An examination of the Mets postseason starting rotation scenarios
In fairness, the Mets will not be able to exorcise the demons of their epic failures of the 2007 and 2008 seasons until they actually make it to the playoffs.
But this team is indeed different, both in their physical and cultural make ups.
Just ask David Wright, who experienced both the successes and failures of the 2006-2008 seasons, has suffered through some lean years and trying times since, and is now a part of what appears to be something very special growing in the 2015 Mets.
“It’s very similar, but the team is different. Back then, the team was a lot more veteran and we relied heavily on offense,” Wright told the New York Post on Wednesday. “Now, it’s the opposite, where I think we have a very good offensive team and we can go out and win games offensively occasionally, but we’re going to lean on our pitching very heavily. I’ve been around long enough to know that excites me.”
While that’s reassuring, fans are still skeptical and cynical, looking at every bad pitch and every failed opportunity with runners in scoring position as the crack which the team will fall through again.
But this is a different team, as Wright said. And when taking a mathematical perspective alone it’s realistic to believe the Mets will indeed finally put those horrific seasons to bed, and be relevant once again in October.
With that said, the Mets will have some rather important decisions to make regarding the roles of their six starting pitchers come October.
The only two locks to make a start for the Mets in the postseason are Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. The debate about these two will be about who gets the ball in game one of the Division Series.
But the rest of the starting pitchers have less certain roles in any postseason series for a number of reasons.
First off, the Division Series only requires four starters at most, and with two off-days in the first round, the Mets could choose to use three starting pitchers, and use the game one starter – presumably Harvey at this point – twice in the series if needed. And in the League Championship Series, clubs typically only use four starting pitchers.
So that leaves Noah Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese and Steven Matz auditioning for roles, and in some cases, roster spots in the playoffs.
Here’s a look at these four starting pitchers…
There’s a lot of internal debate taking place regarding Syndergaard’s role for the playoffs, and whether or not he might be more valuable to the club in a short-relief role. He has struggled early in games – he has a 4.50 first inning ERA – and towards the end of his outings as well – he has an 8.78 ERA in the sixth inning. His innings limit is rapidly approaching and the Mets are looking at ways at managing them along with his stamina over the final month of the season. That strategy includes skipping his scheduled start against the Marlins on Saturday.
But considering his struggles, it may make the most sense to put his 100 mph fastball in a short-relief role in an effort to not only keep him healthy and strong, but to try and achieve more shutdown innings late in games, which are extra important in playoff situations.
Just ask the Royals about that.
Matz, who despite all his minor league successes over the last two seasons, has only pitched in two regular season games in his big league career.
He’s coming off a long stint on the disabled list, although he made four rehab starts, two of which were dominant.
But the club has maintained their stance that Matz is strictly a starting pitcher, expressing concerns about his injury history and his lack of experience in relief playing a role in their view. So barring an injury or severe underperformance, he appears to be penciled as a starting pitcher come October.
Matz will have about four September starts to show he is not only primed for the big leagues once again, but can contribute in the postseason at a high level.
Matz said on Tuesday he would be fine in whatever role the club wants him to pitch in down the stretch, but noted he has only made one relief appearance in his professional career.
Once considered a shoe-in for the playoff roster, Niese’s recent performance has created more questions than answers going forward. He was splendid for more than two months this summer, posting a 2.88 ERA in 13 starts from June 5 to August 15.
But Niese has hit a major skid lately, posting an 8.46 ERA with an opponent batting average of .326 over his last four starts.
As is always the case when a pitcher slumps, questions about Niese’s health arose once again after his uninspiring start against the Phillies on Tuesday night. The left-hander insisted he felt fine, and was looking forward to tweaking some mechanical issues he said he’s dealing with this week prior to his next start against the Nationals on Monday.
To his credit, Niese has experience on his side, and his recent history suggests he will get out of this slump he’s in, and could actually pitch at a high level. But his volatility and his inability to contain his emotions have been very prevalent in this recent stretch, and the club cannot afford to endure those problems in do-or-die October games.
It’s essential Niese start to pitch well over the last month, and his start against Washington on Monday will be a big test for him. Making a playoff roster is typically merit-based – loyalty will not be considered for Niese or anyone who isn’t performing well down the stretch.
Terry Collins has been pretty clear all along Niese is not a candidate for the bullpen. So, it’s very likely rotation or bust for Niese.
Once a wild card to even be on the postseason roster, Colon has revived his season lately in a couple of ways and has emerged as a legitimate piece for the Mets and their playoff pitching staff.
In three of his last four starts, he’s given up only one run in 22 innings pitched. Yes, two of those starts were against the Phillies and the one clunker that was left out when the 42-year-old veteran allowed seven runs to the Rockies in Denver.
But he has been outstanding in two starts since and has made some notable adjustments to his repertoire to keep the opposition at bay.
He has also pitched out of the bullpen during this revival, showing he might be a candidate to pitch in relief come October as well. While the Mets say it was only because they were short in the pen, perhaps they wanted to see how effective he would be in that role.
Colon also has postseason experience on his resume, something none of the other starting pitchers in the Mets rotation has. In 58 1/3 innings in the postseason in his career, Colon has a 3.70 ERA.
Colon is no doubt the veteran of this staff and is a dark-horse pick to get a start in the National League Championship Series, should the Mets make it that far. Of course, it depends a lot on the role they give Syndergaard, how Niese is at that point in the year, and so on.
The Mets are now in the home stretch of the season, and for first time since 2008 are playing meaningful baseball games in September. But along with that come tough decisions and tension, all of which the manager, coaching staff, and front office have to contend with as they make the final push towards October. The Mets have an embarrassment of riches among their starting pitchers, something that every manager wishes he had at his disposal.
Still, these decisions will play critical roles for the club in their search for their first World Championship in 29 years. But these remain excellent problems for the Mets to have to deal with.