San Francisco Giants (Bumgarner 15-9, 2.74) vs. New York Mets (Syndergaard 14-9, 2.60)
8pm ET Wednesday on ESPN
Say hello one of the best pitching matchups this side of Clayton Kershaw: The Giants will be sending to the hill Madison “MadBum” Bumgarner, a man with electric stuff and a temperament that makes both Clinton and Trump seem cuddly by comparison. When Bumgarner wasn’t busy scowling or trying to start fights this year, he was again among the best pitchers in baseball, going 15-9 with a 2.74 ERA and 251 strikeouts in just 226 ⅔ innings while holding batters to a .617 OPS.
In 2014, at the age of 24, Bumgarner delivered one of the game’s all-time great postseason performances, fanning 10 and giving up 4 hits during a shutout of the Pirates in the Wild Card game, winning the NLCS MVP by going 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA, and then earning the World Series MVP by winning Games 1 and 5 by giving up 1 run over 16, and then, on two days rest, pitching 5 innings of relief to save Game 7. For his career, he’s 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA and three rings in the postseason – he lives for this stuff. Bumgarner was 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA, and 13 K’s over 11 innings against the Mets this season, but he was lucky to get away mostly unscathed as New York posted a .739 OPS against him.
Facing the Giants, however, will be Noah “Thor” Syndergaard, possessor of some of the most explosive stuff in the game, with a repertoire featuring a 98-mph fastball and an 82-mph changeup. Syndergaard went 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA and 12 strikeouts over 13 ⅔ innings against the Giants this season, but held them to a .459 OPS, third-lowest of any team he faced in 2016. Syndergaard hasn’t enjoyed Bumgarner’s level of success on the big stage, but he did pitch 19 innings with a 3.32 and 26 strikeouts during the Mets’ 2015 run to the World Series, so he’s not totally out of his depth under the bright lights. If Syndergaard has a weakness, it’s controlling the running game, as he allowed 48 stolen bases in just 57 attempts, but the Giants aren’t exactly speedy, converting just 69% of their stolen base attempts, and only Angel Pagan stealing as many as 15.
The Mets and the Giants have both put their fanbases through hell to arrive at the NL Wild Card, with the two teams in a three-way fight with the Cardinals that wasn’t completely settled until the last day of the season. The Mets and Giants each finished the season 87-75, with the Giants' run differential being 30 runs better than New York’s, and though the Mets won the season series 4-3, but only outscored SF by 4 runs in those games.
After heading into the All Star break with the best record in baseball at 57-33 with a 6 ½ -game lead over the Dodgers, the Giants went 30-42, the third worst in the NL over that time, needing to win five of their last six games to edge out the Cardinals by a game. The Mets, on the other hand, had to endure the loss Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, David Wright and Wilmer Flores, and had just 4 guys reach 400 plate appearances, fewest in the Majors. New York played .500 ball for 16 games in the middle of September before winning 4 in a row to clinch a Wild Card spot on the second-to-last day of the season. As good as these teams are, it’s a miracle they’ve made it this far.
Neither the Giants or the Mets lineups are what you’d call explosive, as they scored 4.4 and 4.1 runs per game, respectively, fewest of any of the NL’s five playoff teams. The Giants have the superior on-base percentage, .329 to .316, while the Mets have more pop, with a .417 to .398 advantage in slugging percentage. If one team has a big advantage over the other in any facet, it’s the Mets’ power, as they hit 218 homers vs. the Giants 130. One oddity these lineups share is that each features a pitcher who can rake. Syndergaard and Bumgarner finished 5th and 8th respectively in OPS+ among pitchers with 10 or more PAs, and tied for the lead with 3 homers apiece.
With the starting pitchers and lineups about evenly matched, and this being a do-or-die game, there’s a good chance it will come down to the bullpens. Mets closer Jeurys Familia had a far better season than the Giants Santiago Casilla, with a 2.39 to 3.94 advantage in ERA, and .574 to .710 in OPS, though overall the bullpens are pretty evenly matched. But Casilla had a brutal Sept/Oct, with a 5.87 ERA over 7 ⅔ innings, losing the closer’s job to Sergio Romo, who’s been good of late, but struggled at times this year. Of course, having the superior closer doesn’t do you any good if he doesn’t get into the game, does it, Buck Showalter?
With home field advantage, a better closer, and a dash of “Ya Gotta Believe,” the Mets should feel pretty good about their chances.
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