Last night was a doozy of a loss, but we still have at least one more game of Mets baseball to cling to before the long, cold winter sets in. Once again, the Mets in Game 5 will have the advantage in the starting pitching department, and once again, they'll fail to cash in on that opportunity...
Unless they play better defense and avoid walking their opponents with the game on the line.
Say what you want about Kansas City's ability to scrap and claw and hit refuse to strike out, but the Mets were in control of last night's game until Tyler Clippard walked two batters in a row with one out in the eighth inning. Sure, a lot of credit goes to Lorenzo Cain for fouling off so many pitches and not whiffing, but the Royals were last in the American League in walks this year.
When fans talk about Game 4, they'll blame Daniel Murphy or Clippard or Terry Collins for the loss, but we all know that everyone played a role. While we're at it, why did Michael Conforto only hit two home runs? Three would have been super. I'm going to focus on how Clippard should be used in the future, even if that future with the Mets is just one more inning.
Last night, Collins brought in Clippard to start the eighth inning because Clippard is the skipper's "eighth-inning guy." This is a silly strategy, but it's also ingrained in every manager's bullpen usage, so it's hard to complain about. What Collins could have done, though, is leave Clippard in the game to face the left-handers Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas even after he walked Ben Zobrist and Cain.
Risky? Sure. Would the fans have tried to kill Collins? Probably. But Clippard has been more effective against lefties (.468 OPS) than righties (.745 OPS) this year, so it made sense to leave him in the game and see if he can get a couple of strikeouts or fly balls with his changeup.
Bringing in your best reliever in a crucial spot like Collins did last night is something I'm not going to criticize, but tonight with the game on the line, the manager can put his non-elite relievers in better spots. It might pay off to match Clippard up against lefties, even if means bringing him into (gasp!) the seventh inning.
If Collins can do that, he'll put his team in a better position to protect a lead that will hopefully be the result of Matt Harvey's second World Series start. Last time out, Harvey only struck out a pair of Royals in six innings, but he also allowed just three runs, one of which was caused by a miscommunication in the outfield by Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes.
This time around, we could see Juan Lagares get the start in center field due to continued sloppiness by Cespedes. If that happens, it the Mets would have to take their most talented outfielder out of the lineup in order to make room for the suddenly hot Conforto. Most likely, Collins will stick with last night's lineup and hope that it plays better defense.
Even against the Kansas City lineup, Harvey is probably going to strike out more batters than he did in Game 1, but doing so is going to require the young right-hander to be aggressive with his changeup and breaking balls. We've seen time and time again that the Royals are not going to be blown away by fastball in two-strike counts. Mets pitchers shouldn't be shy about using the heat to get ahead in the count, but finishing off Kansas City bats has been a different story.
Batman probably won't have to be perfect to outperform Edison Volquez. The Mets were able to chip away at the Royals right-hander in Game 1 with single tallies in three consecutive innings. With three or more runs allowed in three of his four postseason outings, Volquez is still not the most intimidating pitcher in the world. Hopefully the Mets can get to him early and give Harvey a nice cushion.
They'll need a big one if the bullpen is going to continue to be untrustworthy, but if New York can keep the walks to a minimum and tighten up the defense, everything will be okay.
Prediction: Why not? Mets win.