The Reds did the Mets a favor over the weekend, toppling St. Louis in two out of three games to give New York a leg up in the Wild Card race. The tables will turn on Labor Day, though, as Cincinnati begins a three-game set with the orange and blue crew. Unlike last year, the Mets won’t have a chance to clinch the division in Cincinnati, but they can continue to keep pressure on their rivals with some well-timed hits against a squad that hasn’t been very competitive this year.
Given how the Mets have struggled to keep opponents from stealing bases this season, you’d think that this could be a big series for Billy Hamilton, but the speedster left Sunday’s game against St. Louis with an oblique strain and could be out of the lineup for some time. That’s too bad for the Reds, because Hamilton has transformed himself into a far more efficient player in 2016. Even though his stolen base figures are almost identical compared to last year’s, he’s walking more and hitting fewer fly balls, which has bumped his BABIP from .264 in 2015 to .329 in 2016. If he’s well enough to play, the Mets could be in for some trouble.
One guy who almost certainly will be in the lineup on Labor Day is Joey Votto, one of the most underrated stars in baseball. After being severely limited by injury in 2014, the Canadian slugger has rebounded with back-to-back stellar campaigns at the plate. Votto’s mediocre defense might limit his overall value, but Cincinnati should be very happy with his stratospheric on-base percentage, especially since he still has seven years left on his contract. Although Votto rode the pine on Friday night due to a neck injury, he bounced back by reaching base seven times over the next two games to run his OBP up to .435, a mark only bested by Mike Trout this year.
While Votto kept plugging away with his incredible walk rate during the first half of the season, a lesser-known Reds batter was getting more attention by hitting with massive power. That guy was Adam Duvall, who came out of nowhere this year to hit 23 home runs before the All-Star break despite an OBP of just .288. Not surprisingly, that production has cooled off over the past two months, as the former San Francisco prospect has six home runs in the second half. Still, you can argue that his plate approach has improved over that span. In about half the amount of at-bats, Duvall has 17 walks in the second half of the season compared to just 16 in the first half.
|Date||Time||Television||Mets Probable Starter||Reds Probable Starter|
|September 5, 2016||1:10 PM||SNY||Bartolo Colon||Robert Stephenson|
|September 6, 2016||7:10 PM||SNY||Rafael Montero||Brandon Finnegan|
|September 7, 2016||12:35 PM||SNY||Noah Syndergaard||Anthony DeSclafani|
Important stats: 12.0 IP, 4 K, 4 BB, 2 HR, 3.00 ERA, 5.90 FIP, 1.08 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (92 mph), curveball (79 mph), changeup (86 mph)
Filling in for Homer Bailey on Labor Day, Stephenson hasn’t thrown a pitch in a big league game since making two starts all the way back in April. Even though his ERA and WHIP from that small sample look good, his FIP tells a different story. With Triple-A Louisville this year, Stephenson has walked 4.68 batters per nine innings, which would be a serious issue even if he didn’t also post the lowest strikeout rate of his professional career. Hopefully the Mets will rough up the rookie right-hander in his return to the majors.
Mets opponent: To help make up for the brutal turnaround the Mets are facing between Sunday night’s clash with Washington and the Monday afternoon tilt in Cincinnati, Bartolo Colon has flown ahead of the team to the Queen City so he is properly rested. That’s why he didn’t pinch-hit or pinch-run or whatever is it you fantasize about him doing on Sunday night. The sexy one has been pretty awesome lately with a 2.61 ERA in six August starts, but during his April matchup with the Reds, he only lasted five innings while allowing three runs.
Important stats: 154.2 IP, 127 K, 72 BB, 27 HR, 4.19 ERA, 5.25 FIP, 1.32 WHIP
Favorite pitches: sinker (92 mph), slider (84 mph), four-seam fastball (92 mph), changeup (85 mph)
Although he makes heavy use of a sinker, Finnegan — who was shipped from Kansas City to Cincinnati last July in the Johnny Cueto deal — has seen his ground ball rate drop from 54 percent in 2015 to 39 percent this year. He’s also struggled with his control, which has led to that very high FIP. However, the 23-year-old lefty has been pitching much better lately with at least eight strikeouts and fewer than three runs allowed in each of his last three starts. Last Wednesday in Anaheim, he even managed to pitch seven innings without a walk in what was one of his best games of the season. Perhaps this late-season surge is a sign that Finnegan has what it takes to be an above-average starting pitcher in the majors.
Mets opponent: We don’t know exactly what is going on with Jacob deGrom’s arm, but we do know that there is no structural damage in any of its ligaments. We also know that Rafael Montero will make another start on Tuesday because the Mets are skipping deGrom’s turn in the rotation once again. Back on August 29, Montero walked six batters in five innings against Miami but somehow allowed no runs before the Mets came away with the win. He’s currently on Double-A Binghamton’s roster, but calling Montero up this time will be much easier thanks to the expanded September rosters.
Important stats: 101.1 IP, 87 K, 21 BB, 12 HR, 2.93 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 1.14 WHIP
Favorite pitches: slider (87 mph), four-seam fastball (93 mph), two-seam fastball (93 mph) knuckle curve (81 mph)
This Freehold, New Jersey product missed the first two months of the season with an oblique injury, but he appears to have emerged as a stronger pitcher than he was in 2015. DeSclafani’s walks are down from last year, and like Finnegan he is doing some of his best work near the end of the season. Two starts ago in Arizona, the 26-year-old threw the first complete game of his year while striking out nine batters, walking one, and throwing just 108 pitches.
Mets opponent: Noah Syndergaard was tagged for a couple of runs in New York’s loss to Washington on Saturday night, but the outing continued a positive trend for the heroic flamethrower: He has now gone three straight starts with at least seven innings pitched. That followed a stretch of seven starts with six innings pitched or fewer, so perhaps the narrative of "young arm gets tired late in season" is failing for at least one Mets pitcher.
Prediction: Mets win two of three.