The Mets have Thor and a lot of momentum, but they still have their work cut out for them. What are some keys to winning this pitchers’ duel?
Keys for Syndergaard: Preparedness, Effectiveness and Efficiency
For the Mets, it all starts with Noah Syndergaard. Thor is an incredible pitcher looking to extend what has been an incredible season. When he is on, he is great. He is usually on, which is what makes him great. But much like the Mets with Bumgarner, the Giants’ chances of winning revolve largely around things going wrong for Noah.
Noah needs to understand what can and can’t happen here if the Mets want to win. He needs to know his weaknesses.
We all know that Thor struggles mightily holding runners on base, although he has gotten better at it lately. He and (presumably) Rene Rivera must continue to be mindful of the runners, but there are two bases you don’t have to worry about opponents stealing: First and Home. Noah needs to keep runners off base, especially early in innings so that he can focus on getting outs and not necessarily strikeouts.
When Syndergaard needs to chase strikeouts, it exacerbates another problem: pitch counts. Noah can’t help the Mets win if he’s not on the mound. One of Thor’s least effective starts came in a 98-pitch outing against the Giants, in which he lasted 5.2 innings. One of his best starts of the year came in another 98-pitch outing against the Giants. That time, Noah went 8 innings. If Thor is throwing 20 pitches per inning early in the game, that spells trouble for New York.
But if Noah can get through the early innings unscathed, the Mets are in very nice shape. In the first four innings, Noah’s ERAs are 1.80, 2.10, 3.99 and 5.20. From the fifth inning on, his ERAs are 1.35, 1.57, 1.32 and zero. If Syndergaard gets to the fifth without falling behind, he’ll only get better, as long as he has enough left in the tank to stay on the mound. Quick, scoreless innings in the first half of the game will put Noah and the Mets in great shape, and he can get those zeroes by getting ahead in counts, getting the leadoff guy in each inning, and doing all he can to control the running game.
If Noah can check all the boxes needed for him to be successful on Wednesday night, the Mets have a great chance to advance. Again, he is an ace. He is usually great. When it comes to the guy on the mound, the Mets just need to hope it’s business as usual in this one-game playoff.
Keys to beating Bumgarner: Get Him Early, Get Him Late, Get it Over the Wall
Madison Bumgarner is a great pitcher with an incredible playoff record. The last time he pitched in the Wild-Card game, he threw a complete-game shutout to send the Pirates home and send the Giants on their way to a championship.
Bumgarner doesn’t have Thor’s nasty stuff, but he has fewer weak spots and bad habits/trends, which, combined with his incredible résumé, likely has Giants fans focusing almost entirely on beating Thor rather than avoiding potential trouble on the mound. There is a good chance we will see a great outing from both pitchers. And while there might be a larger chance of a truly bad outing from Thor than Bumgarner (and those chances are still low for both pitchers), I think Bumgarner and the Giants might be more prone to defeat should the game stay neat and clean.
Bumgarner has a good but relatively modest 3.18 ERA in the first inning. If you don’t get to him then, he usually settles down. The Mets, for their part, are a dangerous team in the first inning, having scored right off the bat in 49 games this season. Falling behind would put Noah and the Mets in a hole, but New York taking the early lead might put the Giants in an even bigger one. The Mets’ chances of winning when leading after each inning are 71, 73, 77 and 85 percent for the first four innings, which is very high (for reference, the Giants sit at 75, 64, 66 and 73 percent, and the gap only grows in the Mets’ favor as the game goes on).
If the Mets can’t score early, however, that puts the pressure back on Thor. But come the late-middle innings, Bumgarner becomes vulnerable once again, with his ERA ticking up to 2.65 in the 5th before spiking to 3.41 in the 6th and 5.09 in the 7th. The deeper Bumgarner goes into the game, the more hittable he gets. And if he doesn’t go deep, the Mets might get a crack at the embattled Giants bullpen.
I say “might,” however, because San Francisco, like New York, is in win-or-go-home mode. This means that all hands are on deck, and Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are therefore liable to be used in relief. So getting to Bumgarner to at least some extent is still a huge key for New York, although it certainly helps the Mets’ cause that Terry Collins has a better bullpen than Bruce Bochy.
Fortunately on that front, Bumgarner is very prone to the home run, having allowed 26 this season. The Mets, meanwhile, ranked fifth in the MLB when it came to hitting them over the fence.
All this goes to say that if Noah Syndergaard can turn in a strong, long outing, the Mets are in great shape, even against one of the best playoff performers of his generation.
Get Lucky. It’s One Game
One game. Win or go home. The sample size here is tiny and the ramifications are huge. The margin for error is non-existent.
Yoenis Cespedes or Buster Posey might hit a home run with nobody on base, or they might connect for a grand slam. Or maybe they’ll both go hitless, and somebody at the bottom of the order will have a huge game. Stars might come up small and low-profile guys might come up big. An error at the wrong time, a lousy call from the home plate umpire here and there, a bad hop, a blooper or a rocket that finds a glove might decide the game. A lot of it might just come down to plain old luck.
The division race has been over since July, so for this Mets team, they’ve been fighting all these months for Wednesday night’s game. A loss, and the Mets are done. A win, and we’re back in the NLDS, a couple good series away from another crack at a championship.
Baseball isn’t designed to come down to just one game. But for the Wild Card teams, it will. Both teams have a good chance of winning. We can look at the strengths and weaknesses of both teams and both starters and figure out the most likely factors to generate either outcome. But in one game, it doesn’t matter what has happened or what should happen, or what 1,000 computer simulations say is most likely to happen.
All that matters is what happens on Wednesday night. It’s gonna be Wild.