Mets not just battling the Nats


New York Mets starting pitchers. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Scoreboard watching for Mets fans has been largely focused on the Washington Nationals, and rightly so. Not only are they the big dog in the division, their players have provided sound bytes to help stoke the rivalry. The stage has been set for an exciting stretch run that will culminate in the season finale between the two teams at Citi Field.

Making that final series even more dramatic is the fact that the loser could not only lose out on the division, but also be left without a chair for the playoffs when the music stops. If the season ended today, Washington would be 5.5 games out of the wild card with San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Chicago ahead of them.

Just ahead of the Nats in the wild card standings sit the San Francisco Giants, the reigning World Series champs. The Giants began their 2014 title run by first winning a wild card game over the Pirates behind Madison Bumgarner. They are a veteran team that has been there before and the idea of needing to best Bumgarner in a win-or-go-home game is not appetizing. The Mets split six games against the Giants this year and do not see them again.

The Mets have a big showdown against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field this weekend. The Pirates boast a breakout ace in Gerrit Cole, a shutdown bullpen and dynamic offensive and defensive talent led by Andrew McCutchen. This feels like the most complete team in the wild card picture and is a team looking to build on their disappointing wild card game appearance of 2014.

The Mets were swept in Pittsburgh earlier this year, so they’re looking for a measure of revenge in the upcoming series. Winning such a pivotal series against a legitimate threat like the Pirates would do wonders for the team’s confidence while also helping them in the standings against a wild card competitor.

Speaking of getting revenge, the Mets are 0-7 against the Chicago Cubs in 2015. The Cubs have been one of the hottest teams in the NL the past two weeks. While the Mets are built around young and exciting pitching, the Cubs young stars are offensive players like Kris Bryant. However, the Cubs also boast two aces in Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.

The Mets last series against the Cubs just before July 4th may have represented the nadir of their offensive season as they tallied one run in the three game set. They will not get another crack at the Cubs in 2015 unless it is in the playoffs. Hopefully the Mets take care of business in the division and don’t let those seven games against the Cubs before the all-star break come back to haunt them.

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With five solid teams bunched together there also exists the possibility of a play-in game just to get to the wild card showdown. MLB needed game 163 from 2007-2009 and most recently in 2013 when the Rays beat the Rangers behind David Price.The Mets beat the Reds in 1999 play-in game behind Al Leiter.

Pitching was the difference in that game as it often is in any playoff scenario. Each of the other teams in the NL wild card race has an ace we’d like to avoid. However, the Mets advantage may rest with the fact that they have a big three that no team wants to face with their season on the line.

When battling for a playoff berth to the very end it’s hard to have the ability to line up your rotation just so. The Mets’ starting pitching depth will hopefully give them a leg up. The team has already gone on the record saying that they will limit innings and/or starts for their young arms. The talk of shutting down Harvey or Syndergaard that gives us all agita may actually turn into a blessing when Logan Verrett takes a turn and Steven Matz rejoins a team as its sixth starter.

The Mets brain trust is likely looking at the schedule as they decide where to make their rotation tweaks, realizing that they can line themselves up not only for the final series against the Nats, but also for a play-in game or wild card game. They can set the rotation to allow for Harvey/deGrom/Syndergaard to pitch against the Nats, while also setting up a situation where Matz can be the first man out of the pen at the first sign of trouble from Colon or Niese in a pivotal game.

The Mets have only three head-to-head games remaining against their wild card rivals, but six more against the Nats. The Mets can do us all a favor and make this moot by extending their division lead over the Nats and keeping their foot on the accelerator to the finish line.