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The Mets can make Arizona’s Wild Card defense even tougher

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The Diamondbacks are slipping in the standings, so they ought to take New York seriously.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Arizona Diamondbacks Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the Mets did it again. They lost on a Sunday and blew their chance to make up ground on the Marlins, who despite their mediocrity are still six games ahead of New York for second place in the National League East. Next up for Terry Collins and his rag-tag bunch are the Diamondbacks, a team that is objectively better than Miami. However, Arizona could be ripe for an upset since they were just swept in Minnesota by a combined score of 27-8. While that result might make the team more focused on beating the Mets, it also allowed Bartolo Colon to defeat the last major league team that he had never before vanquished.

The Snakes will see this series as a way to reestablish dominance in a Wild Card race that they now lead by just two-and-a-half games over Milwaukee. With a lineup that contains one of the best players in baseball in Paul Goldschmidt, a rising star like Jake Lamb, and the recently acquired J.D. Martinez, Arizona has a lineup that’s worthy of the postseason, even if A.J. Pollock hasn’t bounced back from a lost 2016 as well as some thought he would.

Perhaps the most underrated member of Arizona’s offense is David Peralta, who is currently the team’s leadoff hitter. Two years ago he hit a somewhat fluky .312/.371/.522 before suffering wrist issues in 2016 as well as a drop in walk rate that caused his wRC+ to slip from 137 all the way down to 84. This season, the 30-year-old lefty has bounced back with the best contact rate of his career, and that makes his .303/.356/.470 hitting less reliant on BABIP. While he needed a .368 BABIP to hit .312 in 2015, he’s still hitting above .300 with a .334 BABIP in 2017.

A finger injury to Chris Owings has weakened the bottom of the Arizona lineup, but it doesn’t matter that much considering the production of the top five hitters as well as a breakout offensive campaign by shortstop Ketel Marte. The Diamondbacks are more likely to be held back by a bullpen that relies too much on a 40-year-old Fernando Rodney. Even with just two home runs allowed and more than 11 strikeouts per nine this year, the veteran closer has a 4.81 ERA thanks to his 21 walks in just 39.1 innings.

The good news is that former starting pitching prospect Archie Bradley is killing it in the setup role with 60 strikeouts, 11 walks, and a 0.92 WHIP in 54.1 frames. He might be among the top closers in baseball right now if only he delivered more veteran presents. At least manager A.J. Hinch is wise enough to use Bradley and the left-handed Andrew Chafin more often that Rodney, but he’s still lacking in relief depth. David Hernandez, who pitched for the Angels before the trade deadline, got off to a great start with his new team but has surrendered four runs during his last two outings.

The Mets will counter with a hopefully functional platoon of Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo that has finally come to fruition now that all pending free agent outfielders have been traded away. While Nimmo has shown very little power at the big league level, he’s got a .392 on-base percentage in 51 plate appearances this year. I can see him being like Arizona’s Gregor Blanco if everything breaks right. Blanco in the past has been a solid defensive outfielder who draws a ton of walks despite never hitting more than five home runs in a season.

Meanwhile, Mets fans are still hoping that Lagares can regain his magical 2014 form in which he supplied merely average offense but unleashed a ton of value by having one of the best defensive seasons in club history. At 28 years old, though, the window for Lagares to be that good in center field again will soon be closing.

In the bullpen, fans have the return of Tommy Milone to look forward to. He’d probably be more effective than a couple of current starters right now, but it makes sense for the Mets to give their younger guys a chance to shine and fail. Now that he’s healthy, Milone is available to give Jerry Blevins a break against left-handed opponents or mop up after the next Chris Flexen outing.

Probable pitchers

Monday, August 21: Taijuan Walker vs. Robert Gsellman, 7:10 p.m. on SNY

Walker: 115.0 IP, 103 K, 41 BB, 14 HR, 3.83 ERA, 4.21 FIP, 1.31 WHIP

This former Seattle prospect is trying to put together a great season for his new team after being dealt to Arizona along with Marte last November. In 2015 and 2016, Walker put up decent strikeout-to-walk ratios, but his ERA and FIP both rose above 4.00 due to big home run totals. The grass has been greener in Phoenix so far, as he’s on track to post the best full-season ERA of his career, but his last two starts have been pretty lousy with five strikeouts, five walks, and 10 runs allowed in 10 innings.

Gsellman: 81.1 IP, 59 K, 29 BB, 14 HR, 5.98 ERA, 5.18 FIP, 1.60 WHIP

A Seth Lugo shoulder injury allowed Gsellman to rejoin New York’s rotation last Wednesday, and he responded with a decent outing against the Yankees. The California native didn’t do a good job getting ground balls, and he walked more batters than he struck out, but he still got through five-and-one-third innings against a good lineup with only two earned runs allowed. That’s pretty much all the Mets can ask for considering how poorly Gsellman pitched in late June before going down with a hamstring injury.

Tuesday, August 22: Patrick Corbin vs. Steven Matz, 7:10 p.m. on SNY

Corbin: 144.0 IP, 140 K, 41 BB, 22 HR, 4.25 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 1.47 WHIP

Back in the second half of 2015, Corbin looked great in his return from Tommy John surgery, but he failed to carry that momentum through 2016, as he walked nearly four batters per nine innings and finished with a 5.15 ERA. This year, the southpaw appears to be back on track with improved strikeout and walk rates as well as back-to-back scoreless efforts against the Cubs and Houston in his last two outings. Corbin’s stats would look even better if not for a disastrous May in which he allowed 26 runs in 26 innings, including four runs in six frames against the Mets.

Matz: 66.2 IP, 48 K, 19 BB, 12 HR, 6.08 ERA, 5.03 FIP, 1.53 WHIP

Matz starts are getting harder and harder to watch. After a passable performance in Philadelphia on August 12, the lefty was destroyed by the Yankees on Thursday in a loss that doomed the Mets to a four-game sweep. With six earned runs allowed in fewer than four innings, Matz has pushed his ERA up to 6.08, and fans have to be wondering how much longer he’ll stay in the rotation. Once another injured hurler rejoins the roster, it might be time to give Matz a break.

Wednesday, August 23: Zack Godley vs. Chris Flexen, 7:10 p.m. on SNY

Godley: 112.0 IP, 119 K, 36 BB, 10 HR, 3.13 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 1.09 WHIP

We didn’t know if Godley was for real when he held the Mets to one run in six-and-two-thirds innings back on May 15. However, now that he’s continued to pitch well in the 15 starts since then, it’s safe to say that the Tennessee product is one of the most underrated hurlers in baseball. He’s one of those rare guys who can strike out a batter per inning and still get a ton of ground balls, but lately he’s been bitten by the home run bug with four allowed in his last three games. Still, the surprise excellence of Godley is a big reason why Arizona continues to hold a coveted Wild Card spot.

Flexen: 22.0 IP, 14 K, 16 BB, 5 HR, 6.55 ERA, 7.27 FIP, 2.00 WHIP

Flexen put up some seriously intriguing numbers at Double-A Binghamton earlier this year, but lately it’s become apparent that he needs some more seasoning before he’s ready to be an effective arm at this level. On Friday against Miami, the 23-year-old did enough to keep the Mets in the game, but he also walked four batters compared to one strikeout. That poor ratio meant that his FIP stayed higher than his ERA, which is pretty rare for a guy with an ERA as high as Flexen’s.

Thursday, August 24: Robbie Ray vs. Rafael Montero, 12:10 p.m. on SNY

Ray: 118.2 IP, 151 K, 58 BB, 16 HR, 3.11 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 1.23 WHIP

The Mets are lucky they missed Ray in their previous meeting with the Diamondbacks, because right after that series, the lefty went on a crazy three-start run in which he was the best pitcher in baseball. With zero runs allowed, 25 strikeouts, and three walks in 23.2 frames, Ray was nearly untouchable during the last 11 days of May. He eventually cooled off towards the end of June when he started giving up more home runs and walks, but Ray still has the potential to dominate on any given day. Against the Mets, he’ll be making his first appearance since being hit in the head with a line drive on July 28.

Montero: 77.1 IP, 79 K, 40 BB, 10 HR, 5.47 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 1.73 WHIP

Just when I thought I was out on Montero, he drags me back in. On Saturday night, he pitched six innings of one-run ball for his second straight solid outing. Somehow, despite that lousy ERA and horrifying WHIP, he’s back on the 2018 rotation radar. That status might be just for today, or it might be for the rest of the year. Either way, the wild Montero ride is one of the weirdest stories for Mets fans to follow as the team battles down the stretch.

Prediction: Mets win one of four.

Poll

How will the Mets fare this week against the Diamondbacks?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Slay the Snakes for a sweep!
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Win three of four.
    (0 votes)
  • 24%
    Keith’s favorite: a banana split!
    (23 votes)
  • 34%
    Win one of four.
    (32 votes)
  • 17%
    Whoops! Gotta get ready for my snake draft.
    (16 votes)
  • 14%
    Pizza!
    (14 votes)
94 votes total Vote Now