Giants-Mets NLWC Simply Too Close to Call

If you don't think the MLB Wild Card playoff round has brought increased excitement and drama to the pennant chase, let's just agree to disagree. While many (including yours truly) initially questioned the one game, winner-take-all format when the second wild card team was added in 2012, there is no question the game has been a massive success over it's first four seasons.

Not only has the addition of the second wild card kept many teams in contention later into the season, bringing increased excitement to cities that would have otherwise felt out of it, the game itself has already produced some classic contests. Anyone who watched the back and forth slug fest between the Royals and A's in 2014 can tell you that.

The games have also produced legitimate World Series contenders, with Wild Card game winners advancing beyond the divisional round in three of four seasons. That list includes two eventual pennant winners and one eventual champion (both the Royals and Giants advanced from the Wild Card game in 2014). The 2016 editions look to match their predecessors as must see contests, with a dramatic AL contest between the Blue Jays and Orioles that ended with an extra inning walk-off homer setting the stage for tonight's NL game. 

Tonight, the last two NL pennant winners will face off in a winner-take-all to earn the right to take on the vaunted Chicago Cubs in the NLDS. And my word did the baseball gods shine upon the schedule, granting us the gift of each team's electric ace on the mound.

In his last outing in San Francisco, Syndergaard blanked the Giants for 8 innings, allowing just two hits in a 2-0 Mets victory.
Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

For New York, it will be the now playoff tested wunderkind Noah Syndergaard , the last man standing from what was supposed to be a three-headed pitching monster for the Mets in 2016. With fellow aces Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey lost for the season, the Amazins' will pin their hopes on the very broad shoulders of the flame throwing 24 year-old.

Taking the hill for the Giants, who swept arch rival LA over the season's final weekend to secure their spot in the NLWC, will be a hurler who needs no introduction. I'll give him one anyway. It will be Madison Bumgarner , who etched his name in baseball history with his Herculean efforts over the course of the 2014 postseason. Efforts which began with a 10 strikeout, shut out performance against the Pirates in the NLWC.

Can the Mets overcome the playoff Paul Bunyan that Mad Bum has become? Or will the Giants manage to scrape across enough runs against the man they call Thor to continue their pursuit of yet another even year title? Let's first take a look at how they got to this point, beginning with the home team.

New York Mets

Coming off their first pennant in 15 years, the Mets stormed out of the gate in April, posting a 15-7 record and once again looking like a force to be reckoned with in the National League. Then came a string of injuries and under performance from key players, beginning with franchise third baseman David Wright , who played his last game of the season on May 27th before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. Starting first baseman Lucas Duda also went down at the end of May and didn't again appear until mid-September, a non-factor for most of the season.

Fan favorite Harvey made his final appearance of the season on July 4th after going 4-10 with an ERA near 5 over 17 starts. Michael Conforto , who appeared on the fast track to stardom following last year's postseason and a scalding hot April, came crashing back to earth and found himself in the minor leagues by the end of June. Veteran Curtis Granderson struggled out of the gate and sat with a .199 batting average on May 25th. He hovered in the .200-.220 range with average power numbers before somewhat hitting his stride in July.

Harvey needed a hug, as well as a new thoracic outlet following his 2016 season.

The Mets attempted to fill the offensive void with the deadline acquisition of slugger Jay Bruce , but the former Cincinnati Red was largely a no show before doubling his Mets home run total with four homers in the final week of the season.

The one move the Mets made this past offseason that paid dividends was the extension they granted to the sometimes enigmatic Yoenis Cespedes , who posted a 133 OPS+ in 132 games played this season, highlighted by his 31 homers and .530 slugging. Cespedes was a pivotal force during the Mets run to the pennant last season, and his ability to change a tightly contested game with one swing of the bat should not be downplayed.

In a game where offense will be at a premium, a blast from Yoenis Cespedes could mean curtains for the Giants
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

But who does he have to support him in the line up? Yes Granderson and Bruce are there, but how much help will they be against one of the toughest lefties in the league in Bumgarner? Unless Thor and Bum both go the distance, this game will most likely come down to a battle of the bullpens. Sure, the Mets boast Jeurys Familia , who's led the MLB in games finished the last two seasons, notching an absurd 94 saves during that span. The Giants bullpen has been much maligned, so advantage Mets, right? Not necessarily. Read on.

San Francisco Giants

While New York rode a strong September just to secure a spot in the postseason, for the Giants the Wild Card game was a safety net that became their only playoff option as they leaked oil for the majority of the second half. They spent 106 days in first place during the regular season and led the West by as many as 8 games, but a bizarre few months that saw them lose 17 one run games put a division title out of reach and left them fighting for their playoff lives down the stretch.

Still, they've been in this position before, and it sort of worked out:

In spite of a 30-42 record after the All-Star break, statistically things could look a lot worse for San Francisco. The offense finished the regular season ranked fourth in the NL in both batting average and on-base percentage, while Giants starting pitchers finished fourth in the league in ERA and third in WHIP.

I know what you're thinking though, it's that god awful bullpen! Yes, it was a tight rope act late in games, and it's more than likely they would have hosted the WC game had a few of those late inning leads not slipped away. Still, statistically speaking the Giants relief core stacks up relatively well against the Mets relievers as a whole.

Giants relievers allowed the third fewest runs in the NL (just behind the Cubs and Nats) while New York allowed the fourth fewest. San Francisco ranked fifth in the league in reliever's WHIP at 1.25, with the Mets right behind them at 1.26. The Giants relievers allowed the second fewest walks, with the Mets once again right behind them with the third fewest.

No, the Giants don't have a 51 save closer at the back end of the game, but if last year's Fall Classic showed us anything, Familia is not infallible. And if the Giants playoff runs of 2012 and 2014 taught us anything, the hot hand can get it done closing games in October. Sergio Romo has gone 4 for 4 in save opps since being reinserted into the closer role, and he's only allowed two earned runs over his last 19 appearances.

Diminutive in size, Sergio Romo has stood 10 feet tall in the postseason, with a 2.11 ERA in 25 playoff appearances for the Giants
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

A one game, winner-take-all pitting two teams so evenly matched is almost impossible to call. It's a toss up. It goes without saying the margin for error in this game will be slim, we're talking who "blinks" first. This is October, and it's win or go home. Buckle up.