The sprint to the finish line, and how the Mets pitching plans can affect the pennant race
Both the Mets and Nationals have 42 games remaining in the regular season, with New York holding a four game lead over Washington as play begins on Friday.
As it stands right now, Baseball Prospectus says the Mets have an 80.2 percent chance of reaching the postseason, whereas the Nationals only have a 21.2 percent chance. These numbers fluctuate daily based on wins and losses for both clubs.
The Nationals have a slightly easier schedule than the Mets over the final 42 games, in terms of opponents winning percentages. Teams facing Washington have a combined .447 winning percentage as of right now. Teams facing the Mets have a .449 winning percentage.
But the Nationals play a make-up game against the Reds at the end of September at Nationals Park. While that game counts, the Mets don’t have any single make-up games on their schedule so far. So if that game is removed, the combined winning percentages of the teams against both clubs is .448.
However it’s sliced, both clubs have very soft schedules down the stretch of the season.
If the Nationals have any advantage in this race, it’s that they play 26 of their final 42 games at home, whereas the Mets only play 18 of their final 42 games at home.
Despite playing better lately on the road, the Mets are still 22-35 away from Citi Field Field this season – that level of play will not work for them if they intend to win this division.
The next 16 games for the Mets are against the Rockies, Phillies, Red Sox and Marlins, three of the four worst teams in the sport and all of which are in the bottom third of the league. Seven of those 16 games are against the Phillies, a team they’ve been dominating over the last two years.
So, these next two weeks in particular serve as a tremendous opportunity for the club to rack up a lot of wins fast and expand upon their division lead before they play the Nationals again for three games in Washington beginning Labor Day.
There’s one thing to keep in mind with all of this. The Mets will be manipulating their pitching staff over the next six weeks in an effort to limit innings for Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard in particular. That will include skipping starts for both of them, beginning potentially on Sunday with Harvey, as well as returning to a six-man rotation when Steven Matz returns, which projects to be September 5 when the Mets are in Miami.
In addition, skipping starters has a huge impact on the bullpen both before, during and after the skipped start.
The Nationals aren’t skipping starts or going to any kind of six-man rotation. That means Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg will pitch on schedule every five games down the stretch of the season, and more than any of the six Mets starting pitchers.
Of course, Sandy Alderson has said before the plan is fluid, and all of the Mets starting pitchers will be able to pitch during the final week of the season no matter what. Presumably, if the Mets need Harvey or deGrom in any one game, they would bump them up to pitch on regular rest if needed.
Even on Sunday, it’s hard to truly believe Harvey would sit in place of Logan Verrett if the Mets go into that game with a three-game losing streak. If he does, that would indicate a very disturbing mindset with the club.
It remains to be seen what they do, but that’s the indication when reading the tea leaves. It’s just hard to envision the Mets would jeopardize another opportunity to reach the playoffs – like they did in 2007 – because they want to rest starters down the stretch.
If they do and it does cost them another opportunity, it will be very difficult to live down after all these years of waiting.