It stinks that the Mets weren’t able to have more success in Washington, but with the Nationals out of the way, Terry Collins’ team has a golden opportunity to pull ahead of St. Louis in the Wild Card race over the final 16 games of the season. Of those 16, the first nine are at home against Minnesota, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, which is perhaps the most ideal slate possible for a team like the Mets that is trying to win as many games as possible down the stretch. The Twins and Braves have the two worst records in baseball and the Phillies are at the bottom of the majors in run differential. If New York isn’t more than one game ahead of the Cardinals in the Wild Card standings by the end of these nine games, you can safely say that the team blew a major opportunity.
That’s not to say that Twins don’t have any good players. We know that the Mets are perfectly capable of dropping games to bad teams, but this is crunch time. New York has everything on the line and Minnesota has nothing on the line. Anything less than a three-game sweep will be considered a disappointment.
One guy who could flip the script on the Mets is Brian Dozier, the second baseman who was so mediocre in the first half of the season that he missed the All-Star Game. Minnesota sent Eduardo Nunez to represent in San Diego instead, and that looks pretty funny now, and not just because Nunez was traded to San Francisco two weeks after the break. While Nunez continues to put together a very nice campaign for someone who was a part-time player for years prior, Dozier has erupted into one of the top middle infielders in baseball during the second half.
Following the All-Star snub, Dozier has hit .328/.381/.749 with 27 home runs and eight stolen bases to boot. He’s riding a 19-game hitting streak, but the Mets have to be considered lucky to run into him now. During the first week of September, Dozier went positively nuclear with seven home runs in five games against the White Sox and Royals. Of course, Minnesota only won one of those games because they allowed double-digit runs to their opponents during the other four. It’s yet another case to point to if someone thinks that one man can carry a baseball team.
So who else can hurt the Mets this weekend? Joe Mauer hasn’t slugged over .400 since 2013, but he can still hit line drives and get on base with the best of them. The veteran from St. Paul sat out most of this week with quad soreness before returning to the lineup on Thursday and going 0-for-4 in a win over Detroit.
Right fielder Miguel Sano is a blossoming power hitter who always has the chance to be dangerous, but he’s going to miss this series with a back injury. Instead, we can expect to see Puerto Rican slugger Kennys Vargas in the middle of the order for Minnesota. The 26-year-old has spent most of this season at Triple-A Rochester, but he’s taken advantage of his time in the big leagues with seven home runs and a 1.007 OPS in 129 plate appearances. Previously in his career, Vargas has struggled to maintain his high minor league on-base percentage in the majors, but in this recent stint, he has maintained a 16-percent walk rate, so maybe his time has truly come.
Of course, the Mets have their own substitute player who has recently grabbed his share of the limelight. Bronx native T.J. Rivera has been thrust into the starting lineup as Wilmer Flores continues to miss time with injuries sustained when he collided with Atlanta catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The local kid responded with three hits including his first major league home run to help the Mets avoid what could have been a disastrous loss in Washington on Saturday night.
It will be interesting to see how the Mets handle second base when Flores is cleared for action. The incumbent is one of the worst hitters the Mets have against right-handed pitching, and while Rivera is also right-handed, he at least has handled same-handed hurlers better in a small sample size.
Another position that the Mets can afford to experiment with is right field, where Jay Bruce has been absolutely miserable as of late. However, Terry Collins refuses to bench the former Reds All-Star, so hopefully he can rediscover the power stroke that made him such a hot commodity at the trade deadline.
Important stats: 44.2 IP, 42 K, 28 BB, 10 HR, 9.27 ERA, 6.25 FIP, 2.01 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (93 mph), two-seam fastball (93 mph), curveball (81 mph), changeup (84 mph)
The 22-year-old Puerto Rican pitching prospect made his major league debut in late April, only to be sent back down to the minors following four mediocre starts. Berrios has pitched pretty well with Triple-A Rochester this year, registering a 2.51 ERA in 111.1 innings with 125 strikeouts and 36 walks, but he’s had serious trouble adjusting to the majors since being called back up at the start of August. After achieving his first career quality start on August 1 against Cleveland, the youngster has failed to finish the sixth inning or allow fewer than four runs in his last six outings.
Mets opponent: Last Saturday in Atlanta, Bartolo Colon gave up the same number of home runs (two) that he allowed in the entire month of August. That’s pretty impressive considering that the sexy one made six starts in August, but also surprising because the Braves have had so much trouble hitting home runs this year. No matter how you look at that nugget, the Mets have a good chance at scoring a victory on Friday night if Colon can continue to pitch as consistently as he has for the past two months.
Important stats: 163.1 IP, 129 K, 46 BB, 18 HR, 3.53 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 1.23 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (93 mph), slider (84 mph), changeup (85 mph)
The Mets haven’t seen a lot of Santana throughout his career, outside of that one season he spent with the Braves in 2014. Rest assured, one of baseball’s most durable starters is still getting his job done at age 33. Home runs and walks are a couple of issues that have followed Santana since his days with the Angels, but he makes up for them with consistently low BABIP numbers that are caused by his low ground ball rate and tricky slider. This year, Santana has grown stronger as the season wears on, with a 2.52 ERA since July 1.
Mets opponent: This is your weekly reminder that Seth Lugo is pitching way over his head and will probably run out of magic at the worst possible time. Hopefully not during this start, though. We’re probably talking about Lugo a little differently if the hard ground ball he allowed to Dansby Swanson with the bases loaded last Sunday went for a single instead of a double play, but who cares? Lugo has given the Mets seven quality innings in each of his last two starts and has a 2.27 ERA since joining the rotation in late August. Let the good times continue to roll.
Important stats: 131.0 IP, 90 K, 48 BB, 19 HR, 5.08 ERA, 4.79 FIP, 1.54 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), two-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (84 mph), changeup (83 mph), curveball (81 mph)
After a thoroughly mediocre first two years in the majors, Gibson had a really nice season in 2015 with a 3.84 ERA and 53-percent ground ball rate. The tall right-hander has not been able to repeat the performance this year. He’s getting fewer ground balls, allowing more home runs, and he still allows far too much contact for someone who walks more than three batters per nine innings. Gibson had one of his best starts of the season on Tuesday with eight frames of one-run ball against Detroit, but before that he had four straight outings with either four or five runs allowed.
Mets opponent: The Mets haven’t announced who will make the start in the series finale. This spot used to belong to Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero, but deGrom is still working his way back from forearm soreness and Montero was lifted from the rotation due to ineffectiveness. The top three options to pitch on Sunday are Logan Verrett, Sean Gilmartin, and Gabriel Ynoa, who would be making his first major league start.
Prediction: Mets sweep!