San Francisco Giants (87-75) at New York Mets (87-75)
Time/Place: 8:00 p.m. ET, Citi Field
SB Nation blogs: McCovey Chronicles & Amazin’ Avenue
Media: ESPN, MLB.TV
Pitching Matchups: LHP Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 2.74 ERA) vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60 ERA)
We’ve been here before. The Giants won the 2014 NL Wild Card game en route to their third World Series in five years, and did so with Madison Bumgarner on the mound. Bumgarner was masterful last time — he tossed a four-hit, 10-strikeout shutout in Pittsburgh — and he gets to face a battered and bruised Mets lineup this time around. Gone are Neil Walker, David Wright, and Wilmer Flores, all of whom could have helped offensively against the Giants’ left-handed ace. That doesn’t even get into all the pitchers the Mets are missing, which could have bolstered their bullpen should Terry Collins choose to leave his closer standing idly in the bullpen (now where have we seen that before?)
Of course, that scenario suggests the Mets will be able to get through Bumgarner. He was his usual self in 2016, putting up a sneaky-good 4.9 fWAR season while finishing top-five in innings pitched, ERA, WHIP, strikeout rate, K-BB%, and probably several other stats I did not bother to sort through. He limited right-handers to a .642 OPS, and his numbers against lefties were NSFW. Bumgarner won’t win the Cy Young but should easily finish in the top five.
That Cy Young award could very well go to his counterpart tonight, Noah Syndergaard. Thor led the National League with 6.5 fWAR and a 2.29 FIP in 183 2⁄3 innings and was largely dominant from start to finish. He had some bumps along the way — you can insert your favorite stretch of cherrypicked games here — but was a beacon of consistency as his young flamethrowing peers struggled to find their way. He even made a pair of starts against the Giants this season, the latest of which was an eight-shutout-inning thrashing at AT&T Park in August.
How the Giants win
San Francisco’s blueprint for victory is rather vanilla: drive up Syndergaard’s pitch count early and get into the Mets’ bullpen. New York’s ‘pen was pretty solid this year — they led the NL with 6.5 fWAR and had the third-lowest ERA — but they fell off a bit in the second half. Plus, with all the injuries to the Mets’ rotation, their bullpen threw 114 2⁄3 innings in September and October, the third-highest total in the National League. Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia are an excellent one-two punch at the back end, but there’s a drop-off after that; Fernando Salas will walk someone at some point, and Hansel Robles’ strikeout rate tumbled after the All-Star break.
Of course, getting through Syndergaard isn’t exactly a cinch. He wasn’t the most efficient pitcher in the league (just 6.1 IP/GS this season), and he topped the 100-pitch barrier only four times after August 1. However, the Giants offense averaged just 3.82 pitches per plate appearance this season, the fourth-lowest total in the National League. They were above average in terms of fouling pitches off, though, and had the lowest swinging strike percentage and strikeout rate of any NL team. Remember how Syndergaard struggled to put away Royals hitters in last year’s World Series (yes, I know they won that game, be quiet)? We could see a repeat of that in this game.
How the Mets win
There’s only one path to victory here: get to Bumgarner. The big lefty has not been infallible this season and even struggled down the stretch a bit. He posted a pedestrian (for him) 3.80 ERA and 3.66 FIP in the second half, and his ERA climbed to 4.66 in his final nine starts. He had only one scoreless outing during that stretch — in a 2-1 loss to the Dodgers, as fate would have it — and pitched into the seventh inning in just four of those games. Bumgarner has also struggled away from the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park; his ERA was over a full run higher on the road, and his 3.91 road FIP was inflated by a home run rate of 1.57 per nine innings.
The question is whether the Mets have enough juice in this lineup to take advantage. They were one of the NL’s better lineups against left-handed pitching this season (104 wRC+), but Walker and Flores played a large role. Yoenis Cespedes is always dangerous in the middle of their order, but left-handed bats like Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, and Jay Bruce all posted below average numbers against southpaws this year.
I guess they could always hope Bumgarner has an off night.