Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

A Mets-Centric NL Wild Card Game Preview

Posted by flyingbk on 10/05/2016

I had two distinct but related dreams this morning. For both, the setting was me watching tonight’s National League Wild Card game showdown between the Mets and San Francisco Giants. In the first dream, Mets manager Terry Collins used a no-name pinch hitter for Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (the Mets’ best hitter in September). He strikes out looking on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded to end the inning. Then he used a no-name relief pitcher in the 7th inning with the Mets up a run instead of Mets’ fireman reliever Addison Reed. I think the relief pitcher was a Korean guy named Paul Yoon (??), and he gave up the 3-2 lead. I woke up briefly after this first dream, feeling quite angry and agitated.

I fell back asleep. The second dream was much shorter and sweeter: Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes hits a 3-run home run in the first inning to give the Mets a 3-0 lead, and the Mets are off and running. I woke up feeling well-rested and ready to tackle today.

*****

It’s safe to say that tonight’s game has been on my mind this week. It’s your cliched “winner take all,” “do or die” scenario. What makes baseball so beautiful is that there are so many different ways to analyze one game, and yet anything can happen in one stinkin’ game. Only in baseball is there a seminal, and yet super unlikely, moment like the one Dee Gordon had last week. With that having been said, here are a few things Mets fans should be looking for in tonight’s contest:

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1. Gulp, it’s MadBum time. Last year, the Mets won games in which they faced Clayton Kershaw (the best pitcher of our generation, and it’s not even close), Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta, and Jon Lester. So for an encore, they draw only the best postseason pitcher of the current decade. And even worse, from this link we have this stat:

Bumgarner has pitched in seven postseason games on the road. He has a 0.60 ERA in 44 2/3 innings, which, per the Elias Sports Bureau, is the lowest road ERA of any pitcher with at least 25 postseason innings. The Giants are 7-0 in those seven games.

Oh boy. Furthermore, the Mets lineup is not designed to fare well against left-handed starters. The Mets will be fielding three left-handed hitters tonight (Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, and James Loney) who are much worse against southpaws.

It’s very unlikely that the Mets will be able to string hits together tonight. So their best hope is the hope they’ve relied on all season: the long ball. Bumgarner did allow 26 home runs this season, and the Mets lineup (save Loney) possesses power up and down the lineup (even catcher Rene Rivera has a career home run off MadBum). The Mets will need a well-timed home run or two to score runs off Bumgarner tonight. My subconscious knows this (read: my second dream), and Yo does, too.

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2. #THOR. The Mets possess their own ace. I’ve had many a conversation with other Mets fans, and I’m shocked by those who have been even remotely disappointed in Noah Syndergaard’s performance this year. Per Fangraphs, he was the most valuable pitcher in all of baseball this year. Dude is a freakin’ beast, and he was also quite good in the playoffs last year.

WFAN radio personality Mike Francesa coined a term during the Yankees’ postseason run of the late 1990’s: “The A game.” The A game was simple: Andy Pettitte would pitch for 7-8 innings, and Mariano Rivera took care of the rest.

In this game, manager Terry Collins must have his own version of the A game: Syndergaard for 6-7 innings, while setup man extraordinaire Addison Reed and closer Jeurys Familia take care of the rest. The Mets are carrying nine pitchers for this game, but if they have to use anyone but those three, it’s a problem. Like my first dream represented, I have a fear that Collins will end up using other relievers late. He could easily use a lefty reliever against the Giants’ many lefty hitters when Reed has been lights out against lefty hitters. Don’t do it, Terry. I beg you. Bring the A game.

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3. The more things change… When people asked for my prediction of last year’s World Series between the Mets and Kansas City Royals, my terse reply was: “It’s simple. If you hear about the Mets’ infield defense in this series, Mets lose. If you don’t, Mets win.”

I hate it when I’m right. (#humblebrag) The Giants offense is nothing special, but they are quite adept at putting the ball in play (they had the lowest strikeout rate in the NL). The Mets infield defense is shaky once again. Jose Reyes has done an admirable job at third base, but clearly doesn’t look comfortable handling bunt attempts. T.J. Rivera is a poor second baseman a la Daniel Murphy, and Loney is a woefully bad defender (this is a topic for another time, but it’s baffling how people think he’s good. He’s not good at anything.). Cabrera is sure-handed at shortstop, but his range is limited. There will be double play opportunities tonight, and the Mets must convert them.

The Mets outfield defense isn’t much better, either. Bruce is poor in right field, Granderson is stretched in center field, and Cespedes isn’t running at full speed and also refuses to dive. So let’s make a similar prediction: If you hear about the Mets’ defense tonight, Giants win. If not, it’s the Mets vs. Chicago Cubs this Friday night.

4. Enjoy it! Baseball’s the best. No other sport can match the drama, the tension taut with each pitch (and in between pitches). You have a matchup featuring two masterful starting pitchers (and representing cities with hidden meanings in their sports logos- NOTE: BEST. TWEET. EVER.), but the similarities end there. The Mets win via the long ball, a strong back end of the bullpen, and hope you don’t make it difficult on their fielders. The Giants put the ball in play and possess stronger defenders and baserunners, and are certainly looking for Bumgarner to go long and not force their bullpen to get too many outs.

And after the evening of August 19, a humiliating 8-1 loss to these Giants in San Francisco, the Mets fell to 60-62. Nobody (including me) had much hope at that point that the Mets would even get to this game. But instead, the Mets went on a rampage, going 27-13, the best record in baseball during that stretch. And they did it with Scotch tape and smoke and mirrors, with unlikely contributions from rookie pitchers and hitters. Consider: After that loss on August 19, the Mets were a full eight games behind the Giants. And now, they’re actually hosting the Giants for this game. Or, if you prefer in visual form:

This achievement is a tribute to the skills of Mets general manager Sandy Alderson. The Mets’ organization was paper thin and in complete shambles when he took over after the 2010 season. Now, they’re in the playoffs for the second straight season for only the second time in franchise history, and they did it in a year of catastrophic and comically bad injury luck. That speaks monumentally to the depth that’s been amassed over the last six years. Omar Minaya’s teams that collapsed in 2007 and 2008 had a bigger payroll, and never had this kind of depth. And regardless of how one game goes tonight, the future remains quite bright for the Mets and their fans.

So, win or lose, let’s enjoy this, Mets fans.

Oh, and here’s some some fun pregame reading about the Korean bat flip. Definitely looking forward to a possible redux of this (skip to the :13 mark):

The postseason is upon us. #LGM.

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