clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The competition heats up for Mets as Giants come to town

San Francisco presents a stiffer challenge than most of New York's opponents so far.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets have been playing great baseball lately with six straight wins against Atlanta and Cincinnati, but you can bet there are critics out there saying that this streak is nothing but the product of a soft schedule. Well, those doubters are about to get what they want because the Mets play a tougher opponent this weekend in the San Francisco Giants. Whether or not the new matchup ends in a different result for New York is another story, but one thing is for certain. These Giants aren't in rebuilding mode.

While teams like the Reds and the sad, sad Braves had multiple holes in their respective lineups, San Francisco's batting order is loaded from top to bottom with productive hitters. That depth gives the Giants one of the top offenses in the National League with over five runs scored per game and a .779 team OPS. Even at positions like shortstop and catcher where few teams have intimidating bats, the Giants come at opponents with Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey. While Posey is by far the best hitting backstop in the game, Crawford is quickly climbing the shortstop ranks with the way his offense has come along the past two seasons.

Considered a great defensive shortstop from his very first day in the majors, Crawford didn't show above-average ability at the plate until he hit .246/.324/.389 for a 103 wRC+ in 2014, his fourth year in the big leagues. The trend continued last year as he socked 21 home runs and hit .256/.321/.462 while continuing to play excellent defense at shortstop.

As valuable as Crawford and Posey are, both guys are off to mediocre starts when compared to Joe Panik, the Yonkers, New York native and fellow San Francisco draft selection who appears to have second base locked down for a very long time. Unlike that of his middle infield companion, Panik's offense was a factor the minute he arrived in the show and last year he impressed by hitting .312/.378/.455 in 100 games as a sophomore. That average is for real with a walk rate of nine percent and a strikeout rate just below 10 percent. This year, Panik is looking to expand his power game with three home runs already compared with just nine total in his first two seasons.

When you also consider that the Giants have the goofy yet consistent Hunter Pence at their disposal as well as the underrated first baseman Brandon Belt, you start to see why San Francisco fans are so confident that this team can bring home its fourth title since the start of the decade. When former Mets outfielder Angel Pagan is hitting .325/.375/.450 while batting ninth, you know the offense is clicking.

Unlike Giants teams of the past, though, this one might be held back by its pitching. Yes, Sunday's starter Madison Bumgarner is still as impressive as ever and will no doubt cause issues for New York's left-handed-heavy lineup. No, it doesn't hurt that free agent acquisition Johnny Cueto has gotten off to a terrific start with his new team and just shut out San Diego with 11 strikeouts. What could be a problem for San Francisco is the way veteran back-of-the-rotation starters Jake Peavy and Matt Cain have pitched lately.

Neither guy was supposed to regain the form that saw them compete for Cy Young Awards in the past, but on the other hand, both still have the potential to be useful members of the rotation. That especially goes for Peavy, who has been a consistent asset for the Giants since they traded for him in the middle of the 2014 campaign. That is mostly thanks to his excellent cutter that has helped him avoid getting thumped since his fastball and curveball have declined. So far in 2016, though, Peavy has been hit hard with 35 hits and 16 runs allowed in 21 innings. However, he did recover nicely with a quality start versus Miami on last weekend and has been doing a good job limited walks with just two for the season.

Date Time Television Giants Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
April 29, 2016 7:10 PM SNY Jake Peavy Steven Matz
April 30, 2016 4:05 PM SNY, FS1 Matt Cain Jacob deGrom
May 1, 2016 1:10 PM SNY Madison Bumgarner Noah Syndergaard

Cain, meanwhile, didn't have as much fun in his recent start against the Marlins. The 31-year-old right-hander allowed four runs in fewer than six innings to move his ERA to 6.43 for 2016. That's not familiar territory for a guy who used to make 30 starts per year and hold opponents to a .260 BABIP all the time. The past two seasons, though, have seen Cain battle through injuries while opponents barrel up the fastball/slider combo they used to struggle with.

The San Francisco bullpen is also looking top-heavy right now after flexor strain injuries to George Kontos and Sergio Romo have left the bridge to closer Santiago Casilla looking shaky. With right-handed stud reliever Hunter Strickland (0.86 WHIP last year) having a hard time in the early going, manager Bruce Bochy is leaning more on former Atlanta reliever Cory Gearrin to get right-handed batters out.

So how do the Mets stack up against the aspiring champs? Pretty well, considering the starting pitchers they'll send to the hill. Steven Matz has been nothing short of excellent in his two starts since the dud against Miami. San Francisco's lineup, which has four left-handed starters, should be challenge, but one that Matz is ready for. Jacob deGrom only struck out three batters in his return from paternity leave, but didn't struggle very much against Atlanta. It will be interesting to see how he does versus a deeper lineup.

On Sunday, the incredible Noah Syndergaard will start in a high-profile battle against Bumgarner. The man known as Thor is coming off of his worst outing of the season with three runs allowed in six-and-two-thirds innings, albeit with an awesome ratio of nine strikeouts to zero walks. Like the other Mets pitchers, Syndergaard hasn't faced the stiffest competition so far, but if this upcoming outing is anything like the opening series start at Kansas City, we're in for a treat.

As for New York's lineup, it has looked just as deep as San Francisco's lately thanks to the surprisingly hot start of Neil Walker as well as the emergence of Michael Conforto as an every-day hitter. Even David Wright has stayed healthy (knock on wood) and made an adjustment to show that maybe an old dog can learn new tricks.

Both of these clubs are expected to contend for glory in 2016, so this should be a great series.

Prediction: Mets win two of three.

Editor's Note: Win cash in your first daily fantasy baseball league or get your entry fee refunded! Offered in partnership with FanDuel. Here's the link.