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Interesting matchup: Royals feast on high-velocity fastballs, test defenses by putting balls in play

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain hits a home

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain hits a home run against the Houston Astros during the fourth inning in Game 3 of baseball's American League Division Series Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015, in Houston. Credit: AP / Pat Sullivan

Pitching has carried the Mets to the National League pennant. With a stable of young flamethrowers -- smartly assembled and carefully protected throughout the franchise's lean years -- they now face their greatest test against the Royals.

The 111th World Series is a matchup of strengths. The two-time American League champions possess the rare kind of lineup that has made barbeque out of blazing fastballs, the kind that the Mets have used to bully their way to their first pennant in 15 years.

"We're not going to change the way we go about things," Mets manager Terry Collins said at his team's workout day Saturday. "We've still got to pitch to our strength, and our strength is power. So we'll use that and we'll change speeds and throw strikes. If you make quality pitches, your chance for success is going to rise. And that's what we've done."

The Royals essentially have assembled a lineup composed of nine Daniel Murphys -- a high-contact, low-strikeout collection of bats with enough pop to become dangerous at a moment's notice. And their best work comes against fastballs.

In this postseason, Game 1 starter Matt Harvey, Game 2 starter Jacob deGrom and Game 3 starter Noah Syndergaard have thrown 38 percent of their pitches at 95 mph or faster. According to the site Baseball Savant, no other team comes close to matching that fire.

But in the regular season, the Royals owned a .284 average against fastballs 95 mph and above. Against those pitches, they slugged .436, second best in the league. They struck out against them in only 15.1 percent of their at-bats, the lowest rate in baseball. It's a major reason the Royals have crafted a potent offense, even without the kind of power that the Mets have generated.

"The lineup one through nine has good at-bats," Murphy said. "They put the ball in play. They won't give away at-bats. They play great defense. The pitching staff, we know about the back end of the bullpen, the way they've been able to shorten games. So it's going to be fun. I think we'll be prepared."

The Royals' ability to put the ball in play has ramifications beyond the pitchers. In assembling their lineup, the Mets have long favored bats over gloves. It's why Murphy has been a stalwart at second base despite his lack of range. It's why Wilmer Flores has played more games at shortstop for the Mets this season than anybody else. It's why Yoenis Cespedes patrols centerfield when he's probably better suited for left.

The Royals will exploit those deficiencies by simply putting the ball in play.

"Positioning's going to be key," said third-base coach Tim Teufel, who is instrumental in the Mets' defensive preparation. "And that's what we'll be working on with the scouting reports, and where guys are hitting the ball most often. We look at different graphs and different tools that we have available to us to try to formulate a game plan on defense."

The Mets have enjoyed a strong postseason when it comes to scouting and positioning. Without much direct experience against the Royals, Teufel said much of the focus will be parsing the available data.

In recent years, that information has become more precise. For instance, the Mets can position players on "hard-hit areas" based on pitch types -- fastballs that register above 94 mph, changeups, curveballs.

"Our guys are as good as anybody as far as catching and throwing," Teufel said. "So I'm not worried about it as long as they can get to the ball. So positioning is going to be key."

The Mets bring a few clear advantages to the table. The Royals have an excellent bullpen anchored by closer Wade Davis, but the starting staff hasn't distinguished itself, particularly against the Mets. Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Chris Young are 5-10 with a 5.04 ERA against them.

Of course, the Mets have a few issues to sort out before Game 1.

Cespedes was given Saturday's workout off, two days after undergoing a cortisone shot for his balky left shoulder. Juan Uribe, a possible DH candidate for the games in the American League park, will travel with the team to Kansas City on Sunday, though his chest injury still makes him iffy to make the roster.

Collins still isn't sure about how he'll handle the use of the DH. He has several options, one of which involves getting Juan Lagares' elite defense in centerfield, which would move Cespedes to left and Michael Conforto into the DH spot.

While the Mets won't stray from their strengths -- "I still think we'll strike some people out because our guys have good stuff," Collins said -- the Royals hold the clear edge in experience.

"It's a really good club," Murphy said of the defending AL champs, who lost to the Giants in seven games in the 2014 World Series. "The term I would use for them is that they seem relentless. They never stop coming. What a great characteristic to have for a ballclub. So it should be a great series. What a great opponent to play. It should be fun.''

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