Schott: Mets Pass First Big Test Of 2016

The Mets’ weekend series with the San Francisco Giants was the first big test of the 2016 season against a perennial National League power, and they passed with flying colors.

The Mets won the National League pennant last season, and the Giants have won three World Series since 2010, so naturally the comparisons for supremacy would be made.

The Giants have won those titles in even-number years. With this being one, the feeling, more so than reality, is that the Giants have some birthright to it.

The Mets showed that their chances of returning to the World Series are greater than San Francisco’s, as they have a more powerful lineup and a deeper rotation.

The Giants, for all the talk about their pitching, are putting a lot of weight on their top three starters, ace Madison Bumgarner and free-agent signings Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain round out the rotation and both are well past their primes.

The Mets, by comparison, are throwing a top pitcher out there every night, with Matz, deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and ageless wonder Bartolo Colon.

For as much nit-picking as there is around the Mets pitchers, be it deGrom’s velocity or Harvey not being where he was last season, they generally keep the Mets in every game.

The Mets have become a power team, while the Giants scratch and claw for every run.

All you have to do is look at the 3-4-5 hitters in each lineup: Mets – Michael Conforto – .365, 4 home runs, 18 RBI, Yoenis Cespedes – .294, 7 HR, 23 RBI, Neil Walker – .307, 9 HR, 19 RBI. Giants – Matt Duffy – .253, 2 HR, 9 RBI, Buster Posey – .273, 4 HR, 8 RBI, Brandon Belt – .300, 3 HR, 17 RBI.

That doesn’t include other Mets power hitters, like Curtis Granderson, David Wright, and Lucas Duda.

The difference in the clubs is that the Giants are built for the playoffs and the Mets are built for the regular season AND, obviously, the postseason.

The Giants showed in the 2014 playoffs that they can ride one hot arm, in that case Bumgarner, and count on him to win multiple games in a series, like he did in the World Series.

It is hard to see that Giants rotation, as it’s presently constructed, being able to get the 95-100 wins needed to make the playoffs.

The Mets, on the other hand, should have no problem winning over 95 games, as they have shown already that they will feast on weaker teams. The regular season is a numbers game, and it’s all about racking up victories, not quality of victories.

In this series, the Mets lucked out that they got San Francisco’s four and five starters, Peavy and Cain, on Friday and Saturday nights, while they got to throw Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom against them.

The Mets torched Peavy on Friday night, putting up a team-record 12 runs in one inning, the third, on their way to a 13-1 victory. Cespedes had six RBI in that inning, including a grand slam.

On Saturday, Cain hung in there for six innings, but was touched up for six runs and seven hits as the Mets held on for a 6-5 win. Conforto was the star in that one, with three hits and three RBI, including a two-run double and solo homer.

The series finale on Sunday had the dream matchup everyone was waiting for, Syndergaard against Bumgarner.

Syndergaard pitched well, but this was the best lineup he has seen since the Royals on April 5.

After sailing through the first few innings, the Giants put up three runs in the fourth, capped by a two-run homer from Hunter Pence, and Pence drove in another run on a single in the sixth to make it 4-0.

Despite not being lights-out, Syndergaard went six innings, and allowed four runs on five hits and two walks, with eight strikeouts.

Mets Manager Terry Collins said of Syndergaard’s outing, “He’s alright, he wasn’t…pretty hard to have your ‘A’ game in the conditions (referencing the cold, damp weather), but he threw the ball fine. I thought at the end, he was starting to lose a little bit, his velocity was down quite a bit. He’ll bounce back.”

Bumgarner was his usual self, as he shut out the Mets for six innings, scattering six hits and three walks, while striking out seven.

The Mets’ biggest chance against him came in the sixth, when he was well over 100 pitches and the Mets loaded the bases with two outs. Asdrubal Cabrera was sent in to pinch-hit in the pitchers’ spot, and he struck out looking at an off-speed pitch to end the threat.

The Giants and Mets traded runs in the seventh, then Buster Posey tore into a hanging slider from Logan Verrett for a homer to make it 6-1 San Francisco in the eighth, and that was the final.

Conforto had a tough day, going 0-for-5, including two strikeouts against Bumgarner.

Collins said of Conforto going against the top pitcher, “It’s no secret, he’s not very fun for a left-handed hitter. He throws across his body so much, and then he comes from a different angle, the ball’s coming from behind you, and it’s a tough at-bat. I thought he did okay, he swung the bat fine. I’m glad he faced him because, when it comes crunch time, he might be a guy he has to face again.”

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