the 1996 Mets and Curtis Granderson of the 2007 Detroit Tigers. Which brings us to:

Right field 

I may need to update my September post in which I assembled a team of the best ever to play for both the Yankees and Mets. Granderson lost out narrowly there in center to Carlos Beltrán. I may need to update that post based on Granderson’s post-season run to say that he belongs somewhere on that team, either in center or in right ahead of Gary Sheffield. He’s easily better than the ’85 Royals’ platoon of Darryl Motley and Pat Sheridan.

Designated hitter 

From the beginning of the DH era in 1973 to 1985, World Series play alternated whether pitchers or DH’s hit by years, instead of by home field. It was an advantage for the National League in odd-numbered years, forcing the AL team to place one of its best hitters. Each year, one team’s manager had to alter the strategy he was following all season long. Baseball traditionalists think this is just an advantage for National League teams when pitchers have to hit. But strategy actually is more challenging and nuanced with the DH (more so than baseball announcers ever acknowledge).

However big or little the advantages were, the quality of the teams primarily determines the outcomes of World Series then and now. Any champion has to overcome obstacles. At any rate, the American League won four and lost three of the Series with with pitchers hitting in those years. In the years when DH’s hit, each league won three.

In the last year of this ridiculous situation, one of the Royals’ best hitters and the best DH up to that time, Hal McRae, came to the plate just three times in the ’85 Series, getting hit once by a pitch and getting an out and an intentional walk (in that Game Six ninth inning).

With Biancalana hitting well, his slot in the batting order wasn’t the automatic pinch-hitting opportunity it was during the regular season, and manager Dick Howser  wanted his glove in the field late when the Royals were leading. And Royal starters pitched three complete games and took three more into the eighth or ninth innings. Howser used middle relievers only twice in the Series, and Mac spent the series pretty much as a dugout cheerleader. He was past his prime, but still had a decent year for the ’85 Royals. And the Mets’ DH’s were hitless in the Kansas City games, so this is still a Royals’ advantage (if we’d play this imaginary Series under today’s DH rules).

Starting pitchers

Both teams featured impressive, young pitching staffs. Eventually one or more of the Mets’ starters this year may have as great a career as Bret Saberhagen did, or even surpass him and reach the Hall of Fame. But Sabes won the first of his two Cy Young Awards in ’85. He turned the Series around with a complete-game 6-1 win in Game Three (the Royals also fell behind 2-0 in their Series). Then he topped that with a Game Seven shutout.

This is more a circle-of-life contrast to ’85 than a parallel: Saberhagen won Game Seven the day after his wife gave birth to their first son. Edinson Vólquez pitched strongly in Game One this year, the same day his father died in the Dominican Republic. He has returned from the funeral and will get a chance to close out the Series tonight.

The ’85 Royals’ rotation was so deep that Mark Gubicza, who didn’t even pitch in the Series, won as many games as any Met starter this year, 14. But those numbers are deceiving. The rotation is not a huge advantage for the ’85 Royals. Met starters thrashed the Dodgers and Cubs, and they’ve been good in this Series. With better bullpen performance, the Mets would be the team up 3-1.

A rotation that swept the Cubs certainly has potential to sweep the final three games of any Series. And Noah Syndergaard, whose pitching stalled the Royals’ momentum in Game Three, is set up for a Saberhagen-like opportunity if his teammates can get him to Game Seven.

Bullpen 

Dan Quisenberry was shaky in the 1985 post-season, toward the end of a dominant run as the American League’s best closer. But Quiz got the Game Six win and didn’t blow any games. Jeurys Familia, like the Met starters, was daunting against the National League. But the Royals have come back on him twice. Again, advantage Royals.

Bench

Both the ’85 Royals and ’15 Mets have strong benches they have used effectively. I’m not going to break it down in detail. But Dane Iorg‘s two-run single to win Game Six gives the Royals the advantage. The Mets will likely need some bench heroics to match the Royals’ comeback.

Manager

Easy win for Dick Howser, who deftly handled his pitching staff throughout the post-season. I explained last year how he outmaneuvered Hall of Famer Bobby Cox in the 1985 ALCS. Howser was losing confidence in Quiz, so he left Charlie Leibrandt in too long in Game Two (I was in the stands, cheering for Charlie to get that last strike, but he and Howser let the game slip away. But otherwise Howser managed the staff well, and his moves scripted the Game Six comeback (have I mentioned Game Six enough here?).

Howser, who left the Royals’ mid-season in ’86 with a brain tumor, died at age 51 the next year. His first year as manager, 1980 he won 103 games for the Yankees before being swept by the Royals. In five full seasons as a manager, he won three division titles. I think he’d be in the Hall of Fame if he’d lived a long life.

Terry Collins is good, but he’s managing his first division winner in 11 seasons. The Royals had the advantage here.

Summing up the matchups

Royals win catcher, second base, third base, left, center, DH, bench, starting pitching, bullpen, manager. Mets win first base, shortstop, right field.

Other comparisons

The matchups were shorter than in the previous post, though longer than I originally intended. I’ll do a lightning-round on some other matchups:

Batting lineup 

Using Game Three orders (since ’85 had no DH),

  1. Granderson over Smith.
  2. Wilson over Wright.
  3. Brett over Murphy.
  4. Céspedes over White.
  5. Duda over Sheridan.
  6. d’Arnaud over Sundberg. Catcher advantage for Sundberg was based on defense and his game-winning run. But d’Arnaud’s a better hitter and Sundberg was on base because he bunted into a fielder’s choice.
  7. Balboni over Conforto.
  8. Flores over Biancalana.
  9. Syndergaard, though Saberhagen did score a Game Seven run.

The contrast between position and batting-order match-ups shows the weakness of each way of measuring a team. Offense doesn’t play vs. offense and position players don’t play against each other. But the advantages for the Royals in matchups and the Mets in batting order show the strengths of both teams.

Season record

Both teams won their divisions: Royals 91-71; Mets 90-72.

Base running

Royals stole 128 bases and hit 49 triples, Wilson and Smith leading the way. Mets are much slower, with 51 steals and 17 triples.

Scoring and preventing runs

Royals scored 687 runs (13th in a 14-team league), gave up 639 (second in league). Mets scored 683 (seventh), gave up 613 (fifth). Maybe a push.

Defense

Royals had five past, current or future Gold Glovers (White, 8; Sundberg, 6; Brett and Wilson, one each, plus one for Saberhagen).

Of course, a career Gold Glove count stacks in favor of the team whose players have already finished their careers over a young team. Wright has two Gold Gloves for the Mets. Add another for Juan Lagares, who started Game Two for the Mets and has come off the bench in the other games. Other Mets may win some eventually, but I expect the Royals will be tough to catch.

I always cringed when Balboni had to throw to second base. But speaking of second base:

Home-field advantage

This is a huge difference between circumstances in which the ’85 Royals and ’15 Mets fount themselves down 3-1: The Royals blew their first two games at home, but after taking two of three in St. Louis, they could finish at home. If the Mets win at home tonight, they still have to win two more in Kansas City.

Hall of Fame

In the last two posts, I’ve noted that counting Hall of Famers is not an accurate way to compare a team from 30 years ago with a young team whose great years (or injuries or busts) still lie ahead. Brett was the only Hall of Famer on the ’85 Royals, and he was clearly Cooperstown-bound by then. No current Met appears likely yet, let alone certain, but I’ll blog soon about how difficult it is to project Hall of Fame prospects of young players.

Who was better?

I think the ’85 Royals were better, based mostly on Saberhagen, Brett, Howser, defense and a never-say-die team that was on a roll (they also came from 2-0 and 3-1 down to win the ALCS, closing out the final two games in Toronto, the same road challenge the Mets face now.

But that’s easy to see 30 years later, with memories of those final three games still fond and clear.

I like the Royals’ chances tonight, or if the Series goes back to Kansas City. But, having seen the Royals bounce back in ’85, I’m not going to dismiss a team that so recently won four straight over the Cubs.

I think the ’85 Royals were better than the ’15 Mets. But I know this: If the Mets come back, you’ll never convince a Mets fan they couldn’t beat anyone anywhere in any real or imagined match-up.

Game Six answer from 1973

Here’s the answer to my earlier question about the ’73 Series. The A’s beat the Mets in a pitchers’ duel, with three Hall of Famers figuring in the decision: Catfish Hunter got the win, Tom Seaver the loss and Rollie Fingers the save.

A less-distant echo

And, since this is usually a blog about the Yankees, here’s a parallel to a more recent champion:

Advertisements

Actions

Information

3 responses

7 11 2015
Tom Buttry: Rooting for the Kansas City Royals in New York | Hated Yankees

[…] me, clearly dejected. I actually managed to make a few of them feel better by saying, “Hey, the Royals were down 3-1 the year we won it all, so it’s not over […]

Like

9 11 2015
Comparing the 1985 and 2015 Kansas City Royals | Hated Yankees

[…] in seven games. The Royals won most comparisons to the ’86 Red Sox. Then, after Game Four, I compared this year’s Mets to the 1985 Royals, who fell behind St. Louis 3-1 before roaring back to win. Royals won that comparison, […]

Like

30 06 2016
A baseball trip filled with family, friends, food and fun | Hated Yankees

[…] Times days, responded with encouragement. Steve shares the Buttrys’ passion for the Royals, and appeared in this blog three times last year. In addition to wishing me well in Houston, Steve mentioned that he was […]

Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: