As the New York Mets wrapped up their regular season in Philadelphia over the weekend, securing the number one Wild Card spot and home field advantage, they await the San Francisco Giants in Queens on Wednesday night, with the winner heading to face the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS starting Friday night.
The Mets finished the regular season at 87-75, a true testament to the team’s resilience this year. Perhaps the combination of savvy veterans, good clubhouse guys, a strong back-end of the bullpen, and rookies who didn’t let the moment get to big for them were all successful ingredients for the second half run that saw the Mets go 33-25 from August 1 on. A soft September schedule also played into the Mets’ hands, however, the Mets had a tougher schedule in April and May, facing the Nationals six times, the Dodgers for seven, the Giants for three, Indians for three, and the World Series Champion Royals for the opening two games of the season. In essence, the season always balances itself out.
So now the Mets are back in the postseason, back-to-back seasons in fact, and only the second time in club history that the Mets have made it to two consecutive postseasons, the first time coming in 1999-00. The Mets are also looking to become only the second National League home team since Major League Baseball introduced the second wild card format in 2012, to win the play-in game since the Pittsburgh Pirates won at home in 2013 against the Cincinnati Reds. But the Mets face a challenge on Wednesday, and his name is Madison Bumgarner.
Bumgarner, 27, has been one of the game’s premier pitchers and one of the best postseason pitchers in major league history. For his career in all rounds of the playoffs, Bumgarner owns a minuscule 2.14 ERA. When the Giants have advanced to the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, Bumgarner was even more dominant, posting a 0.25 ERA and going 4-0 in all four starts he’s made. His 0.25 ERA in the World Series is currently ranked as the best all-time, ahead of such illustrious names like Mariano Rivera, Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, and Babe Ruth.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, as Wednesday calls for the Wild Card game, where anything can happen in a one game play-in game. Looking at Bumgarner’s numbers when pitching in the do-or-die game reveals that the moment never seems too challenging for the bearded lefty. You may recall that Bumgarner pitched in the Giants 2014 Wild Card game against the Pirates, tossing a complete game, four-hit shutout for the 8-0 win. He walked only one, and struck out 10 Pirates, on only 109 pitches. A truly brilliant and efficient performance.
Bumgarner poses a huge threat for the Mets come Wednesday, where his experience in the big game and not shying away from it give him a certain edge. However, it’s worth noting that this season, the Mets have hit a combined .277/.358/.426 off him in 47 at-bats, with two home runs, five RBI, and six walks against him. While that stat line won’t be mistaken for Murderer’s Row, the Mets have gotten to “Mad Bum” before, especially in their August 18 game in San Francisco, where the Mets scored four runs on six hits off him in five innings of work. However, that happened to be the same game where Mets’ starter Jacob deGrom had one of his worst outings of his career, allowing eight runs on 13 hits in five innings. While the Giants ended up winning that game 10-7, the Mets did hit against Bumgarner, and should give them some motivation and solace heading into Wednesday’s match-up.
And of course, there’s Noah Syndergaard, the Mets ace who will be opposing Bumgarner on ESPN. Thor had a fantastic sophomore season, going 14-9 with a sparkling 2.60 ERA, third in all of baseball. Syndergaard has also had a taste of postseason success, starting in all three rounds of the playoffs last season, winning NLCS Game 2, and World Series Game 3. Combined, Thor went 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance in the playoffs, tossing 19 innings with 26 strikeouts to eight walks, holding opponents to a .217 average overall. Having logged those high pressure innings puts the Mets and Syndergaard in a good position, he knows what it takes to achieve greatness in high pressured situations, and embraces it. Trademarks of a true ace pitcher.
Looking at Thor’s numbers against the Giants this season should give Mets fans a lot to smile about though. In 44 at-bats, the Giants are slashing a combined .159/.229/.227 off Syndergaard, with only one extra-base-hit (homer), three RBI, four walks, and 12 strikeouts. His most recent outing against them came on August 21, where Thor went eight shutout innings, giving up only two singles, walked two, and struck out six on 98 pitches in the Mets 2-0 victory. That game put the Mets back at .500, at 62-62, and from that August 21 game on, the Mets went 26-13 the rest of the way.
It should be noted that Thor also had a rough outing against the Giants in early May, where he gave up four runs on five hits in 5.2 innings pitched for the loss. He was cruising through the first three innings of that game until the fourth, where back-to-back singles, a stolen base, and a home run gave the Giants an early 3-0 lead, one they would not relinquish.
Of course, all these stats and games played start at zero for Wednesday’s Wild Card game, where we get to witness two of the very best starting pitchers the game has to offer, battle for their team’s chances at advancing and facing the Cubs in Chicago starting Friday night in the NLDS. Two teams enter, one team makes earlier than expected golf reservations, the other, a potential date with destiny.