Well, here we are, Mets fans, in a Wild Card Series no Mets fan wanted to experience.
But they’re saying the right things, doing the right things, and ready to battle the West Coast Wild-seed San Diego Padres in a best of three.
Mets outfielder Brando Nimmo was excited to participate in his first postseason event.
“Once you get in, all that matters is who gets hot, and we’re just trying to win, to win that last game in the World Series,” Nimmo said in a pre-game presser.
The team has collectively used the disappointment of being swept by Atlanta last weekend as a springboard – with confidence – into the playoffs.
“The Atlanta series really prepared us heading into this series, a very valuable precursor to the playoffs,” Nimmo said. “I liked the at-bats I had in that series. I’ll definitely be drawing on that experience. Monday, we knew it was a long shot to win the division, but I liked the way we came out and competed.”
Yes, it would have been a more comforting weekend for the Mets to sit back and watch the Braves tangle with San Diego, and all it would have taken is just one win in Atlanta, but it is what it is, and they’re ready to go.
It really shouldn’t have been a question as to starting Max Scherzer in Game One and utilizing Chris Bassit in Game Two, with Jacob deGrom held back in reserve to go if needed in Game Three, or to have ready for Game One of a potential NLDS, but it made for radio talk show fodder in the past 48 hours. After all, Bassit tied Carlos “Cookie” Carrasco for the team lead in wins this year with 15 and had some very impressive outings along the way.
“One of the reasons we have been able to put together a pretty good year,” declared manager Buck Showalter said in a presser prior to the series, “is we have some depth in our rotation. It’s kind of been a strength of our club that they can put their egos aside and do what is best for the team.”
And it gives deGrom a couple of extra days to heal that blister which cropped up of late and gave him some trouble.
Before the Padres start, Scherzer spoke about being slightly out of whack on the mound in Atlanta, which led to a frustrating outing with only a handful of strikeouts while yielding two home runs which doomed the outcome.
“I just needed to clean up little things in my delivery to be consistent where I want to execute pitches,” Scherzer admitted. “I have made this fix before, many times. You just get out of whack throughout the season.”
Always hard on himself, ever the pitching technician, Scherzer breaks it down after every start.
“It’s easy when you win a ballgame, you don’t critique yourself as hard. But when you lose a ballgame you look at everything. It’s how you take a loss in this league. You have to be able to critique yourself and fix what you need to fix.”
Despite the Wild Card status, the Mets have a ton of glass-half-full stats and success stories to feed their confidence.
Winning 101 games, over 100 games for only the second time in their 60-year franchise history is a feather in their collective caps, and remember, they won just 77 games last year, a 24-game improvement that is not a normal upgrade, and a testimony to the team and Buck’s leadership. They last won over 100 games in 1986, when they won the big trophy after a 108-win season, and they won an even 100 games in 1969, their first World Championship.
Showalter now possesses an all-time winning percentage as manager (1,652-1,578 (.511) and is now 19th all-time in managerial wins. He has now managed four teams into the playoffs, just the fourth manager all-time to do so, joining a short list that includes former Mets skipper Davey Johnson, Billy Martin, and Dusty Baker, who guided five teams in October ball.
They’re in the postseason for the first time since that one-game Wild Card loss in 2016, and just the tenth time in team history they’re playing more than 162.
The Padres, which joined the National League in 1969, are appearing in just their seventh postseason. And FYI, while they have appeared in two World Series (1994 and ’98), they’ve never won the Fall Classic.
With all three Wild Card games at Citi Field, the Mets are buffeted by the notion they went 54-27 in games at home this year, their highest Citi Field total in the 13-year history of the ballpark.
The 1988 club finished with the best home record (56-24), albeit at dear old Shea Stadium. The ’86 and 2000 teams won 55 home games, and hey, what a coincidence, they both went to the World Series. Good omen.
Individually, the players boast a long list of positive accomplishments…
Kudos to Jeff McNeil for winning the NL batting title with a .326 average, only the second Met ever to rein in a batting title. Of course, Jose Reyes was the first, batting .337 in 2011, after bunting for a base hit in his last at-bat as a Met (first-go-round, before returning in 2016).
Kudos to Pete Alonso for ringing up the NL RBI title with 131, setting a new franchise mark as well. The big Polar Bear tied for the major league RBI title with Aaron “Mr. 62 Home Runs” Judge, who also batted in131.
Kudos to Francisco Lindor, who set new team records for a shortstop with 26 home runs and 107 RBI. Lindor led all major league shortstops in RBI, was second in walks (59), and third in home runs.
Kudos to the Mets pitching staff for striking out 1,565 batters this year, tops in the majors. Also a new team mark, the previous record was 1,520 Ks in 2019.
Lending itself to that lofty total was the record tie-ing game on September 18th against the Pirates, when four Mets hurlers combined to strike out 20 Bucs. No. 48 in your program, deGrom, led the way with 13 Ks in 6 innings, but his efforts almost walked the plank when Pirates shortstop ONeill Cruz tied the score with a three-run homer off deGrom in the 6th.
Seth Lugo bailed him out and picked up one strikeout. Joely Rodriguez sat down five Buccos to hold them off from further damage, and Trevor May closed it out and helped the club become just the ninth team in history to record 20 Ks in one game. And by the way, the Mets won, 7-3.
After that game, Showalter was fully complimentary of deGrom and his staff, and was most appreciative of their focus on the strike zone.
“It starts with Jake,” Showalter praised. “A lot of good pitches. The thing I’m most proud of we didn’t walk anybody. That’s hard to do in today’s game when people are chasing walks in a lot of cases. Outs are outs, but when you think how hard it is to do and how infrequent it has been, it gets your attention.”
And clearly, one of the team’s MVPs this year has been Timmy Trumpet’s favorite pitcher, Edwin Diaz. The closer who heard a lot of boos when he first came to New York in 2019, and with good reason, returned to his 2018 self and earned NL Reliever of the Month honors for June, July, and August. Diaz became the first reliever to earn such honors three consecutive months since he did so himself back in ’18.
Diaz saved 32 games in 35 opportunities, went 3-1 with a 1.31 ERA in 61 games, and secured 118 strikeouts (which led all major league relievers) in just 62.1 innings. He became the fastest Mets pitcher to accrue at least 100 strikeouts (52.1 IP), and the second fastest pitcher ever to reach that mark. Aroldis Chapman accumulated 100 Ks in just 51 innings in 2014.
The Mets went 51-10 in games the now two-time All-Star appeared. He gave up just nine earned runs the entire season. By comparison, in virtually the same amount of appearances last year (63), in almost the same amount of innings (62.2), Diaz allowed 27 runs, 24 earned, with a 3.45 ERA.
There is at least one stat facing the Mets in this Wild Card series that is most disconcerting. The Padres took four of the six games played this year, and first game pitcher, Yu Darwish, was responsible for two of those wins.
So it’s not going to be easy, Mets fans. It’s going to be Wild.