Mets will need their bullpen in NLCS Game 4
By Brian Farrell
If the Mets have a blueprint for success in the 2015 postseason, it’s to have their starting pitchers go deep and hand the ball over to Jeurys Familia to close it out.
Relievers not named Familia have pitched only 11 2/3 innings in the playoffs versus 8 2/3 innings for the Mets’ closer. The starters have clearly done their jobs, but tonight looks like a night when middle relief will have to step up.
Terry Collins cannot be blamed for pushing his starters and his closer to do more of the heavy lifting in the postseason. In fact, he should be commended for having the guts to do so after a regular season where he was much more conservative. Of course, it’s nice to have some of the best starting pitchers in the game to lean on and a horse who can get you six-out saves when needed.
In NLCS Game 4 against the Cubs, the script figures to be a bit different. Familia is showing some signs of fatigue, but if you ask me, that has only made his pitches sharper. Relying less on velocity all season, Familia has become a complete pitcher, getting more weak contact and more effectively managing his workload.
Cubs hitters are not taking big hacks and missing wildly; they are taking defensive swings as they just look to put the ball in play. Still, I don’t see a six-out save from him tonight.
More importantly, the Mets have Steven Matz starting. Matz was solid in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. He gave his team a chance to win, but Clayton Kershaw was too good, and Matz took the tough loss. Matz only went five innings in that start, giving up six hits and three runs, but if you told me he will do that against the Cubs tonight, I’d take it. The Cubs will come out aggressive, and Matz will be severely tested.
Since Matz is unlikely to go deep into the game tonight, the Mets will need to have their middle relief step up. Tyler Clippard was effective last night in Game 3, showing improved command of his fastball. However, the Mets likely need a couple more innings to bridge to Familia, even if he’s asked to get more than three outs.
Sean Gilmartin replaced Erik Goeddel (he of the ‘INF’ postseason ERA) for the NLCS, but he and Hansel Robles have been forgotten men in this series. Neither is likely to see action unless the Mets are behind or have a very big lead. After sitting for so long, they can’t be trusted to get high pressure outs. The remaining outs are going to fall to some combination of Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, Addison Reed and Clippard.
Reed was victimized by Adrian Gonzalez in Los Angeles, giving up the big three-run double that put Game 2 of the NLDS out of reach. Collins went right back to him for a clean frame in Game 3 and of course again in Game 2 of the NLCS. Collins clearly trusts Reed, which is understandable given his closing experience and ability to throw strikes in this postseason (68 percent). Expect to see him tonight.
The bullpen deployment in Game 2 against the Cubs at Citi Field is the likely scenario for Game 4. In that game, Noah Syndergaard was lifted after only 5 2/3 innings and replaced with Niese. Niese played LOOGY and got the big strikeout against Anthony Rizzo to end the sixth inning. Reed pitched a clean seventh, followed by Clippard in the eighth, before Familia got the save. Expect a similar pattern tonight if Matz can’t go deep, with a couple of possible exceptions.
First, if Matz struggles early expect Collins to have a quick hook. He will likely turn to Colon first, assuming the game is still close. Second, if Rizzo is again the big out, and Matz is still in the game, I’d argue that Matz presents a better chance to get the Cubs’ first baseman than does Niese, despite Niese’s success in Game 2.
Niese will likely face Rizzo (or even Kyle Schwarber) if Matz has already departed, possibly sandwiched between Reed and Clippard.
Of course, there’s always the chance that the Mets get to Jason Hammel and put Game 4 away early. Or Matz could pitch the game of his life and eliminate the need for any nail-biting over middle relief.
More likely is that Game 4 figures to be another tight playoff affair. If the Mets bullpen can bridge to arguably the best closer in the game right now, they have to like their chances.
Next: Mets announce NLCS Game 4 lineup