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Mets’ Home Field Magic Number at 4, Despite Embarrassing Loss October 1, 2015

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e9e65ede57d06aadce758b40b245c159-originalHansel Robles was bounced from last night’s game against the Phillies for “throwing at” Philadelphia catcher Cameron Rupp. That ejection was controversial because the ball clearly just got away from the fireballing right-hander, but he (along with manager Terry Collins) was ejected because both benches had been warned. Yoenis Cespedes had been hit on the hand in the third by Justin De Fratus; Kirk Nieuwenhuis was hit by De Fratus’ replacement, Adam Loewen in the fifth; and Logan Verrett retaliated in the bottom of the fifth by hitting Odubel Herrera. When the ball got away from Robles and sailed past Rupp’s head on a 2-2 count (despite a sign from Travis d’Arnaud for a breaking pitch), Robles was toast.

A total of 17 pitchers (9 Mets and 8 Phillies) were used; that’s not a record, not even for a September 30th game. Way back in 2007 on the same date, the Cardinals used 10 pitchers in a winning effort over the Pirates’ 8.

The Mets could take tonight’s game; Sean Gilmartin will start with Tim Stauffer tapped to relieve him. Though Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard appeared last night, they should be available to relieve today. Philadelphia will start rookie Jerad Eickhoff.

Thanks to a loss by the Dodgers to Mike Leake‘s two-hit complete game for the Giants, the Mets are one game closer to home field advantage. If the Mets win all 4 remaining games, they’ll clinch home field advantage; LA faces Tim Hudson in the last start of Hudson’s career tonight.

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Mets’ Magic Number For Home Field: 5 (Game 158 Preview) September 30, 2015

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Photo: slgckgc

Photo: slgckgc

Following a masterful one-hit performance by Clayton Kershaw and a 4-1 loss by the Mets, the Dodgers still remain within a few games of home field advantage. The Mets are 89-68; the Dodgers are 88-69. The Mets could thus clinch home field advantage by winning 5 games.

Bartolo Colon‘s stiff neck and Wilmer Flores‘ “little bit” of strep throat (according to Gary Cohen) kept the game close – Ruben Tejada got the start at shortstop and went 1-3 with a walk. If Wilmer really does have strep, he’ll sit again tonight; if he just has a lingering sore throat from cigar smoke, he may be back in the lineup. I was surprised not to see Kelly Johnson stay in the game at short after pinch-hitting, but Terry Collins will probably try him out there again in this series. This can’t be make or break for Johnson, since he’s valuable as a utilityman, so I can only presume that Ruben Tejada’s status on the bench is in question. That’s also surprising, considering Tejada’s reputation as a strong defender, but Ruben has been below average this year at short (his fielding percentage was high but he made 5 errors in 76 games and his range factor is eh). Flores is also below average, but his bat is consistently better than Tejada’s. Having Johnson as a defensive option would allow Tejada to be pulled off the lineup if necessary.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers will face the Giants again today. Sophomore Mike Bolsinger starts for the Dodgers against Mike Leake for the Giants. Bolsinger has a respectable 3.48 ERA but that jumps to 6.88 since his September callup. Leake has a 4.86 ERA since being traded to the Giants; in 5 games with Buster Posey, it’s only 3.41, but in 9 innings with Trevor Brown behind the plate he’s allowed 7 earned runs. (A bit of that is likely due to a huge BAbip split: .222 with Posey, .343 with Brown.) With the Dodgers 5 games away from home field advantage, Don Mattingly is unlikely to put out a day-after lineup. Expect to see closer (and birthday boy) Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t worked since back-to-back games on the 23rd and 24th. Jansen has 34 saves this year.

 

Bullpen Bullets for September 30, 2015 September 30, 2015

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With the playoffs approaching, pitchers are making their cases to be included on the shortened roster for the National League Division Series.

  • Jonathon Niese made his first trip out of the bullpen last night, pitching 1 2/3 innings and giving up one earned run and 3 hits. He left Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera on base, and Eric Goeddel let Galvis come home. Niese allowed a hit to leadoff batter Cody Asche and looked to me like he might not have been totally warm. I expect Niese to get more comfortable in the ‘pen as he gets more work; expect Terry Collins to try him out as a situational lefty, although I think he’s more valuable as an ecumenical long relief option.
  • Speaking of ecumenical long relief options, Logan Verrett starts tonight in place of Steven Matz, who will start tomorrow instead after sleeping on a sofa and getting a stiff back. Bartolo Colon was favoring his neck last night, too; it sounds like the boys might have had a bit too much fun over the past few nights.
  • Hansel Robles hasn’t pitched since throwing a third of an inning in relief of Tim Stauffer on the 25th. Bobby Parnell closed the Understudies game on the 27th. The bullpen trio of Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard, and Jeurys Familia have been idle since the 26th. Expect to see them in relief of Verrett for any lead tonight, particularly since Niese will need to rest after throwing almost 2 innings..
  • Sean Gilmartin had been used in a long role; with Niese being tried out, there may not be room for Gilmartin on the playoff roster, particularly since they both tend to be better against righties. Gilmartin allows a .214/.287/.282 line to right-handed batters vs .272/.330/.359 to lefties; Niese’s split is less pronounced at .274/.340/.421 against righthanders vs .293/.331/.495 to left-handers. Niese’s comfort level getting ready quickly may determine whether he’s used in long relief or as a stuational lefty, but frankly neither of them is a strong pitcher against left-handers. By comparison, the right-handed Robles is pitching .169/.217/.251 to left-handed batters.

The Giants Are Playing to Win (SF Game 156 Recap) September 29, 2015

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With the Mets idle on Monday, the focus turned to west coast baseball and our likely opponents in the Division Series. Entering the evening, the Mets sit at 89-67 and the Dodgers were at 87-69. With 6 games remaining, the Dodgers would need to go 3-3 with the Mets losing every game in order to keep home field advantage in the division series.

Photo: SD Dirk

Photo: SD Dirk

San Francisco denied the Dodgers an opportunity to clinch the National League West last night. Although the Dodgers’ magic number is 2, the Giants are the second-place team, so any win for the Dodgers is simultaneously a loss for the Giants.

Despite a Greinkish start by Zack Greinke (7 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 3 walks and 7 Ks for a game score of 65), the Dodgers couldn’t get the job done. Chris Hatcher, Juan Nicasio, Luis Avilan, Pedro Baez, and J.P. Howell combined for four scoreless innings of relief after Greinke left with a 2-1 deficit. Andre Ethier grounded out off of Santiago Casilla to bring Corey Seager home in the bottom of the 9th. In the bottom of the 12th, Dodgers reliever Yimi Garcia allowed hits to Marlon Byrd and Kelby Tomlinson, who singled Byrd from first to third. Don Mattingly lifted Garcia for left-hander Adam Liberatore to face lefty pinch hitter Alejandro De Aza, who promptly sacrifice flied Byrd home for the win. Garcia takes the loss; Hunter Strickland was the pitcher of record for the Giants.

Alejandro De Aza started the year with Baltimore but was traded to Boston for cash and a prospect after being DFAed in May after hitting .214 in 112 plate appearances. Boston then flipped De Aza to San Francisco for a minor-league pitcher after De Aza hit .292 in 178 plate appearances; the Giants needed his left-handed bat off the bench.

Today’s game will pit Madison Bumgarner against Clayton Kershaw. Despite Bumgarner’s vaunted bat, he’s 2 for 12 against Kershaw, although one of those hits is a home run; Kershaw is 3 for 12 against Bumgarner. Current Dodgers hit .199/.242/.294 against Madison, and current Giants hit .191/.229/.244. Though both pitchers are consistently good, Bumgarner’s numbers tend to be more thinly spread – beyond Scott Van Slyke‘s shocking .483 (9 for 24) against Bumgarner, no one else with 10 appearances has gotten on base at a greater than .273 clip (Justin Turner and A.J. Ellis, both with 33 PAs).

Although a significant amount of Bumgarner’s variance is due to Van Slyke’s surprising success against him, this battle of the pitching titans is difficult to predict. A desire to win the division will likely propel Kershaw to the win, but I’ll be rooting for Madison.

The Mets’ Home Field Magic Number is 6 (Game 157 Preview) September 28, 2015

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Bartolo Colon starts Tuesday against the Phillies’ David Buchanan. Despite some noise about moving Bart to the bullpen, he is 13-2 in-division and 4-0 against the Phillies this year. Colon has posted a 5.80 KBB ratio and a 2.33 ERA in 27 innings against Philadelphia, so it would be foolish not to start him. (Both Philadelphia and the Mets are idle tonight.)

Colon has the chops to go for a complete game. However, Jonathon Niese is moving to the bullpen effective today, so Terry Collins may be looking for an opportunity to get Niese into the game. With rookies Steven Matz, Logan Verrett, and Noah Syndergaard all trying to go as deep into games as possible, it may make more sense to plan to pitch Bart for 6 innings and bring Niese into a clean 7th. Let him pitch 2, see what he can do, and use Jeurys Familia or Hansel Robles depending on the situation in the 9th.

The Mets can clinch home field advantage for the National League Division Series with any combination of 6 wins by the Mets and losses by the Dodgers. The magic number is defined (in MLB) as (163 – Wins by the Mets – Losses by the Dodgers); currently, the Mets are 89-67 and the Dodgers are 87-68. Since the Dodgers have played 155 of 162 games, they could conceivably finish 94-68 by winning every remaining game. That means the Mets could clinch just by getting to 95 wins (6 more). The Mets could lose all 6 of their remaining games and end up at 89-73, but the Dodgers would have to win three games to finish 90-72 (losing no more than 4). The Mets own the tiebreaker (4-3 season series), so it would be incumbent on the Dodgers to win more games than the Mets.

With all of the Mets’ starters rested, they can head into Philadelphia ready to nail down 2 of 3. Of active, qualified players, the Phillies’ OBP leader is rookie Odubel Herrera with an anemic .333. Three players have slightly better OBP and enough plate appearances, but they are Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, and Ben Revere – on the 15-day DL, the 60-day DL, and the Blue Jays roster, respectively. Switch-hitting Andres Blanco has too few plate appearances to qualify for rate stats but is rolling a .356 OBP. OPS leader Aaron Altherr has a .513 slugging average, meaning that he averages slightly over half a base per at-bat. (Walks don’t contribute to SLG.)

Expect this series to continue the trend of trying out players at different positions. Kelly Johnson will likely see work at shortstop, and with Juan Uribe out I’d also love to see Daniel Murphy take a few innings at third. Although Anthony Recker played the hot corner in an emergency earlier this year, Recker likely won’t make the postseason roster anyway, and in any situation in which we need to lift David Wright, playing Murphy at third and Kelly Johnson or Wilmer Flores at second would be a net defensive upgrade.

The Understudies (Game 156 Recap) September 28, 2015

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Saturday night, the Mets clinched the National League East with a defeat of the Cincinnati Reds. Following that win, the Mets played a spring training game in which Jacob deGrom pitched 6 innings and went 2 for 3 and reached on an error. deGrom was relieved by Eric Goeddel, Sean Gilmartin, and Bobby Parnell, who gave up a combined 2 hits and 1 walk. The pitching was helped along by strong hitters, who were in turn helped along by errors from Ivan De Jesus and Joey Votto. De Jesus was visibly uncomfortable in only his 14th Major League start in the outfield.

Kelly Johnson played his first Major League game at shortstop. Johnson had last played a single game at short in 2005 for Richmond (now Gwinnett), the Braves’ AAA affiliate; he played 91 games at shortstop in 2003’s AA campaign. Johnson committed an error in the 9th but otherwise acquitted himself admirably.

Anthony Recker made his first start at first base for the Mets. Recker had previously started at first as a Cub in 2012. Despite doing a goofy-looking Arabesque to make a high catch, he played the schmoe position with grace and aplomb.

Dilson Herrera, though not out of position, made his first start since June. Besides turning a double play and making 5 assists, Dilson also hit a home run and went 3-4 with a walk.

One interesting player who did not get a chance to perform as the understudy was Jonathon Niese. Niese has been officially moved to the bullpen for the playoffs, and it’s likely that Bartolo Colon will join him. Colon will, however, make another scheduled start Tuesday.

The Mets’ Magic Number is Alex Cora (Game 154 Preview) September 25, 2015

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Alex Cora

Alex Cora

With a win over Josh Smith‘s Reds and a Nationals loss to the Orioles, the Mets have pushed their magic number to clinch the division down to 3 (Alex Cora). The Mets are duly thankful to Matt Wieters for bringing Steve Pearce home in the late innings to give the Os the lead, and to Darren O’Day for nailing down the save.

Even assuming the Nats don’t lose another game, the Mets can now clinch in a variety of scenarios:

  • Sweep the wretched Cincinnati team for their remaining 3 games.
  • Give 1 to Cincinnati, take 1 from Philadelphia.
  • Lose two to the Reds, simply win the series against Philadelphia.
  • Lose the next three to the Reds, sweep Philadelphia.

In other news, the Dodgers lead the Mets for home field advantage in their series, assuming both clinch their divisions. The Dodgers are 2 games ahead of the Mets with a Dodgers magic number of 9. Assuming the Mets give up 1 game to Cincinnati, 1 to Philly and 1 to the Nationals, that means the Dodgers have to win six of their final 10 games to clinch home field advantage. The Mets own the head-to-head tiebreaker 4-3.

Noah Syndergaard starts for the Mets in a hitter’s park. Watch Noah’s control numbers – he’s thrown 73 strikeouts to 15 unintentional walks since the All Star Break. Don’t be alarmed if he gives up a few runs, particularly with 2016 American League All Star Designated Hitter Daniel Murphy starting at second base. Noah’s had a solid .273 BAbip, so he may give up a few tonight. Ruben Tejada is starting at shortstop. Ruben has been a sleeper in September, hitting .390/.457/.537 since September 1st in 46 plate appearances, albeit on a .455 BAbip.

Anthony DeSclafani starts for the Reds. In his last five starts, he’s 2-2 with a 2.97 ERA and an 8.0 KBB, despite a .349 BAbip. DeSclafani, like Tejada, is a dangerously unsung part of the team and it’s imperative that our hitters get to him early. #4 hitter Jay Bruce is hitting .229 on the season.

Without Grandpa Burt in Attendance …. (Game 153 Preview) September 24, 2015

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Photo by Bill Kostroun (NY Post)

Photo by Bill Kostroun (NY Post)

Tonight’s game is a replay of July 28th, when a guy from Ward Melville High School, previously best known for having a delicious sandwich named after him, went 3 for 3 with a double and 4 RBIs up against a fellow rookie.

Steven Matz, whose grandfather was shocked and awed at Steven’s performance, has continued to maintain high performance standards since his debut. Meanwhile, Josh Smith of the Reds was laid off after July 4th, only to come back as a September callup. Since then, he’s been used twice in relief – a two-inning, one-hit appearance on September 8 and two runs and three hits in a third of an inning on the 13th – before being moved back into the rotation. In his most recent appearance, Smith started against the Brewers on September 19 and was lifted for reliever Brennan Boesch after four innings, 6 hits, 4 runs (all earned), 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts.

In 18 plate appearances in the July game, Mets had 4 hits and 4 walks (2 intentional). If you remove 3 IBBs from Smith’s 2015 line, his KBB is an anemic 1.17. His AAA numbers are significantly better (69 strikeouts and 23 unintentional walks [3.0 KBB] over 86 1/3 innings pitched), but Smith has been looking outclassed.

Matz faced the Reds only once, allowing 4 hits and 3 walks, striking out 5. Since then, his KBB is at 2.6, so his control has improved since his debut. He’s been in front of a .250 BAbip, which is slightly better than the league average, but has helped his own cause with 3 hits.

The Mets enter with some defensive difficulties and Tyler Clippard has pitched the last three days; though Terry has used Clippard often, expect him to sit tonight unless the game goes into extra innings. Bobby Parnell hasn’t pitched since the 19th, so he’ll probably see some work tonight.

Yoenis Cespedes hasn’t homered since September 14 but is hitting .357 with a 1.114 OPS in his last four games; Michael Conforto is 2 for 12 over the same stretch. Lucas Duda will likely start against the right-handed Smith. Duda is hitting .100 over the last 4 games, but with a .400 OBP due in large part to 5 walks (2 intentional).

The Reds are 0-3 against the Mets with a -7 run differential; in September, they are 9-12, scored 95 runs and allowed 103 for a -8 run differential. Their last series was visiting the Cardinals, so the numbers don’t compare directly, but they were outscored 15-4.

The Mets’ magic number is 5, so a sweep of this 4-game series would leave them in position to clinch with a win in any of three games visiting Philadelphia.

AJ Pierzynski is a double-edged sword (Game 152 Preview) September 23, 2015

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Williams Perez starts tonight against Bartolo Colon in a game that, for the Mets, isn’t must-win. Still, it’s a game the Mets want to win to push their magic number (currently Wally Backman) down in order to clinch before the Nationals come to town.

ASIDE: The Mets’ magic number is 6. Winning tonight pushes it down to 5, meaning that the Mets could clinch just in time by going 3-1 against the Reds and 2-1 against the Phillies, even if the Orioles lose both remaining games to the Nationals. We can’t count on Washington losing to the Phillies, the Reds, or the Braves, so it’s imperative that the Mets force that number into 1967 Sandy Alomar territory.

With rookie catcher Christian Bethancourt out with a thumb injury, A.J. Pierzynski will catch Perez tonight. Pierzynski has been hard on Bartolo Colon this year – 5 singles in 12 plate appearances – compared to his career numbers against Colon (.271/.317/.4o7). Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has also brutalized Bart this year, 7-10 with a triple and two doubles for a .700/.727/1.100 slash line (and a career .550/.571/.750 line).

Pierzynski, though, hasn’t been Perez’s best batterymate. Perez has a season ERA of 5.16, but 5.26 in 66 innings with Pierzynski. With A.J. behind the plate, Perez allowed 3 runs to the Mets in a 6-inning no-decision on the way to a September 12 loss.

Despite Arodys Vizcaino‘s performance last night, the Mets can continue to beat up on the bullpen. Their best bet tonight is to wear Perez out as quickly as possible and get Fredi Gonzalez to go to his pen early.

How improbable is a division win for the Mets? September 22, 2015

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Following a brilliant, but short, start behind Jonathon Niese, the Mets won a 4-0 game against the Braves last night. Terry Collins made some of us hold our breath, lifting Niese after only 88 scoreless pitches, but went straight to the lights-out portion of the bullpen. Addison Reed worked for a few minutes, followed up by Tyler Clippard returning after a five-day layoff. Clippard allowed a single to Pedro Ciriaco and then threw two wild pitches to allow Ciriaco to third, but nonetheless stranded him to hold the 4-0 lead. Since every win counts, Terry brought in Jeurys Familia to close the game.

Last night’s win pushed the Mets’ magic number down into Ed Kranepool territory. It makes sense that Collins is managing this as a must-win series, for two reasons. He obviously lacks some confidence in the Hansel RoblesBobby ParnellEric O’Flaherty portion of the bullpen, but he also wants to have the division clinched before Washington comes to town.

If we sweep Atlanta, then even if Washington doesn’t lose a game, our magic number drops to 5. From there, taking 3 from a four-game series against the Reds and 2 of 3 from a terrible Phillies team clinches the division. Giving up a game to Atlanta means having to sweep the Reds or Phillies instead, or relying on another team to help us, to clinch before the Nationals arrive. Since the end of the Mets series, the Nationals have scored 57 runs and allowed only 28 in 7 games against the Marlins and 3 against the Phillies.

Just one loss to Baltimore gives the Mets significant breathing room, because the Nationals play Philadelphia 3 times, the Reds once, and Atlanta three times before they meet the Mets. A team with some momentum could easily take those 7 games. A number of different possibilities exist to get a loss there:

  • The Sunday (the 27th) 1:35 PM game against the Phillies, following a 4:05 Saturday start
  • The one-day visit to Cincinnati (Monday the 28th) in between Philadelphia and Atlanta
  • The Atlanta series, where a few solid players combined with no remaining off-days might push Washington over the edge

Again, it’s incumbent on the Mets to win their remaining series. One more from Atlanta, 3 from the Reds, and 2 from the Phillies mean Washington only needs to drop one game some time between now and the end of the season for the Mets to win the divsion. This is looking promising.