(Reuters) - The Kansas City Royals and New York Mets get set to battle in the 111th World Series starting on Tuesday in a best-of-seven clash with intriguing match-ups between teams aching to end long title droughts.
Showdowns abound with the Mets’ young, fireballing starting pitchers going against a battling Royals team that have been the hardest to strike out in Major League Baseball.
Kansas City will pit their relentless hit and run, pressure offense against a Mets attack that features the hottest hitter on the planet in Daniel Murphy, who along with other slugging New Yorkers will test their power in spacious Kauffman Stadium.
What the two teams have in common is a fierce desire to end decades of frustration by hoisting the championship trophy, with oddsmakers making Kansas City a narrow favorite.
The Royals are in the World Series for a second consecutive season after last year ending a 29-year postseason drought only to fall painfully shy of beating the San Francisco Giants.
The last Mets’ appearance in the Fall Classic came in 2000 when they lost in five games to the crosstown rival Yankees.
Kansas City last reached the MLB winner’s circle in 1985, while the Mets have not won since 1986.
Those Royals, led on the field by Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, were a perennial contender. Those 1980s Mets were a powerhouse built around young stars Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
Kansas City came agonizingly close last year, pushing the Giants to a Game Seven at home before going down to defeat against valiant emergency reliever Madison Bumgarner with the tying run on third in the bottom of the ninth.
”I think it was a driving force for all of these guys back in spring training, knowing that we wanted to get back to that situation and get that one more run,” Royals leftfielder Alex Gordon said at a workout in advance of the Series.
The Mets’ success starts with their young pitchers - Noah Syndergaard, who hits 100 miles per hour with his fastball, Matt Harvey, who throws in the high 90s, the moving 96 from Jacob deGrom and all the strikeouts they log.
They combine that sizzle with curves and change-ups that can buckle the knees of batters braced for high heat.
”We’re going to strike people out,” said Mets manager Terry Collins.
Power pitching has been combined with power at the plate by the Mets, who have soared this postseason with the home run surge by the astonishing Daniel Murphy.
Murphy, who hit a modest, career-high 14 homers this season, carries an MLB record of six home runs in six straight games into the World Series and is backed by power-hitting Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda in the Mets’ batting order.
The Royals’ pitching edge comes from a deep bullpen anchored by closer Wade Davis and flamethrowing set-up man Kelvin Herrera, who routinely reaches 100 mph himself, that preserves late-inning leads like clockwork.
Then again, the Mets never trailed once during their four-game sweep of the Cubs in the NL Championship Series.
Kansas City relies on a different type of attack, standing second from last in the American League with 139 home runs, but second best in stolen bases with 107.
The Royals, including Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, AL Championship Series MVPs the last two years, make the most consistent contact in the majors.
The pennant-clinching run against Toronto demonstrated their resourcefulness as Cain raced from first base all the way home on a single by Eric Hosmer down the rightfield line.
“It was an unconventional way to score a run, but that was Royals baseball,” said Kansas City manager Ned Yost. “We did it on speed and athleticism.”
Written by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue