Two heavyweight aces take the mound tonight in Flushing in hopes of keeping October dreams alive
The bright lights of New York City tend to be the most glaring when one of the Big Apple’s two baseball teams is in the postseason. Since the Mets survived to see the wild card, all eyes in the baseball-crazed city will be on the mound of Citi Field tonight as two of the best arms in baseball today square off for the right to face the best team in baseball, the Chicago Cubs, in the National League Division Series starting Friday night.
Both New York and San Francisco come into tonight’s matchup limping, in some form. The Mets are physically ailing, and have been all season, as they have been without starting infielders David Wright and Neil Walker, and starting pitchers Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz for varying degress of times. The Giants backed into the wild card after a terrible second half (30-42), thanks in large part to a bad, bad bullpen.
2016 NL Wild Card Game — San Francisco Giants vs. New York Mets
First Pitch: Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Matchup: Madison Bumgarner (15-9, 2.74 ERA) vs. Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60 ERA)
Three Things to Watch
1. Aces Wild
Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner are two of the very best pitchers in baseball. They both pitch with great intensity and both have the ability to dominate any lineup in the majors on any given start. But where they differ is their stuff. Syndergaard is a two-pitch fireballer, throwing the hardest fastball and slider in terms of velocity in all of baseball — a pure flamethrower. Bumgarner is a Rembrandt, a left-handed strike thrower, who uses a tantalizing slider (or cutter) to fool hitters and paint the black.
Bumgarner has been here before. Two Octobers ago, he toed the rubber on the road in front of a rowdy PNC Park crowd as the Giants and Pirates faced off in the 2014 NL Wild Card game. Bumgarner went the distance, tossing a complete game shutout and striking out 10 Pirates. That would be the beginning of what would become the greatest postseason run in baseball history for a pitcher, culminating in a five- inning save in Game 7 of the World Series against Kansas City, after previously winning two games against the Royals.
Bumgarner’s numbers against the Mets historically are outstanding (5-0, 1.80 ERA, 40 IP, 46 K), but in his two starts (both Giants wins) against New York this season the Mets have the second-best batting average (.279) of any team that faced the southpaw in 2016.
It feels as if we’ve been watching Syndergaard hurl lighting for years now, but the truth is, 2016 is his first full season in The Show — one in which he lead the Mets in wins and strikeouts, and is at least in the NL Cy Young conversation, although he’s considered a longshot to win it.
The rangy (6-6) 24-year-old dazzled last October, hitting triple digits in a Game 5 relief appearance in the NLDS against the Dodgers and shutting down the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS (5.2 IP, 9 K).
Syndergaard is the last remaining ace of what was arguably the best starting rotation since the Braves of the 1990s. Injuries have decimated the Mets’ staff, leaving them battered and bruised entering October, forcing manager Terry Collins to likely use Syndergaard as Bruce Bochy employed Bumgarner two postseasons ago.
2. Giant Bullpen Woes
It kind of goes without saying but, if the Giants get a typical postseason performance from Bumgarner tonight, they’ll likely win — duh. But as we saw last night in the AL Wild Card game, bullpen matchups in the postseason are of the utmost importance, and when it comes to comparing bullpens, the Mets have a clear advantage over the Giants.
San Francisco’s bullpen has been nothing short of a disaster this season, especially in the second half, as Giants relievers blew 30 saves and looked out of sync , to put it lightly, throughout September. If Bumgarner can’t go the distance tonight, Bochy has to be worried about his relievers that are prone to collapse against a Mets offense that was fifth in baseball in home runs this year.
Could we see back-to-back, dramatic, walk-off wins in consecutive nights? I wouldn't be too surprised.
3. Two Different Types of Offense
As mentioned above, the Mets’ offense has pop. Even without David Wright and Neil Walker in the lineup, Collins still has weapons that can put up runs against most any pitching staff. Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes, last-season’s trade deadline shot of adrenaline, is still the centerpiece of Collins’ lineup, but he has help in the form of short stop Asdrubal Cabrera (.309 batting average after the All-Star break) and outfielder Curtis Granderson (30 HR,.799 OPS).
On the other hand, the Giants are all about making contact and moving runners over, not so much about power. In fact, the Giants are the only team in baseball that do not have a single hitter with at least 20 home runs (Brandon Belt leads the team with 17). But just because they aren’t going yard as much doesn't mean the Giants can’t put up some runs, especially with a healthy Hunter Pence and the always dangerous former MVP, Buster Posey.
Settle in for a good old-fashioned pitcher’s duel tonight, folks. The two heavyweights going toe-to-toe on the mound, Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard, are must-watch television, especially in what figures to be a raucous Citi Field. With these two aces on the mound, the amount of runs scored by both teams tonight could be counted on one hand, or using a few fingers. With the two starters essentially being a wash, I’ve got to lean towards the team with a more reliable bullpen, should it come down to it. Give me the Mets and lights-out closer Jeurys Familia in a nail-biter.
Prediction: Mets 3, Giants 2
— Written by Jake Rose, an avid baseball fan who also is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
(Noah Syndergaard photo courtesy of Getty Images)