Last night couldn’t get more brutal for the Mets and their fans. In the middle of a three-way Wild Card race, the team held a three-run lead in the seventh inning against the terrible Braves. Over the next three innings, the Mets not only allowed the Braves to pull ahead, but came inches away from their own comeback victory, only to have the script flipped by one of the most fantastic defensive plays you’ll ever see. Yoenis Cespedes’s potentially heroic two-run home run was robbed by Ender Inciarte, and the Mets went home as losers for the third night in a row.
The good news is that St. Louis and San Francisco suffered somewhat less heartbreaking defeats last last, ensuring that the tie atop the National League Wild Card standings remains in tact for at least one more day. With 10 games left in the marathon season, the Mets still control their own postseason destiny. Seven of those games are against the Phillies.
Just like Atlanta, the Phillies are an old rival looking to ruin New York’s day. They’re also playing pretty well lately, emerging victorious in four of their last five games. Particularly potent has been Odubel Herrera, the club’s lone All-Star who had multiple hits for five days in a row before being benched by manager Pete Mackanin against Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox. Sure, Sale is one of the toughest lefties in the game and Herrera has a .618 OPS against southpaws this season, but even if you believe in the hot hand just a little bit, you have to keep Herrera in the lineup, right?
Mets fans should be a little relieved that Terry Collins isn’t the only big league skipper to make questionable decisions. Of course, the Phillies won that game against Chicago 8-3, but Herrera should be in the lineup and ready to continue his raging hot play against the Mets on Thursday night. He seemed to be growing more powerful as that multiple-hits streak wore on, hitting a double in each of the first three games before homering in the final two.
Is Herrera even the most dangerous player on his own team, though? Tommy Joseph has been seeing regular time in the cleanup spot with Ryan Howard resting a knee injury, and the rookie has taken advantage with two hits and at least one RBI in each of his last four games. On Wednesday against Chicago, he was a key part of Philly’s win with a double and a home run that combined to drive in three runs against Sale. Like many good right-handed sluggers, Joseph is more dangerous against lefties than he is against right-handed pitching.
One more guy for the Mets to look out for this weekend is Roman Quinn, who just made his major league debut with the Phillies earlier in the month. The 23-year-old outfielder was a solid walks-and-steals guy at Double-A Reading this season with 31 heists and a .361 on-base percentage. So far, those skills have translated well, as Quinn has eight walks and three stolen bases in 48 big league plate appearances. Speedy players have always been an issue for the Mets this year, but this one has a chance to be something special down the road as well.
New York is more focused on the here and now, which is why it’s so curious to see Lucas Duda once again fail to see any playing time following his surprise start last Sunday. Even on Wednesday night, when Collins deployed pinch-hitter after pinch-hitter in search of a hero, the shy slugger was nowhere to be found. It’s possible that the Mets made a mistake rushing Duda back to action and that he needs more rest to get ready for the postseason, but there might not be a postseason to get ready for if the Mets keep giving at-bats to James Loney and his .388 slugging percentage.
One statistic even less appealing than Loney’s slugging percentage is the on-base percentage for T.J. Rivera. Right now it stands at .342, which seems nice until you look at his .347 batting average. Rivera has been quite a fun story to follow, and a useful player to boot, especially with Neil Walker out of the season, but you have to wonder how long he can keep up his solid play when he’s taken just one walk in 76 plate appearances. For now, Rivera and his six-game hitting streak belong in the lineup, but if he starts to slide, it should be Kelly Johnson or the hopefully healthy Wilmer Flores getting the nod.
|Date||Time||Television||Phillies Probable Starter||Mets Probable Starter|
|September 22, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||Adam Morgan||Seth Lugo|
|September 23, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||Jeremy Hellickson||Steven Matz|
|September 24, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY, MLBN||Alec Asher||Noah Syndergaard|
|September 25, 2016||1:10 PM||SNY||Jake Thompson||Robert Gsellman|
Important stats: 103.1 IP, 83 K, 25 BB, 21 HR, 5.57 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 4.98 FIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), slider (83 mph), changeup (79 mph)
The Phillies are starting to showcase some more of that young talent we keep hearing about, but there’s still not enough at the big league level to take playing time away from Adam Morgan. Okay, that was a little mean. Morgan is a decent control guy, but he doesn’t miss many bats and is giving up a ton of line drives and fly balls this year. That leads to a lot of home runs and an ugly ERA. He’s been good recently with a 2.20 ERA in three starts this month, but the last time the Mets saw him, they whacked him around for six runs in five innings on August 26.
Mets opponent: During his last outing against Minnesota, Seth Lugo did something he hadn’t done in the majors before: He started a game and walked more batters than he struck out. That didn’t stop him from pitching five innings of one-run ball, though. The 26-year-old now has a 2.35 ERA and 1.04 WHIP despite striking out fewer than seven batters per nine innings. His abilities will be put to the test again on Thursday in a game that the Mets would be desperate to have if only St. Louis and San Francisco would stop losing.
Important stats: 181.1 IP, 149 K, 42 BB, 24 HR, 3.57 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 1.14 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (90 mph), changeup (80 mph), two-seam fastball (90 mph), curveball (77 mph)
The guy that should have been traded in July ended up struggling through August but has been fantastic lately with one run allowed in his last two starts. That includes a complete game shutout against Miami last weekend. Against the Mets, however, Hellickson has been pretty lousy this year with a 6.75 ERA in 20 innings spread over four starts. Hopefully that bodes well for a New York squad that has scored more than three runs just twice in its last nine games.
Mets opponent: Nursing a shoulder injury since his brilliant no-hitter bid against San Diego on August 14, Steven Matz will finally return to the rotation on Friday. He’ll be limited in how long he can go, but anything he can give the Mets is probably better than giving Rafael Montero another shot or hoping that Gabriel Ynoa can repeat his surprisingly great performance from Sunday.
Important stats: 16.2 IP, 8 K, 4 BB, 0 HR, 2.16 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 0.96 WHIP
Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (89 mph), curveball (80 mph), changeup (81 mph)
The Phillies will round out the weekend with two starting pitchers that they acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. Asher had success in the minor leagues as an extreme control guy with very low walk totals, and so far that style has translated well to the majors… in a very small sample size. During his 2016 debut, the 24-year-old pitched six scoreless innings against Washington without striking out a single batter, but he’s followed that up with four strikeouts in each of his last two outings.
Mets opponent: Noah Syndergaard appeared to be on track for Cy Young Award consideration before he was lit up by Atlanta for five runs in fewer than four innings on Monday night. The shellacking came as a huge surprise given Thor’s recent dominance and it perhaps set the tone for New York’s current three-game losing streak. Hopefully the Mets won’t be asking Syndergaard to stop what he started on Saturday, but fans will have full faith that he’ll return to excellence regardless of the circumstance.
Important stats: 49.2 IP, 31 K, 25 BB, 9 HR, 5.62 ERA, 5.93 FIP, 1.47 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (91 mph), two-seam fastball (91 mph), changeup (83 mph), curveball (82 mph), slider (83 mph)
The sexier pitching prospect from the Hamels trade hasn’t gotten his major league career off to an auspicious start, but he has settled down a bit with a 3.09 September ERA after allowing 23 runs in 26.1 August innings. It’s not hard to see what is causing Thompson so much trouble. When you’re not striking out a batter per inning, walking so many guys is going to lead to runs. The 22-year-old Texan didn’t struggle with control too much in the minors, so the Phillies are expecting stronger work going forward. So far, though, six of his nine outings have featured at least three walks.
Mets opponent: Robert Gsellman had another decent start against Atlanta on Tuesday when he allowed two runs while striking out six batters and walking two in five-and-one-third innings. The young right-hander has now gone three starts in a row without finishing the sixth inning, and that can be partially explained by the .455 batting average against him during opponents’ third trip through the batting order. As a ground-ball pitcher who doesn’t strike out many batters, he’s got to figure out how to get deeper into games if he’s going to factor into New York’s future rotation plans.
Addison Reed has been one of New York’s top relievers all season long, but on Wednesday, Collins made the controversial decision to remove him from the eighth inning with one out and a runner on first in order to match Josh Smoker up with fellow lefty Freddie Freeman. Pitching one day after walking in the go-ahead run against Atlanta, Smoker allowed a single to Freeman that led to the game-tying sac fly. With so many options in the bullpen thanks to the expanded roster, it’s easy to look for the perfect matchup for each opposing batter, but perhaps Collins will keep things simple next time and stick with what got him this far.
For the Phillies, experimenting with young bullpen arms is less of an issue because of their continuing rebuilding efforts. That’s how Michael Mariot ended up earning the save on Tuesday night after the regular closer Jeanmar Gomez nearly blew a four-run lead in the ninth. With the tying run on second base and two outs, Mariot came on and retired Chicago’s Tim Anderson on a ground ball to end the game. The 27-year-old former Kansas City reliever gave up six runs in less than an inning to the Mets in a 12-1 blowout on August 27, but he’s otherwise been quite solid with zero runs allowed in 16 of his other 19 appearances and a 1.42 ERA in six-and-one-thirds innings this month.
Prediction: Mets take three of four.