The Mets didn’t get their series in San Francisco off to the best start, but they sure did finish well. On both Saturday and Sunday, Yoenis Cespedes made his presence known with game-changing hits that injected life into a team that is constantly in need of a consistent source of offense. With its best hitter now back in the fray and looking healthy, New York might just stand a chance of making this Wild Card race fun again.
To do that, Terry Collins’s team must take advantage of this final series against the Cardinals. With season series already in the books against San Francisco and Pittsburgh, this will be the last chance for the Mets to make up ground against a National League Wild Card contender that’s outside of their division. That’s a pretty big deal when you consider that New York sits five losses behind St. Louis in the standings. A series loss would put that figure at six or more headed into September.
Back in April, we already knew that returning to the postseason would be a tough task for the Mets due to restocked teams like the Giants and Cardinals getting in their way. Add in the injuries and poor performances that we’ve seen suffered by players like Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson, respectively, and that job only gets tougher.
One player besides Cespedes who has stepped up for the New York offense is Neil Walker. Perhaps the second baseman’s sub-par June makes him too streaky for some fans, but just look at the grission he displayed battling through a back injury this past week! He is also playing spectacularly this month and is on base to set a career high in home runs this season.
Like many Mets sluggers, Walker will be out of the lineup for the start of this upcoming series, but at least it’s for a happy reason, as his wife is expected to give birth in the immediate future. Temporarily taking Walker’s place on the roster will be T.J. Rivera, who gave the Mets some quality contact hitting before he was sent down to Triple-A on Friday. If Rivera starts one game this week, it will probably be on Tuesday night against St. Louis southpaw Jaime Garcia.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have been rolling along with wins in six of their last seven games to help build the significant lead they now hold over the Mets. One player who has been a key factor during that stretch is Jedd Gyorko. The powerful second baseman has five home runs in St. Louis’s last eight games and is enjoying a renaissance campaign after being traded by San Diego during the offseason.
On offense, St. Louis appears to have what the Mets lack: surprisingly dominant performances from players who were previously thought to be mere role players. Just look at what Brandon Moss has done in 2016. After struggling during 2015 in his first season back from hip surgery, Moss is hitting .262/.336/.576 this year with 23 home runs. Most of that damage comes against right-handed pitching, so the Steven Matz injury didn’t come a good time for the Mets.
|Date||Time||Television||Mets Probable Starter||Cardinals Probable Starter|
|August 23, 2016||8:15 PM||SNY||Jonathon Niese||Jaime Garcia|
|August 24, 2016||8:15 PM||SNY||Jacob deGrom||Carlos Martinez|
|August 25, 2016||7:15 PM||SNY, MLBN||Seth Lugo||Adam Wainwright|
Important stats: 142.1 IP, 116 K, 46 BB, 16 HR, 4.11 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 1.32 WHIP
Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (90 mph), four-seam fastball (91 mph), changeup (82 mph), slider (82 mph)
When you’re dealing with a pitcher who is injured as often as Garcia has been, you consider it a win when he makes it into late August with a full workload under his belt. Even though the lefty now has his most games started since 2011, the Cardinals would love if he could get that ERA figure back to where it was last year, when he pitched in only 20 games but was more effective on the hill. The problem is that Garcia is walking more batters and allowing more home runs than he did in 2015. In fact, his latest start in Houston saw him uncharacteristically walk three batters and allow three long balls while throwing 97 pitches in just five innings. Garcia didn’t have any of those problems the last time he faced the Mets. On July 26 of this year, he didn’t allow any walks or home runs, but New York still chased him after five frames with three runs scored.
Mets opponent: Jonathon Niese’s last start wasn’t a complete disaster, so he’s getting another shot in the rotation. It’s not as though the Mets have anyone better to turn to, anyway. Four runs allowed in four-and-two-thirds innings isn’t a great look, but Niese was dealing with the harsh pitching environment of Phoenix at the time. Plus, he did strike out six batters, which came close to tying his season high of seven that he set during his first outing of the season. That performance just so happened to be against these Cardinals.
Important stats: 144.1 IP, 119 K, 51 BB, 11 HR, 3.24 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 1.19 WHIP
Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (95 mph), four-seam fastball (96 mph), curveball (85 mph), changeup (87 mph)
Martinez is reminiscent of New York’s star hurler Noah Syndergaard in that he throws very hard and is able to get ground balls just as easily as strikeouts. The strikeouts were a little easier to come by in the past, though, as the Dominican right-hander is averaging just 7.42 per nine in 2016 after posting a career-high 9.22 mark in 2015. Martinez also sometimes struggles with control, as evidenced by his start against the Mets on July 26, when he walked four batters in five innings and left the game after throwing 106 pitches.
Mets opponent: Jacob deGrom was lit up by San Francisco last Thursday for a whopping 13 hits and eight runs in just five innings. The star right-hander appeared to be on his way to another brilliant outing, but then the Giants suddenly pounced for five runs in the fourth inning and three more in the fifth. With the way deGrom had been pitching, the four-run lead the Mets held through three innings appeared as safe as can be, so that loss did not go over well. Mets fans are very much looking forward to him getting back to domination this week.
Important stats: 151.0 IP, 119 K, 42 BB, 13 HR, 4.71 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 1.36 WHIP
Favorite pitches: cutter (85 mph), curveball (74 mph), sinker (90 mph), four-seam fastball (90 mph)
When we last checked in on Wainwright, he was playing some of his best baseball of the season and looking like the vintage version of himself. Sadly for St. Louis fans, the 34-year-old veteran hasn’t been quite so effective since he allowed four runs in six-and-two-thirds innings to the Mets on July 27. This month, Wainwright had had a couple of dreadful outings against the Braves and Cubs that make you wonder how helpful he’ll be to St. Louis’s postseason push. He seemed to right the ship on Friday with a quality start in Philadelphia, but then again, it’s just Philadelphia.
Mets opponent: Steven Matz’s strained shoulder turned out to be serious enough to warrant a trip to the disabled list. That means that Seth Lugo will make his second major league start on Thursday. Even though the opportunity doesn’t come under the best of circumstances, Lugo deserves it because of the solid outing he had in San Francisco on Friday. With the Mets desperately needing a win, the 26-year-old right-hander allowed just three runs in six-and-two-thirds innings against San Francisco. That effort wasn’t enough to get New York that win, but maybe the team will score more runs for him this time.
With two of their regular starters currently on the disabled list, the Mets could put even more stress on their bullpen in the near future. Collins has recently acknowledged that he’s relying too heavily on guys like Hansel Robles and Addison Reed to get outs in the latter third of games, but there aren’t other reliable options available. Perhaps Jim Henderson can become an alternate choice, as the Canadian right-hander was just activated off the disabled list.
While the Mets have three relief pitchers hovering around 60 innings pitched for the season, the Cardinals only have one reliever besides workhorse closer Seung Hwan Oh who has over 50 frames for the season. That man is Matt Bowman, who St. Louis took from the Mets in the Rule 5 Draft in December. The Princeton alumnus struggled at Triple-A Las Vegas last year with more earned runs allowed than strikeouts (5.53 ERA vs. 4.95 strikeouts per nine), but with the Cardinals he’s getting more swings and misses to go with a dominant 62-percent ground ball rate. Those two factors have combined to make him an effective reliever that the Mets probably wish was still on their side.
Prediction: Mets win one of three.