KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Royals are the sort of team you find yourself trying to come up with excuses for why they just beat you, because you can't make sense of it otherwise. Everybody always thinks they're better than the Royals. Last year, the A's were more versatile, the Angels had more star power and front-line starting pitching, the Orioles had more home run thunder. Same thing this year: The Astros were younger and more new school (and came closer than anyone to beating Kansas City), the Blue Jays were too strong and too cool and too ready and the Mets, man, those Mets pitchers were just gonna blow them away.
The Royals' postseason record against those teams, after their 7-1 World Series Game 2 win on Wednesday night? 17-4. 17-4!
And it's not limited to opponents. Advanced analytics have been so consistently wrong about the Royals over the last two seasons -- PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus' invaluable projection system, picked them third before their 2014 World Series season and fourth this year -- that FiveThirtyEight did a whole study trying to figure out if PECOTA was sick or something. There is an entire industry based off young earnest Ivy graduates in suits that are too big for them foisting graduate thesis papers at bewildered former baseball players that directly refute the possibility of a team like the Royals having any sort of meaningful success.
But the Royals make no sense. They are an anomaly. An anomaly that keeps kicking your ass. An anomaly that is now two wins away from winning the World Series.
How are they doing it? By keeping it as simple as possible. As Grantland's Ben Lindbergh -- careful, he's one of those Baseball Prospectus kids, always doing all that thinking -- noted before the series, the Royals' superpower is nothing fancier than hitting fastballs. They just do it better than anyone else does. Not only did the Royals hit pitches faster than 96 mph for a higher Weighted On-Base Average than any other team in the game, they actually hit them better than they hit pitches slower than 96 mph. That's remarkable. That shouldn't even be possible.
A recent maxim has arisen that velocity is now king in baseball, but velocity has always been king. It's just that there is so much velocity in baseball now. Dwight Gooden, considered one of the premier flamethrowers of the 1980s, threw a documented 100-mph pitch in a game once. There have been several dozen 100 mph pitches already this postseason. Velocity has always been the center of successful pitching. It's just that velocity is faster, and more dominant, than it has ever been. And no team in baseball throws more, and harder, fastballs than the Mets. It's why so many people, including this idiot, picked New York to win this Series.
But remember: Hitting fastballs is the Royals' superpower. And they did it all Wednesday night against Jacob deGrom, the guy who was supposed to be the central figure of this Mets rotation. deGrom has been fantastic this postseason, particularly at getting hitters to swing and miss. But not this night, not against these Royals.
Jacob deGrom, who struck out 13 Dodgers in NLDS to equal Tom Seaver's franchise record, has 1 swing and miss against Royals. #WorldSeries— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) October 29, 2015
deGrom got 53 swings and misses over his first 3 postseason starts, struck out 27. Tonight: 3 swings and misses, 2 strikeouts.— Jay Jaffe (@jay_jaffe) October 29, 2015
The signature trick of the Mets this season -- the reason they have made it this far, the reason their fans have been having such a blast these last few months -- is their people throw the ball past your people. It is what they have done, consistently, and it has worked, because why wouldn't it? That's what this game is about.
But it doesn't work against the Royals, and it sure didn't work on Wednesday from the fifth inning on, when Kansas City knocked just about every deGrom fastball either foul or to a spot on the field where no Mets fielders were standing. It was single after single after single until the Mets and their fans were throwing anything within arm's length at whatever happened to be standing nearby. It was such abject misery that some even turned on the GOP presidential debate instead. It was the classic Bugs Bunny conga line, made flesh.
Add that to a lovely, breezy, downright relaxed pitching performance from Johnny Cueto, who threw a complete game and never looked particularly concerned about anything, and you have a 7-1 win, a 2-0 Series lead for K.C. and a screaming, bloody Mr. Met (heaven help whatever poor soul is stuck next to him on the flight to LaGuardia).
But this is what the Royals do. We've spent all this time trying to figure out why they're so good, but we were probably all overthinking it. The Royals keep winning in the postseason because postseason pitchers throw harder than everyone else, and the Royals hit pitchers who throw harder than everyone else better than everyone else. This is as fundamental an aspect of baseball as you will find. It goes back even to Little League. The best teams in Little League are the ones who have the pitchers who throw too fast for anyone to hit them. The only team that can beat them are the ones who can hang in there and hit one. It's the same thing in the Majors. It is, after all, the same game.
Baseball has become endlessly complicated, and that's good, because it means more smart people are thinking about something as wonderful as baseball. (It's better than thinking about war, or taxes, or Internet memes, or any other of life's cruelties.) We understand the game better the more we think about it. But sometimes we miss the obvious stuff. Hit the fast pitches that others cannot hit: Win. That's what baseball is now. And that's why the Royals keep winning. Two more of these, and they'll never be doubted again.