Few players in baseball have had more of an up-and-down season than Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis. After a 3-for-38 slump to begin the season, Nieuwenhuis bounced around to the Los Angeles Angels, the Mets' Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas, and back to Flushing, then hit the disabled list before finally staying with the big-league club as a bench player and occasional starter. After all that insanity, it would be oddly poetic to see him on the team's playoff roster.
The main thing holding Nieuwenhuis back is the Mets' remarkable bench depth. As of right now, the projected playoff bench looks something like this: utility man Kelly Johnson, defensive superstar Juan Lagares, offseason acquisition Michael Cuddyer, backup catcher Kevin Plawecki, either Ruben Tejada or Wilmer Flores (depending on which one starts), and, if healthy, Juan Uribe.
But if Uribe misses the NLDS due to a chest injury, that could open up a spot for another bench player. Speculation suggests that the spot would likely go to Eric Young Jr. for his pinch-running and base-stealing potential. But there's a case for Nieuwenhuis to be that last bench option over Young.
WIth the NLDS shaping up to be a series defined by great pitching, there's a higher-than-usual chance of extra-inning games. By necessity, this requires a wide supply of pinch hitters. Despite Young's speed and value as a pinch-runner, he has been an absolutely abysmal hitter this year, with a .153/.217/.247 line and no home runs on the season. Nieuwenhuis's numbers look better, but not by that much, with a .200/.275/.384 line and 4 home runs.
But here's where it turns around for Nieuwenhuis: after his weak first half, he has been a very competent bench presence. He has a .781 OPS since the All-Star break, and that doesn't include his three-home-run game the day before the break.
He also happens to be a left-handed hitter, and the only other lefty bat on the Mets' bench right now is Kelly Johnson. The Dodgers have a majority-lefty rotation, but their closer and many of their bullpen arms—including closer Kenley Jansen—are right-handed. An additional left-handed bat, particularly one with the home run potential that Nieuwenhuis has, could be a game-changer in a close game.
The Mets have had a lot of great stories to tell in 2015. If Juan Uribe can't play in the NLDS, Kirk Nieuwenhuis's deserves a postseason conclusion.