The New York Mets (67-63) have no time to dwell on being swept over the weekend as they welcome the Wild Card-leading Chicago Cubs (69-61) to Citi Field for a critical three-game set. The Mets visited Wrigley Field in June and split four games with the Cubs. New York trails Chicago by two games for the second Wild Card spot entering play today.
The Mets entered the weekend after sweeping a very tough Cleveland Indians team, but they got a taste of their own medicine against a tough Atlanta Braves team as they dropped all three. On Friday, the bats didn’t so much go silent as they didn’t bother showing up against struggling Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz. Through five, the club couldn’t muster a single run while Jacob deGrom finally blinked and let up a run in the sixth. With his pitch count approaching 100, Mickey Callaway let deGrom bat to lead off the bottom of the frame, and he took matters into his own hands by connecting on a game-tying home run. The contest marched along with neither team scoring, although the Mets squandered two significant opportunities in the tenth and eleventh. With Callaway burning through most of his bullpen, he called on Jeurys Familia to pitch a third straight night, and Atlanta took the lead. In the end, the Mets didn’t have another comeback in them as they fell 2-1 in 14 innings despite their pitchers tying a major league record with 26 strikeouts in the game.
Saturday night’s loss was similar in the sense that fans got to witness some history before being treated to some disappointment in the end. Zack Wheeler struggled with his command as the Braves built a four-run lead. The Mets chipped away at the deficit and cut it in half before Pete Alonso hit a monumental three-run shot to center field in the fifth to give his team their first lead of the evening. Aside from its importance within the game, it was Alonso’s 41st home run of his rookie campaign, which tied the single-season franchise record for home runs in a single season. The lead was short-lived, as a Todd Frazier error and more ineffective pitching from Wheeler allowed Atlanta to tie it up in the next inning before taking the lead against Brad Brach in the eighth. The Braves tacked on two more in the ninth to put a bow on another bad loss for the Mets.
Sunday’s loss featured another offensive no-show from the Mets’ lineup. Dallas Keuchel stymied New York through seven shutout innings, which gave him 13 scoreless frames against New York. Meanwhile, Steven Matz was once again really good but was beat on a towering Josh Donaldson home run to lead off the second inning. In total, he only gave up two hits as he continued a string of strong starts. Donaldson connected on a second home run in the seventh inning against Paul Sewald, which gave him nine homers on the year against the Mets. The home team attempted to come back in the ninth against Mark Melancon and cut Atlanta’s lead in half, but Joe Panik grounded out with tying run on second.
The sweep stung, but it is not the end of the world for the Mets, who still find themselves within striking distance of a playoff spot. While the Philadelphia Phillies did jump them in the standings, they lost two to the Miami Marlins, which included blowing a seven-run lead in the series opener, before recovering with a walk-off win against the Pittsburgh Pirates last night. The Mets are also a half-game up on the Milwaukee Brewers, who took two of three from the reeling Arizona Diamondbacks but fell to the Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals last night at Miller Park.
The Mets have put themselves in a position where the next 12 games will matter as much as any games they’ve played since the 2016 season. Over the next two weeks, the team will be tasked with taking on the three teams directly ahead of them in the Wild Card standings. The stretch begins with three against the Cubs before moving on to three-game sets on the road against the Phillies and Washington Nationals before concluding back at Citi Field with three against Philadelphia. For all intents and purposes, the Nationals don’t matter much at the moment, as they’re five games clear of the Mets heading into Tuesday night.
Though it was an undesirable result, the sweep against the Braves was hardly a back-breaker. Any sweep over the next four series absolutely would be devastating to the team’s playoff chances. As of Monday August 26, Fangraphs gives the Mets a 33.2% chance of making the postseason in 2019, which is largely the result of the club going 22-9 over their last 31 games. Ideally, the team would go no worse than 8-4 over this stretch, which would put them in prime position to make a big playoff push.
Speaking of Chicago, the Cubs had themselves an even worse weekend than the Mets did as they missed a golden opportunity to put some distance in between them and some of their closest competitors. Chicago dropped all three games to to the Nationals, including an extra innings affair on Sunday. To make matters worse, they lost all three at Wrigley Field, where they boast a 44-22 home record—the second-best home winning percentage amongst National League squads. The Cubs have struggled on the road to the tune of a 25-39 record away from the friendly confines.
It’s unclear whether the Cubs will have Anthony Rizzo available for this upcoming series at Citi Field. The star first baseman exited Saturday’s game with a back injury and was not available on Sunday, although the club has not provided further details on his status moving forward. In 125 games this season, Rizzo is slashing .290/.402/.526 with 25 home runs and a 141 wRC+ with a 3.7 fWAR. The Mets will see shortstop Javier Baez, who is having another stellar season while hitting .281/.313/.530 with 28 home runs, a 112 wRC+, and a 4.2 fWAR in 127 games.
Tuesday August 27: Yu Darvish vs. Marcus Stroman, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Darvish (2019): 144.1 IP, 176 K, 51 BB, 30 HR, 4.43 ERA, 4.77 FIP, 1.16 WHIP
Darvish was tagged for a season-high seven earned runs on seven hits over 5.1 innings in a game that the Cubs would eventually go on to win 12-11. He also gave up a season-high four home runs, and he’s now served up an NL-worst 30 long balls in 2019 to go along with his 1.87 HR/9, which is the worst among qualified National League starters. The start was especially discouraging for Darvish, who was coming off his best start of 2019 on August 15, when he tossed seven shutout innings with ten strikeouts against the Phillies. The Mets saw Darvish on June 21 and scored four runs against him in six innings.
Stroman (2019): 144.1 IP, 117 K, 45 BB, 13 HR, 3.18 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 1.30 WHIP
Stroman was on his way towards putting together his first quality start as a Met when hamstring tightness forced him out after just four innings and 62 pitches. He allowed five hits and issued one walk while striking out one, but he was removed with what originally was described as a blister problem. After receiving an MRI, Stroman was pronounced well enough to make his regularly schedule Tuesday night start. In four starts with the Mets, Stroman owns a 4.58 ERA and a 4.78 FIP in 19.2 innings.
Wednesday, August 28: Kyle Hendricks vs. Noah Syndergaard, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Hendricks (2019): 143.1 IP, 122 K, 28 BB, 17 HR, 3.20 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 1.10 WHIP
Hendricks was masterful in his last start against the San Francisco Giants, hurling seven shutout innings while scattering three hits and striking out seven. Ever since his worst start of 2019 in which he was tattooed for seven earned runs on 12 hits in 2.2 innings, he’s gone 14 innings in his last two starts and has been charged with one earned run on six hits with eight strikeouts. Even with his nightmarish seven-run outing against the Cincinnati Reds, he still owns a 2.63 ERA in eight starts.
Syndergaard (2019): 160.0 IP, 156 K, 42 BB, 15 HR, 3.71 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 1.18 WHIP
Syndergaard flirted with a perfect game in his last outing and was generally magnificent while picking up his ninth win of 2019. He retired the first 16 Indians he faced before Cleveland broke through with two singles in the sixth. He was only at 73 pitches through six innings when the rains came and he was removed following a lengthy delay. In total, he allowed two hits while striking out five. Thor is heating up at the right time, which is good news for a team looking to sneak into the final playoff spot. He now has eight straight quality starts since the All Star break, pitching to a 1.82 ERA and a 2.15 FIP in 54.1 innings during those outings. He has a 25.8% strikeout rate and is holding opposing hitters to a .207/.254/.303 slash line in that stretch.
Thursday, August 29: Jon Lester vs. Jacob deGrom, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Lester (2019): 138.1 IP, 134 K, 38 BB, 22 HR, 4.49 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 1.45 WHIP
Lester’s August swoon continued on August 23 as he knocked around by the Nationals. He was charged with six earned runs on nine hits over 4.1 innings for his ninth loss of the season. Coming off a solid six-inning shutout performance against the Pirates on August 17, it was a huge step back for the left-hander as he looks to get his season back on track. In five starts this month, Lester owns an unsightly 8.51 ERA and 4.86 FIP. This includes an outing in which he was battered for 11 runs (nine earned) on August 7 against the Oakland Athletics.
deGrom (2019): 162.0 IP, 207 K, 39 BB, 15 HR, 2.56 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 1.04 WHIP
deGrom is back to racking up accomplishments, much like he did in 2018. In his last start, he reached 200 strikeouts for the third consecutive seasons and the fourth time in his career while reaching 1,200 lifetime strikeouts. He also hit a home run to drive in the lone Mets run in what would eventually end up as a demoralizing 2-1 extra-innings loss. In striking out 13 Braves and hitting the home run, deGrom became the first pitcher in the modern era (since 1900) to strike out 13 and hit a home run in two separate games over the course of a season, replicating a feat he accomplished against the Marlins on April 3. With a little over a month left in the regular season, deGrom owns a share of the National League lead in fWAR (5.6) with Max Scherzer while leading the league in strikeouts (207). He currently ranks second in FIP (2.68) and in K% (31.9%), and fourth in ERA (2.56). His numbers since the All Star break are even more impressive, as he boasts a 1.04 ERA, a 1.67 FIP, a 34.3% K%, and a league-best 2.5 fWAR in eight starts. All this has put deGrom’s name back in the NL Cy Young discussion.
Prediction: The Mets bounce back in a big way and sweep the Cubs.
How will the Mets fare in their three game series against the Cubs?
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The Mets leapfrog the Cubs with a three game sweep!
The Mets creep closer on Chicago by winning two.
The Mets suffer another setback as they drop two of three.
The Mets see their playoff chances suffer a huge blow as the Cubs sweep them away.
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