By Brad Kallet
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This is it. Win or go home. Or, in the Mets’ case, lose and stay home.
The Mets will host the battle-tested San Francisco Giants on Wednesday in the National League wild card game, with an opportunity to advance to the division series against the Chicago Cubs on the line.
New York will have its work cut out for it against San Francisco, which has won three World Series since 2010 and, if you believe in the every-other-year effect, are due to win another one.
Ahead of this highly anticipated play-in game, I’ve broken down every facet of the matchup.
The Mets are trotting out their best pitcher in Noah Syndergaard, but no one can stack up with Giants’ lefty Madison Bumgarner. The three-time World Series champion is arguably the greatest big-game pitcher of his era, and already one of the best postseason performers of all-time. His numbers are startling. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 27-year-old’s 0.60 road postseason ERA is the lowest in major league history. He has appeared in seven postseason road games for the Giants, and they’ve won them all.
It doesn’t stop there.
The 2014 World Series MVP is 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA in 88 1/3 postseason innings, and he’s been especially tough on the Mets. Bumgarner beat New York twice this season — although he did allow four earned runs in five innings in August — and is 5-0 lifetime against the Amazins’ with a 1.80 ERA. He has also been brilliant at Citi Field, going 4-0 with an unreal 0.62 ERA.
Will he continue to dominate, or is he due for a dud? Most likely the former, but if Syndergaard can hold Bruce Bochy’s squad to two runs over seven innings, the Mets will have a very good.
The Mets are far more dangerous offensively. Jose Reyes and Asdrubal Cabrera have set the table beautifully, and Yoenis Cespedes, who will be the best position player on the field, hands down, on Wednesday, has hit like an MVP. Curtis Granderson hit 30 home runs for the first time as a Met, and Jay Bruce, who was awful for a while after being acquired by general manager Sandy Alderson at the trade deadline, finished the season scorching hot. Over the final eight games of the season, the veteran outfielder hit .480 (12-for-25) with four homers and eight RBIs.
The Giants play small ball and manufacture runs — you’re always waiting for them to get that clutch hit with runners in scoring position — but their lineup is far from imposing. Brandon Belt led the team with 17 home runs — 17! — and Hunter Pence and Buster Posey, the club’s two best hitters, had rather unimpressive seasons.
If the Mets get into the Giants’ bullpen, they’ll be in very good shape. The Giants blew an astounding 30 saves this season, a figure so godawful that’s it’s almost too ridiculous to believe.
If Bumgarner pitches like he’s capable, the Mets won’t have much of a shot of seeing the Giants’ relievers. Look for them to work counts and be patient against Bumgarner in the hopes of inflating his pitch count. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen many times before, the veteran left-hander is an absolute horse, and he seems to be immune to the negative effects of throwing a ton of pitches.
The Mets, on the other hand, are largely here because of the back end of their bullpen. Addison Reed, with his 1.97 ERA and 40 holds, might be the best set-up man in baseball. And the ninth inning belongs to Jeurys Familia, who has ice in his veins. Familia led the majors in saves with 51, and has repeatedly shown that he’s more than capable of getting out of a jam. If Syndergaard can get to the eighth inning, the Mets will likely be in a position to win.
Brandon Crawford is as talented as they come at shortstop, and you just know that he’ll make a great play to save a run at some point in this game — most likely with two outs. Posey has a great glove and keeps runners honest, and that could play a huge factor. One of the main reasons that the Giants have three titles in six years is that they always makes the plays they have to, and are fundamentally sound around the diamond.
The Mets’ left side of the infield, consisting of Reyes and Cabrera, is strong, but Syndergaard has struggled to hold runners on. Cespedes is banged up in left and T.J. Rivera is still inexperienced at second. Bruce, assuming he’s in the starting lineup, is a mediocre right fielder and Granderson is playing out of position in center. In the late innings, when a double play or a sac fly could decide the fate of the game, the Mets might be exposed defensively.
Collins took the Mets to the Fall Classic last year, and he somehow willed a decimated team to the playoffs this season despite a myriad of injuries that should have doomed the club in August. He’s a terrific motivator, but his in-game decisions leave a lot to be desired and he’s only been to the postseason once before (last season).
On the contrary, Bochy is a three-time World Series champion and a former Manager of the Year. One of the smartest and most consistent skippers in the game, the 61-year-old knows exactly which buttons to push, and when to push them. He won’t be overwhelmed by the moment, and he’ll make sure his players won’t be, either.
As well as Collins has done the last two years, you’d rather have Bochy in your dugout.
Based on his track record, the Giants have the obvious pitching edge with Bumgarner on the hill. But Syndergaard, when he’s on, is as electric as any starter in baseball. As long as he keeps the Giants in check — no more than two runs — the Mets should be able to stay in this game, even if Bumgarner is his usual un-hittable self.
The Mets, from top to bottom, are the better team, and they’ll be playing in front of a rocking home crowd at Citi Field. They’ve been resilient all season, defying expectations time and time again, and I’m betting on the fact that they’ll prove the doubters wrong at least one more time.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet