The New York Mets (67-66) will embark on their penultimate road trip of 2019 as they try to save their season against the Philadelphia Phillies (69-63). The Mets will be looking to flip the script after the Phillies beat them in nine of the first 13 games they’ve played against each other this year. This includes New York losing six of the last seven they’ve played against Philadelphia, and six straight overall at Citizens Bank Park, a streak which started with the Steven Matz first inning implosion back on April 16.
The Mets squandered a golden opportunity to gain ground and potentially overtake the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card race, instead getting swept and suffering a near-fatal blow to their chances. Tuesday night’s opener featured some history as Pete Alonso connected on his record-breaking 42nd home run of the season, which set a new single-season mark for the franchise. The good feelings lasted exactly two batters into the next frame, when Addison Russell hit a two-run home run off Marcus Stroman to put the Cubs ahead for good. Chicago added a two-run shot by Javier Baez and tacked on a run later, while J.D. Davis threw in a solo home run of his own in the ninth. The end result was a demoralizing 5-2 defeat.
Despite the step back, the team at least knew that they had their two best pitchers lined up for Wednesday and Thursday. Unfortunately, Noah Syndergaard gave them the worst start of his major league career. Thor was lit up for 10 runs (nine earned) over three innings of work. To their credit, the bullpen combination of Paul Sewald, Brad Brach, Edwin Diaz, and Luis Avilan blanked the Cubs, which allowed the team to claw their way back into the game after putting up a five-spot in the fifth. The team then proceeded to put runners in scoring position in each of the final four innings but only pushed one run across. They threatened against closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth, but in the end came away with a 10-7 loss.
On Thursday night, Jacob deGrom was once again very good but was beat twice by Victor Caratini. After the Mets jumped ahead on a Davis home run in the first—his third consecutive game with a homer—Caratini immediately responded with a solo home run of his own into the right field stands. The Mets failed to score again, leaving six runners on base over the first three innings. Meanwhile, deGrom was cruising up until the seventh, when a couple of singles preceded a three-run Caratini blast that landed in the Coca Cola Corner. In the end, the Mets lost 5-2.
The defeat dropped the Mets five games back of Chicago with just 29 games to go. While crazier things have happened, it’s hard to imagine the team recovering to make a serious push in September. It was a valiant run for a team that found themselves 11 games under .500 and seven games back of the Wild Card on July 12, but the club simply ran out of gas a little before the finish line.
Despite the defeat and the dreary odds, there are still plenty of things to watch for over the last 29 games. After setting a new single-season franchise record, Alonso will continue his march towards the all-time rookie record of 52 home runs, needing ten home runs over the final 29 games to tie Aaron Judge and 11 to surpass him. Meanwhile, Jeff McNeil, following his 0-for-4 on Thursday, is tied with Christian Yelich in the batting title race. Both players own a .330 batting average at the start of play on Friday. Finally, with Hyun-Jin Ryu getting lit up over his last two starts, deGrom finds himself back in the National League Cy Young race in a crowded field that includes Max Scherzer and Mike Soroka. The Mets also could be getting Brandon Nimmo back this weekend, and the rehabbing Jed Lowrie could be close behind as he looks to make his Mets debut in September.
The Phillies, meanwhile, were off on Thursday after punishing the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday in a 12-3 victory. Prior to that, the split the first two against Pittsburgh and dropped two of three on the road against the Miami Marlins. The Phillies are the Cubs’ closest competition right now, sitting two-and-a-half games back in the race and two-and-a-half games clear of the Mets as the two sides square off this weekend.
First baseman Rhys Hoskins has been having a terrible August, which comes at the worst possible time for the Phillies. On the year, he’s put up perfectly decent numbers with a .235/.380/.474 slash line, 25 home runs, a 122 wRC+, and a 2.4 fWAR. When examining the current month, however, he’s hitting .138/.327/.276 with a 66 wRC+ in 87 at-bats. He is walking 20.2% of the time, which is an encouraging sign for his club, but he isn’t displaying much power in August.
Bryce Harper, who just welcomed the birth of his son Krew Aron Harper, is hitting .255/.372/.497 and leads the way with 28 home runs, a .242 ISO, and a 123 wRC+ for Philadelphia. Another first-year Phillie, J.T. Realmuto, is also making a good first impression by slashing .280/.334/.487 with 20 home runs, a 109 wRC+, and a team-best 5.2 fWAR. Jean Segura has battled some injuries in his first year for the Phillies but has a perfectly cromulent .286/.335/.429 slash line with a 98 wRC+ and a 2.7 fWAR.
Friday, August 30: Zack Wheeler vs. Aaron Nola, 7:05 p.m. on SNY
Wheeler (2019): 155.1 IP, 156 K, 42 BB, 20 HR, 4.46 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 1.28 WHIP
The Mets need Wheeler to be much better than he’s been in his last three starts if they want to compete for that final Wild Card spot. In his last three outings, Wheeler has pitched a total of 16 innings and has been charged with 14 runs (12 earned) on 21 hits with just seven strikeouts against seven walks. In a loss against the Atlanta Braves on August 24, he lasted six innings and only gave up five hits, but his four walks hurt him as he ended up allowing five runs (four runs) in total. He also gave up two home runs in a game sixth time this season. Friday will be Wheeler’s fifth time facing the Phillies in 2019. In his previous four starts against them, he’s tossed 25 innings and allowed 10 earned runs on 20 hits. He had his best game of the year against the Phillies on April 23 at Citi Field, when he matched a season high with 11 strikeouts, tossed seven shutout innings, and hit his only home run of the year.
Nola (2019): 168.1 IP, 187 K, 62 BB, 22 HR, 3.53 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 1.21 WHIP
The Mets will catch Nola as he’s finally rounding into form after a rough first half. Since his ERA hit a season high of 4.89 on June 15, he’s managed to lower it by over one-and-a-half runs. August has easily been his best month so far in 2019, as he’s posted a 2.73 ERA and a 2.67 FIP with 34 strikeouts in 33 innings. He’s gone seven innings in four of his last five starts in August and has yet to allow more than three earned runs. Despite another quality start, he took his fourth loss of the year in his last appearance against the Marlins on August 25 after throwing seven innings of three-run ball with seven strikeouts. After a rough first outing in 2019 against the Mets (four innings, five earned runs, seven hits, three walks, six strikeouts), Nola has dominated them in his last two starts, going a combined 13.2 innings while allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and striking out 16.
Saturday, August 31: Steven Matz vs. Jason Vargas, 4:05 p.m. on SNY
Matz (2019): 128.2 IP, 122 K, 38 BB, 22 HR, 4.06 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 1.30 WHIP
Matz enters Saturday with the fourth-best fWAR among National League starting pitchers in the second half. Despite another inconsistent year from the Long Island left-hander, Matz has put together a great string of starts here, aside from his loss in Pittsburgh on August 2. In his last four appearances, he owns a 1.89 ERA and a 3.37 FIP with 19 strikeouts in 19 innings. His last time out, Matz held Atlanta to just two hits, but a Josh Donaldson home run was too much for his team’s dormant offense to overcome. He struck out six and walked one on the afternoon, and it was the second time in three starts that he held his opponent to just two hits. Citizens Bank Park has not been kind to Matz, but he will need to overcome those demons and keep his team in the game. In two starts in Philadelphia this year, Matz has gone a combined 4.1 innings and allowed 15 runs (13 earned) on 14 hits with four walks and one lone strikeout. He’s given up five home runs in those two starts.
Vargas (2019): 123.1 IP, 96 K, 49 BB, 17 HR, 4.09 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 1.27 WHIP
Well, well, well, we meet again, old friend. The Mets will get their first look at Vargas on the opposing team since unloading him prior to the trade deadline. Since joining the Phillies, Vargas has made five starts and has a 4.34 ERA, a 4.76 FIP, and a 1.28 WHIP as he searches for his first win in Philadelphia. The left-hander gave up four earned runs on seven hits with four strikeouts in his last start against the Pirates on August 26. His first start in Philadelphia was his best start, as he limited the Chicago White Sox to two earned runs on five hits over 6.1 innings in his debut on August 2 at Citizens Bank Park. Four of his five starts since the trade have come in front of the home crowd, with his team winning two and losing two.
Sunday, September 1: Marcus Stroman vs. Zach Eflin, 7:05 p.m. on ESPN
Stroman (2019): 150.1 IP, 124 K, 47 BB, 15 HR, 3.29 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1.30 WHIP
Stroman hasn’t been bad since the trade, but the Mets will quite simply need him to be better. He got off to a great start with four shutout innings in his last outing against the Cubs, but he surrendered a two-run home run in the fifth and another in the sixth to put his team in too deep a hole for them to escape. It was the second time he’s given up two home runs in a start since joining the Mets, and he has now served up five home runs in five starts for New York after giving up 10 long balls in 21 appearances for the Toronto Blue Jays. Stroman does not have much experience facing the Phillies and has posted a 1.86 ERA against them in 9.2 innings in his career.
Eflin (2019): 128.0 IP, 103 K, 36 BB, 21 HR, 4.50 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 1.38 WHIP
Eflin is coming off his best start since resurfacing after spending some time coming out of the bullpen. In six innings against the Marlins on August 24, Eflin was charged with two earned runs on six hits. He did not walk a batter—though he did hit one—and he struck out two as he picked up his eighth win of the year. Prior to that, Eflin went 3.2 innings and allowed three earned runs on seven hits with two strikeouts and two walks. Eflin had a solid stretch in early June but has struggled to regain that form since then. In 12 appearances since June 24—a mix of starts and relief outings—Eflin has a 7.93 ERA and a 6.09 FIP with 30 strikeouts and 14 walks in 42 innings.
Prediction: The Mets aren’t able to get payback as they drop two of three in Philadelphia.
How will the Mets fare in their three game series against the Phillies?
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The Mets jump ahead of the Phillies with a three-game sweep!
The Mets get a small measure of revenge as they take two in Philadelphia.
One step forward, two steps back as New York drops two out of three.
The freefall continues as the Mets are swept again in Philadelphia.