NL Wild Card Game 2016: Giants vs. Mets Breakdown and Predictions
Sure, a majority of baseball pundits and fans expected both teams to be playing in October. But most thought they'd be respective division winners readying for the National League Division Series—not participants in the Wild Card Game.
With both teams starting outstanding pitchers in Wednesday's win-or-go-home game, the matchup can be dissected a multitude of ways, with each suggesting a different outcome. Follow along to determine who you think will win Wednesday's NL Wild Card Game.
Madison Bumgarner vs. Mets Lineup
There may not be a pitcher in baseball better suited to start a Wild Card Game than San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.
The southpaw is among MLB's most experienced postseason players: three world series rings, the 2014 NLCS MVP, the 2014 World Series MVP and a career 2.14 ERA in 14 postseason games, 12 of which he started.
So, advantage Bumgarner.
But he has had mixed results against the New York Mets this season. In two starts, he has a 3.27 ERA—his overall ERA this season is 2.74—and 1.64 WHIP with a .279 batting average against.
Bumgarner threw six scoreless innings, allowed six hits and struck out seven in his first start against the Mets on May 1 at Citi Field. In his other start against the Mets, which came at home on Aug. 18, he lasted only five innings and allowed four runs.
Some Mets stars, though, have fared well against Bumgarner over their careers. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is hitting .300/.462/.400 in 10 at-bats against the left-hander, while second baseman Kelly Johnson has 20 at-bats against Bumgarner and is hitting .350/.350/.350.
However, run-producing machine Jay Bruce, whom the Mets acquired at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, has hit .130/.130/.261 against Bumgarner across his career, though he homered once.
Noah Syndergaard vs. Giants Lineup
Though New York Mets ace Noah Syndergaard's numbers against the Giants this season are impressive—a 2.63 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP—his results are also mixed.
He started that May 1 outing at Citi Field against Bumgarner and allowed four runs on five hits in 5.2 innings. But on Aug. 21 in San Francisco, he threw eight shutout innings and only allowed two hits, striking out six.
On the season, Syndergaard has a 2.60 ERA.
Catcher Buster Posey (.500/.500/.500) and second baseman Joe Panik (.333/.333/.333) have played the best against Syndergaard over his two-year career among players who started in the Giants' regular-season finale. Infielder Eduardo Nunez, who sat out San Francisco's final game because of a hamstring injury, is hitting .333/.333/.33 against the Mets right-hander for his career.
Syndergaard struggled at times throughout the final two months of the season. Since the beginning of August, he has put together back-to-back quality starts only once.
On Sept. 19 against the Atlanta Braves, he gave up five runs on eight hits in only 3.2 innings of work.
Don't be fooled by the Giants relievers' middling statistical performance this season.
Though the bullpen's 3.65 ERA ranks 15th in MLB and its .240 batting average against is a respectable 12th, San Francisco's relievers have been a liability over the last two months of the season. Santiago Casilla blew three saves in September, any of which would have allowed San Francisco to host the NL Wild Card Game.
"It's been the most trying season for me getting the bullpen in order," Giants manager Bruce Bochy told reporters (h/t the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman) in mid-September.
The Mets bullpen, however, has been strong this season.
New York's relievers rank sixth among bullpens with a 3.53 ERA. The Mets' 55 saves are tied for the second most in MLB. Mets closer Jeurys Familia, one of the game's best, notched an MLB-best 51 of those saves.
Nevertheless, both teams have top-flight starters. Bochy and New York manager Terry Collins will look to ride Bumgarner and Syndergaard deep into the game should they both pitch to their capabilities.
Catcher Buster Posey might be the most recognizable name among players in the NL Wild Card Game, but he's not the only star who could have an impact.
Posey (.288/.362/.434 with 80 RBI) and right fielder Hunter Pence (.289/.357/.431) are the two most important players for the Giants offensively.
Pence missed nearly two months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn hamstring in early June. He returned to San Francisco's lineup on July 30 but struggled throughout August, hitting .247/.300/.323 with only one homer.
Luckily for the Giants, Pence eventually began to look like the player he was before he went on the disabled list. He came up huge for his team in a hotly contested September, hitting .314/.385/.524 with five home runs and 14 RBI in 28 games.
Pence has hit in the lineup anywhere from third to sixth. Most frequently, however, he's batted cleanup. He has played 44 of his 106 games hitting fourth.
The Mets, who have struggled offensively this year, will need a big night from right fielder Jay Bruce. The left-handed hitter, whom they acquired from the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 1, led the NL with 80 RBI at the time.
His performance in New York, however, has been underwhelming. In 50 games with the Mets, he is hitting .219/.294/.391 with 19 RBI, although he does have eight homers with the club. His power could wind up being the difference Wednesday night.
Likewise, Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes could change the game with a swing of the bat. He is hitting .280/.354/.530 with 31 homers but is coming off his worst statistical month of the season, having slashed .224/.310/.398 in September.
Any list of MLB's top managers must have Giants skipper Bruce Bochy on it. In fact, he arguably should be atop it.
Bochy has brought three World Series titles—2010, 2012 and 2014—to San Francisco in his nine-plus seasons as manager of the club. As manager of the San Diego Padres, he won the NL pennant in 1998. In his 22-year career as a manager, he has a 42-30 record in 72 postseason games.
Mets skipper Terry Collins, on the other hand, is far less experienced in the postseason. He is currently in his 12th season as an MLB manager, having manned the dugouts of the Houston Astros and Anaheim Angels before taking the job in New York prior to the 2011 season. Collins won his first career playoff game last year, eventually leading the Mets to the World Series before falling to the Kansas City Royals.
This postseason, Collins will look to redeem himself after making the ill-fated decision to try to let starting pitcher Matt Harvey finish Game 5 of the 2015 World Series instead of going to Jeurys Familia, one of the game's dominant closers. The Royals ended up scoring two runs in the ninth inning to tie the game and clinched the World Series with a five-run 12th inning.
Had the Mets won, they would have cut the Royals' series lead to 3-2.
Citi Field Outfield Dimensions
Left Field: 335 ft.
Left-Center Field: 370 ft.
Center Field: 408 ft.
Right-Center Field: 380 ft.
Right Field: 330 ft.
Citi Field 2016 Park Factors
Category: Park Factor (MLB Rank)
Runs: 0.988 (16th)
Home Runs: 1.090 (11th)
Hits: 0.887 (29th)
Doubles: 0.838 (27th)
Triples: 0.455 (29th)
Walks: 1.168 (first)
Any "park factor" over 1.000 favors the hitter, while any below that mark favors pitchers. So with that in mind, Citi Field provides the 2016 Mets with the perfect home-field advantage.
This season, New York has been abysmal offensively. The team ranks toward the bottom of the league in just about every offensive category except home runs.
New York ranked fifth in baseball with 218 homers this season. Citi Field plays well for power hitters, as evidenced by "park factor" information. The Giants, meanwhile, are 28th with 130 homers.
But given New York's overall struggles offensively—the team was tied for 25th with 671 runs scored—it would benefit from a park that limits a better offensive team's overall performance. The Giants were 19th with 715 runs scored.
All "park factor" statistics courtesy of ESPN.
Doing anything the second time around is almost always easier. The second time skydiving is easier when you already know you can land safely on the ground.
In other words, postseason experience does matter. And it's impossible to ignore how much more of it the Giants have than the Mets.
Their manager is more seasoned, and San Francisco starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner is more battle-tested than Noah Syndergaard, an uber-talented pitcher only in his second season. That the Giants offense has been better than New York's, particularly over the last few months, is an added bonus.
And there's something to be said about playing well heading into the playoffs. Ask either of these teams, both of which have benefited from such a circumstance.
Game Prediction: Giants 2, Mets 1