Royals' contact approach prevailing over Mets
KC has swung and missed just 25 times on 330 total pitches by NY
KANSAS CITY -- The Royals' philosophy was born out of necessity. Because of their Kauffman Stadium surroundings and their general composition, they have to be a contact-oriented club. It's their fundamental makeup, and, so far in this World Series, it's a signature strength that is prevailing quite convincingly against the signature strength of the Mets.
With Wednesday's 7-1 victory in Game 2, the Royals jumped on Jacob deGrom with a four-run fifth-inning rally that provided a better singles scene than even the trendiest of neighborhoods. And that inning was the most obvious example yet of the offensive mindset that compels and propels Kansas City to and through the postseason.
"We can't strike out," hitting coach Dale Sveum said before this Series started. "If we're not going to walk that much and get on base that way, besides a couple guys, we have to put the ball in play."
That's precisely what the Royals have done in this Series, to date.
deGrom didn't produce a swing and miss with his fastball Wednesday night. Think about that for a moment. In 54 previous career starts, that had never happened to deGrom before.
"They did exactly what people said, and they put the ball in play," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I told Jake, 'Not everything has to be a strike. You've got to move it around. You've got to change speeds, give them something to look at. If you continue to pound the strike zone, they're going to put it in play.' And that's exactly what they did."
deGrom's 94 pitches in Game 2 generated 23 foul balls and just three swinging strikes. The Royals were on him like grease on a white suit.
"I wasn't really surprised by it," deGrom said of the Royals' peskiness, "because we kind of knew that going in. Early on, the pitch count was staying pretty low because I knew they were going to be attacking early. It was just that one inning."
One inning that represented a larger trend and a trait. Kansas City also had just seven swings and misses among Matt Harvey's 80 pitches in Game 1.
In 330 total offerings by Mets pitchers in the two games, the Royals have swung and missed just 25 times.
"You can talk about two-strike approach or our aggressiveness on 0-0," said veteran outfielder Jonny Gomes, who is not on Kansas City's 25-man World Series roster. "To have both of those is pretty rare. This is a team that doesn't strike out much because it doesn't get to two strikes. With that said, these guys aren't chasing pitches, either. So it's a ballclub with a high, high baseball IQ."
The Mets, remember, came in with a high, high strikeout-to-walk ratio -- the second highest for a rotation in history, trailing only the famed 2011 Phillies. This made for a fascinating collision of strengths on the World Series stage, because these Royals are just the second team (joining the 1971-74 Yankees) to post the fewest strikeouts in the Majors in four consecutive seasons.
"You look at the Astros, and they're built around hitting home runs," Sveum said. "They're in a ballpark conducive to it, they strike out a lot. So that's their model. Ours has to be a little different in our ballpark. You put us in Houston or Toronto or some of these parks, we'd probably have 60 more home runs as a team. But in this ballpark, we have to put the ball in play, we have to be really good with runners in scoring position, we have to move runners, we have to get the guy in from third base. That's our game."
The strikeout is increasingly embraced in today's game, if only as a means of improving a club's power potential. But a franchise whose single-season home run record still stands at 36 (Steve Balboni in '85) can't get on board with the K.
"I never saw a strikeout go over the fence," Sveum said. "I never saw a strikeout turn into a double."
Kansas City didn't even need doubles to derail deGrom. All of the Royals' extra-base hits in Game 2 came in the three-run eighth. While they have certainly extended their run with some game-changing blasts this October -- none bigger than Alex Gordon's solo shot off Jeurys Familia in Game 1 -- they can prove equally pesky just by hitting the ball at people.
Really, the Royals aren't sustaining themselves on an inordinately high batting average on balls in play (it stands at .286 thus far in this postseason); they're simply winning out on the law of averages that arises when you don't strike yourself out of innings. The Mets were compelled into multiple defensive miscues that affected the outcome of Game 2, and Kansas City's ability to make contact even on the hottest heat and willingness to be aggressive early in counts has compelled New York's stud starters to adjust their repertoires.
In other words, the Royals are commanding the tone and tenor of this Series. They are forcing the Mets to adjust, rather than vice versa, and now they have a World Series lead nearly 80 percent of past 2-0 teams have turned into a championship.