The road to the World Series in the National League starts in a familiar place with a familiar face. The New York Mets, the hosts of the last World Series game we saw, will have Citi Field gussied up for the postseason again Wednesday night with one big looming guest on the other side of the field — Madison Bumgarner.
Either the Mets or the San Francisco Giants could make another run to the World Series, but they’ve got to get out of the do-or-die NL wild-card game first. That will be no small task for either team, considering the pitching matchup.
Bumgarner — he of the 1.03 ERA in seven games in the 2014 postseason — will square off with Noah Syndergaard, the Mets’ young fireballer who is capable of dominating anytime he’s on the mound.
Starting pitching will be at the forefront of this one, but it’s not the only storyline at play. We’re breaking down everything below:
First pitch is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at Citi Field in Queens, where the Mets’ last postseason game ended with a World Series loss to the Kansas City Royals. It will air on ESPN. Here are your starting lineups:
— New York Mets (@Mets) October 5, 2016
#SFGiants wild card lineup: Span CF, Belt 1B, Posey C, Pence RF, Crawford SS, Pagan LF, Panik 2B, Gillaspie 3B, Bumgarner P
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) October 5, 2016
The Giants come into the game after an 87-75 regular-season finish, which includes a disappointing 30-42 second half. The Mets also finished 87-75. Their season was a little more consistent than the Giants’, but as we sit here today, it’s mired by injuries. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz were all lost for the season with arm injuries.
This is the first big heavyweight bout of the postseason and figures to be a great one — Bumgarner vs. Syndergaard, two guys who look as much like a pro wrestling tag team as they do opposing pitchers. Bumgarner stands 6-foot-5 while Syndergaard is an inch taller, 6-foot-6. Both seem capable of a top-notch power bomb.
On the mound, their styles are a bit different but just as effective. Syndergaard blows hitters away with his fastball and he has a biting slider that keeps them guessing. He tops out at 101 mph with the heater, which is his main strikeout pitch. Syndergaard ranked ninth in MLB in strikeouts this season with 218.
That’s great, but Bumgarner was better. He was fourth in the league with 251 (18 more than Chris Sale, actually). We don’t necessarily think of Bumgarner as an overpowering K-artist because his fastball doesn’t blaze like Syndergaard’s. Bumgarner tops out at 93 mph, but his arsenal includes two more great out-pitches — his slider and his curve ball.
Stat-wise, they’re pretty similar: Syndergaard went 14-9 this season with a 2.60 ERA while Bumgarner was 15-9 with a 2.74 ERA. The biggest difference was innings pitched, where Bumgarner topped Syndergaard by 42. Bumgarner generally works deeper into games, something that will play into the Giants strengths. (More on that in a bit.)
The Mets beat the Giants in their season series 4-3. The Mets took two of three at Citi Field in April then they split a four-game set in San Francisco in August. Interestingly, both teams won a high-scoring game, with the Giants winning 10-7 on Aug. 18 and the Mets crushing the Giants 13-1 on April 29.
Bumgarner and Syndergaard met on May 1, a game the Giants won 6-1. Bumgarner pitched six scoreless innings and struck out seven. Syndergaard allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings.
THE GIANTS WILL WIN IF …
Bumgarner goes deep into the game, preferably even the whole way. His ability to put the Giants on his back is well known after the 2014 World Series run, and the way the Giants’ bullpen has pitched this season, they’ll need more of that than ever. The Giants ‘pen blew 30 saves this year and looked absolutely fragile throughout September. Bumgarner needs to carry the Giants here if their season is to continue. Luckily for San Francisco, he’s capable of such a thing.
THE METS WILL WIN IF …
It becomes a bullpen game. As noted above, the Giants bullpen is a mess. As for the Mets? Well, it’s much better. The Mets had the sixth-best bullpen ERA in baseball this season. The Mets also hit a lot of homers this season (fifth best in MLB), so it’s not hard to imagine the Mets winning on a late homer after knocking Bumgarner out of the game.
FIVE IMPORTANT NUMBERS
• Zero: How many games the Giants won this season when trailing in the ninth inning. This ain’t comeback city, folks.
• .255: The Mets batting average against left-handed pitching, which is right in the middle of the pack of the league (14th, actually). A few of the Mets hit quite well off lefties, like Yoenis Cespedes (.351) and Asdrubal Cabrera (.321). Of course, Madison Bumgarner isn’t any ol’ lefty.
• .309: Post-All-Star break batting average for Cabrera, who helped ignite the Mets offense in late August and September. In September, he hit .317 with six homers and 17 RBIs.
• 17: Homers hit by Brandon Belt, who was the Giants’ top home-run hitter. Seem low? Well, yeah. The Giants were the only team in baseball without a 20-home-run hitter.
• 6: Homers hit by Bumgarner and Syndergaard, two pitchers who can definitely swing the bat. In a regular game they’re both threats at the plate. Against each other? We’ll find out.
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