The Mets may have wrapped up their first division title since 2006, but that doesn't mean that the regular season is over. There are still games to play, and those games have some worth to them if you care even a little bit about home-field advantage in the upcoming National League Division Series. As of Monday morning, the Mets had a one-game advantage over the Dodgers in the loss column. If that lead holds up over the final six games of the regular season, New York and Los Angeles will play Game 1 of their postseason series at Citi Field.
Getting in the way of that home-field advantage could be the Phillies, who are fresh off of a series win over the Nationals that helped the Mets clinch the NL East. With three fewer wins than any other team in baseball, Phillies management would probably be okay if the team lost the rest of its games, but skipper Pete Mackanin, who recently had his interim tag removed, will have his young squad playing hard as usual.
Young, fun Phillies
One of those kids grinding it out for Philadelphia is Darnell Sweeney, the 24-year-old second baseman who came over from Los Angeles in last month's Chase Utley trade. With consistently high strikeout rates in the minors, Sweeney doesn't seem ready for primetime yet, but it would be more fun if the Phillies started him instead of sending out the perfectly mediocre Andres Blanco to play the keystone every day. Besides being young, Sweeney's combination of patience at the plate and speed (32 stolen bases in the minor leagues this year) make him someone worth investing playing time in.
Someone we have a better chance of seeing this week is Aaron Altherr, the young outfielder whom we featured in our last Phillies preview. He's been playing regularly in September (due in part to the injury Domonic Brown suffered on Ruben Tejada's inside-the-park home run earlier this month) and just showed off his skills with a four-hit day in Washington that included two home runs (one of the inside-the-park variety) and five RBI. Altherr's five home runs in 33 big league games this year speak well of his chances to become an impact player in the not-too-distant future.
Meanwhile, Cody Asche has seen his stock drop in 2015 due to his failure to improve upon a 2014 campaign that was almost entirely spent in the majors. This season, the third baseman is walking less (six percent) than he did last year while only hitting for slightly more power (.399 slugging). With poor defensive marks and an 87 wRC+, Asche isn't looking like a big part of Philadelphia's future, but he has perked up lately with four home runs in his last 11 games.
Everyone do the roster crunch
New York's close race with the Dodgers should be enough to convince Terry Collins to start most of his regulars down the stretch, but the tough decisions that come with shrinking the expanded roster back down to 25 men could have an impact on lineup construction. In the upcoming days, Mets fans will be torn on subjects like which backup catcher the team should bring to the postseason or whether Eric Young Jr.'s speed is important enough to warrant a spot on the bench. A standout performance or two during this final week of play could have an impact on the front office's decisions.
I know I'm especially curious about Young, since he seems to score a run every time Collins inserts him into a game. In fact, since joining the Mets in September, Young has had 12 games in which he's played but has not received an at-bat. In eight of those games, he's scored a run. Young also has two stolen bases in that span, and he could sneak onto the postseason roster if the Mets feel comfortable with one less pinch-hitter.
What is Colon's role?
There are also roster questions with regards to the starting rotation. Collins recently made it clear who his top three rotation guys would be, but that announcement didn't surprise anyone. The more intriguing development has been Jon Niese's willingness to go to the bullpen after grinding it out in New York's rotation during the rough times. It's kind of sad to see Niese fail to crack the rotation after being around for so long, especially since his likely replacement is a much younger lefty in Steven Matz. On the other hand, Niese has not been an effective player since July and the back end of the bullpen has been a major questions mark. It's a good fit, and the Mets would do well to get Niese as many relief appearances as possible during this last week to get him used to the new role.
Someone who could join Niese in the bullpen is Bartolo Colon. The ancient right-hander has been pretty amazing lately with a 1.65 ERA since August 26, but it looks like he's going to be relegated to long relief duty during the postseason. He could still play a very big role, though, as injuries still happen in October and we know the Mets are still going to err on the side of caution when it comes to their young pitching.
Colon will look for another dominant start against the Phillies tonight while David Buchanan takes the hill for the other guys. The young right-hander has allowed just two runs in each of his last two starts, but his ERA for the season is an insane 7.96 due to an outing last month in which he allowed 11 runs to Arizona in fewer than two innings. Because he's been bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and the majors this year, Buchanan has only faced the Mets once in 2015. That was back on April 14, when he allowed five runs in five-and-two-thirds innings.
|Date||Time||Television||Mets Probable Starter||Phillies Probable Starter|
|September 29, 2015||7:05 PM||SNY||Bartolo Colon||David Buchanan|
|September 30, 2015||7:05 PM||SNY||Steven Matz||Alec Asher|
|October 1, 2015||7:05 PM||SNY||Logan Verrett||Jerad Eickhoff|
On Wednesday we'll see Matz make his seventh major league start against another young Phillies pitcher who doesn't strike out many opponents. This one's name is Alec Asher, and he was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade on the last day of July. The 23-year-old right-hander got off to a rough start upon being promoted to the big leagues at the end of August, but now he's fresh off of a dominant seven-inning outing in Miami in which he allowed just one run with four strikeouts and one walk. Hopefully the robust, righty-crushing Mets lineup puts Asher back on the struggle bus.
The series finale will begin with Logan Verrett in the role of Niese and Jerad Eickhoff playing Phillies pitcher number three. Eickhoff was another guy involved in that Hamels deal, and he was pretty decent in back-to-back starts versus the Mets in late August. The 25-year-old has been even better in September, though, with three runs allowed total in his last three starts. Last time out he even struck out 10 batters in a dominant win over Washington. That's enough to make Eickhoff the top Phillies pitcher to watch as the Mets wrap up the season series with their on-again, off-again rivals.
Prediction: Mets win two of three.
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