If all goes well on Thursday night, no Mets pitcher other than Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia will see the mound. Yet more likely than not, other members of a decent-but-unspectacular bullpen will affect the win-or-go-home Game 5 contest against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Game 5 is all about the marquee matchup between deGrom and Zack Greinke, but don't start painting a fairy-tale ending of New York's starter going the distance to lead his team into the next round. deGrom has never thrown a complete game in his career, and he tossed a season-high 121 pitches—one shy of tying a career high—in Game 1. If it comes down to the bullpen, how should Collins proceed?
Even during deGrom's dominant performance in Game 1, Mets fans had to sweat out an eighth inning featuring the ever-worrisome Tyler Clippard. Had David Wright not tacked on two insurance runs the previous inning, the midseason acquisition would have squandered the 1-0 lead. Or perhaps Terry Collins would have then stretched Familia out for two frames, but probably not.
It's clear Clippard remains second on the bullpen's food chain despite allowing two hits, a run, and a hard-hit out in nine pitches in Game 1. He has allowed 11 runs in 16.1 outings since September 1, so everyone will hold their breath if the fly ball hurler with a 5.30 xFIP is again asked to handle a high-leverage role. Unless deGrom pitches into the eighth, prepare for some intense nail-biting.
In a much better Game 4, Clippard induced three fly outs against Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner, and Corey Seager. The righty has a career .257 wOBA against lefties, and the Mets don't have a true left-handed specialist on the postseason roster. Jon Niese hasn't shown much of an edge against like-handed batters over his career, drawing a .400 opposing slugging percentage.
Addison Reed has made one high-leverage appearance this series, surrendering doubles to Gonzalez and Turner to put Game 2 out of reach. He allowed two runs in 17 appearances for the Mets this season, but he also holds a 4.01 career ERA despite his 3.41 FIP. If deGrom doesn't last beyond six, Reed is still the primary candidate to pitch the seventh.
Perhaps the most interesting development out of the pen is Bartolo Colon's frequent involvement. Collins inserted him into a huge Game 2 pickle, wanting him to face Howie Kendrick because the second baseman is a career 2-for-22 against the veteran. Everyone knows what followed, but Colon did induce the ground ball Collins wanted. Still, let's be careful not to embrace bite-sized batter-on-pitcher samples obtained over the past seven years.
Over the last two games, the 42-year-old righty tossed two innings on back-to-back nights. On paper, a soft-tossing strike machine accruing value on durability isn't an ideal bullpen fit. Yet his only blemish came against Gonzalez, and something has gone terribly, terribly wrong if Collins lets Colon face the first baseman again. Unless it goes into extra innings, seeing Colon at all on Thursday won't be ideal.
As a result of Colon eating up innings, Hansel Robles has gone missing. Aside from collecting two strikeouts in a perfect frame to round out Game 2's loss, the 25-year-old has remained a spectator despite soaring down the stretch. Perhaps Collins is concerned about the righty's .227 BABIP regressing to the mean at the worst possible time. Just kidding. He likes his veterans with "closer experience."
While the Mets ruled out a Game 4 relief appearance from Noah Syndergaard, he'll now enter Thursday night on four days' rest. Unleashing Thor would provide another hard-throwing bridge to Familia. But if the closer can collect four or five outs, maybe just go ahead and give him six.