There are games within the game – the key match-ups – that could determine the winner of Wednesday’s Mets-Giants, wild-card game. The winner goes on to play the Cubs in the NL Division Series. There were alternating times this season that both teams thought that might not be possible.
Because of its Game 7 winner-take-all format, there’s a fragile balance to the individual match-ups, with the slightest play or decision determining whether a team’s season ends or winter begins.
SYNDERGAARD: Mets’ biggest key. (FOX)
Here are my five most intriguing match-ups:
BATTLE OF THE MANAGERS: While there have been reports the Mets’ Terry Collins could have been fired in August, the Giants’ Bruce Bochy could be a Hall of Famer. Based on winning three World Series titles, I would vote for him. Collins deserves kudos for keeping his team together during a string of adversities and controversies. Doing that should merit serious Manager of the Year consideration. It should be noted some of those controversies were self-induced.
In the end: When faced with a decision Bochy won’t waffle as Collins did in Game 5 of the World Series when he stuck with Matt Harvey.
BATTLE OF THE ACES: Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard is as intriguing as it gets. It is a dream for those loving a pitcher’s duel. While Syndergaard is in his first full season – really hard to believe – Bumgarner is an established postseason presence with the lowest road ERA 0.60 ERA (minimum of 25 innings) in playoff history. Bumgarner’s performance two years ago against Kansas City, when he won Games 1 and 5, then came back on two days to throw five innings in relief for the save in Game 7, is arguably one of the most impressive performances in postseason history.
The Mets like to boast of their young arms – and rightfully so – but Harvey, Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz had a long way to match Bumgarner.
In the end: Syndergaard has the stuff for greatness and he’s pitched hurt. It wouldn’t be surprising if he spins a shutout, as he’s that dominant. But, if you get on you can steal on him, rattle him and drive him from the game. In a big game, there are a handful of names you want: Sandy Koufax (4-3, 0-95 ERA), Cliff Lee (7-0, 1.27 ERA), Andy Pettitte (19-10, 3.83 ERA), Orel Hershiser (8-3, 2.59 ERA), John Smoltz (15-4, 2.67 ERA), Curt Schilling (11-2, 2.23 ERA) and Bumgarner (7-3, 2.14 ERA).
BATTLE OF OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHIES: All season, Collins sang the refrain the Mets were a team built on the home run. The Giants, meanwhile, are a better at stringing together innings and putting pressure on the pitcher. Statistics is baseball’s yardstick. We can get caught up in the new-age numbers, but there are only a few that give a clearer picture.
It’s all about runs.
Mets: 671 runs scored; 218 homers; 649 RBI. Giants: 715 runs scored; 130 homers; 675 RBI.
Batting averages count, too.
Mets: Hit .225 with RISP and .187 with two outs and RISP. Giants: Hit .250 with RISP and .220 with two outs and RISP.
Other important numbers.
Mets: On-base percentage of .316, with 517 walks and 1,302 strikeouts. Giants: On-base percentage of .329 with 572 walks and 1,107 strikeouts.
Summary: The Mets’ inability to hit with RISP has been a storyline all season, and they can’t afford to squander whatever opportunities they’ll get against Bumgarner. While the Mets do live on the homer and clearly have more power with three hitters – Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson hitting over 30 – the Giants outscored them by 44 runs. The Mets don’t prolong innings with walks let too many chances get away by striking out.
BATTLE OF THE STARS
When it comes to the stars, it’s Cespedes against Buster Posey and their contrasting styles of power vs. patience.
Cespedes hit .280 with 31 homers, but only 86 RBI. For all his homers there should be more run production, especially since he hit .278 with RISP. However, his production is offset by 108 strikeouts compared to only 51 walks. In the clutch, pitchers are able to get Cespedes to chase.
Cespedes is an imposing figure at the plate, but his MVP candidacy faded with mediocre numbers after the All-Star break of .246, ten homers and 34 RBI. One red flag entering the postseason was Cespedes’ numbers since Sept. 15, when every one of the Mets’ 15 games was crucial. In his span, Cespedes hit .220 (13-for-59) with one homer and seven RBI, with ten strikeouts and seven RBI.
Another was his non-presence in the Mets’ clubhouse celebration. I appreciate his disappointment in how he ended the season, but this was a team moment and reminiscent of a NFL wide receiver. Yoenis, meet Odell Beckham Jr.
When it comes to needing a homer, you want Cespedes, but what about Posey?
Posey’s.288 average only a handful of points higher than Cespedes, but with only 14 homers. However, he drove in 80 runs creating speculation how many RBI he could have had if matched Cespedes’ power?
He’s a gap hitter with 33 doubles (Cespedes had 25) and better in the clutch with a .311 average with runners on base and .287 with RISP. Posey hit only .221 after the seventh inning, but that’s when he hit five of his homers with 21 RBI.
After the All-Star break, Posey hit .282 with three homers and 38 to pump the brakes on the Giants’ second-half skid. Since Sept. 15, Posey hit .306 (19-for-62) with two homers and 16 RBI (averaged one a game for 16 games) with nine strikeouts and seven walks.
Summary: It depends on what you want. If it’s a homer, go with Cespedes, but Posey is more apt to drive in a run in other ways and keep an inning alive with 68 strikeouts and 64 walks. It comes to this: Who do you want at the plate in the ninth inning, with the game tied with a runner on third with less than two outs?
BATTLE OF THE BULLPENS
Of all the stats, perhaps the most important could leave the others useless, and that’s the Giants’ 29 blown saves, including nine in September. Santiago Casilla (31 saves) lost his closer role to Sergio Romo (four saves), but the Mets’ eighth-inning duo of Addison Reed (40 holds) and Jeurys Familia (51 saves) is the most reliable in the majors.
Summary: Both teams need to get through seven, but with different reasons.
The Giants need to string together enough runs and work Syndergaard’s pitch count to get into the middle of the Mets’ bullpen. If they do that, and Bumgarner gets through the seventh and into the eighth, they can win.
The Mets need to get to Bumgarner enough to a lead entering the eighth. If they do that, and Syndergaard takes the Mets to the Reed-Familia finish line – something he’s done 12 times in 30 starts and only twice in his last five, we could see Bartolo Colon Friday in Chicago.
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