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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets can learn from Royals' emphasis on defense

Lorenzo Cain of the Kansas City Royals catches

Lorenzo Cain of the Kansas City Royals catches a pop up fly to center field hit by J.J. Hardy of the Baltimore Orioles in the sixth inning during ALCS Game 2 at Camden Yards on October 11, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. Credit: Getty Images

The Royals have shocked the baseball world by rolling undefeated through October and earning their first World Series berth since 1985. Not to mention sweeping two division winners.

And to think they didn't even need to bring in the walls at Kauffman Stadium to do it.

We never got around to asking Royals general manager Dayton Moore how he resisted the urge to shrink the dimensions of their home park. After all, his team finished dead last in the majors with 95 home runs during the regular season -- including only 43 at Kauffman -- so that must have been an issue, right?

Apparently not.

But watching the giddy march of these 89-win Royals certainly has plenty of people thinking anything is possible. If a perennial doormat like Kansas City can do it, why not us? And we're sure some of those people work in Flushing.

Isn't the Royals' mantra of pitching and defense the same message Sandy Alderson has been preaching the past four years? But if the Mets believe they see validation in the Royals' path to the World Series, it's also a sobering illustration as to how far they actually might be from building a similar club that can win that way.

By retrofitting Citi Field to be more homer-friendly, for the second time in four years, it seems as if the Mets are missing the point. The Royals deploy excellent defenders to patrol spacious Kauffman, which allowed fewer home runs per game (1.26) than Citi (1.60) this season. So more often than not, all of those fly balls that stay in the park are caught. Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Nori Aoki and Jarrod Dyson have put on a clinic during this postseason, saving the Royals a bunch of critical runs.

For the Mets, Juan Lagares, who could get his first Gold Glove next month, is a great start. But Curtis Granderson, at 33, is not the ballhawk he once was, and we're not sure who will end up in left. Another great glove like Matt den Dekker? Or someone with more pop?

The Royals are reminding us that taking away runs can be just as demoralizing as scoring them.

"When these games are as tight as they are, they just feel like they're never going to get a break,'' Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Because our defensive guys are absolutely everywhere. And it is a bit deflating.''

But the outfield is only part of the equation that put the Royals atop the majors with a 74.8 defensive WAR. The Orioles were a distant second at 55.4. The Mets (15th at 0.9) have significant room for improvement, especially up the middle, where Lagares anchors an otherwise shaky group. Travis d'Arnaud is still maturing as a catcher, and Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores are players whose only real contributions are at bat.

When it comes to run prevention, the Mets are leaning on a high-upside rotation that ranked 14th in ERA (3.66) -- without Matt Harvey -- and a young, improving bullpen whose 3.18 ERA was eighth.

We're not going to compare the Mets' relievers with the Royals' historically dominant crew, but stockpiling power arms for the late innings can win a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games.

As the Mets try to convince us they will be contenders in '15, it's important to remember the Royals didn't just whip this up on the fly. In the nine seasons from 2004-12, they averaged only 66 victories before winning 86 and 89 games in 2013-14. That makes for a bunch of decent first-round draft picks who eventually became the core of this year's team: Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler.

In the last 11 seasons, the Mets have averaged 80 wins, but they still have the same number of playoff appearances as the Royals, who have done them one better by getting to the World Series. Without moving a brick of the outfield wall, we might add.

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