October 4, 2016
Banged Up, But Not Counted Out
As baseball saw its final act of the regular season on Sunday afternoon, it gave fans a chance to say their goodbyes to many beloved players and teams done for 2016. The New York Mets were not one of those things.
Making their triumphant return to the postseason stage despite the trials that they have endured for what felt like most of the 2016 season, the Mets will play for their survival as they host notorious postseason hero Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday evening in a Wild Card matchup at Citi Field. When it come to the Giants' fate, some may preach “even year!” while I would like to think that I take on a more calculated point of view—Taylor Swift didn’t drop a new album. The Mets are still alive.
Should the Mets manage to use their recently semi-rejuvenated offense (thanks to Yoenis Cespedes’ timely return and Jay Bruce finally getting into a groove the last week of the season) to squeak the most important win of their season past MadBum and crew—what’s next? It’s a great story that the Mets have made it this far at all, but the reality of the situation is that the longest road they will face was not the road to October, but the one that lies ahead once they arrive at its doorstep on Tuesday.
The breakdown of the Mets' disabled list going into October is so expansive, and so talented, that it’s even prompted pieces such as this one from the Wall Street Journal asking who would win in a battle of The Mets vs. The Mets' Disabled List. Yes, that’s how deep their DL goes.
For starters, the most important issue the Mets will face is the lack of depth in their rotation. The Mets will be playing without three of their most valuable starters—Jacob deGrom, Steve Matz, and Matt Harvey. When peppered with what’s left of the rotation in Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon, this was a rotation for the ages. Now it’s simply the shell of what it could be, and what helped usher the Mets into the final act of the World Series just last October.
But not all is lost. The Mets' rotation now consists of Colon, Syndergaard, and newcomers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, plus Gabriel Ynoa as a swingman. If you’re not a Mets fan or don’t pay much attention to the Flushing crew, then you probably aren’t familiar with those names. But you should be.
In September, the Mets posted a 3.41 ERA with the makeshift rotation in place, their best ERA since April, when essentially the entire crew was intact. Take a look at the individual numbers that the two most important newcomers, Lugo and Gsellman, have posted this season:
Not bad for a pair of young arms who weren’t even major leaguers on Opening Day. However, it’s suggested by DRA (and for Lugo, even FIP) that for these two pitchers, there is more than meets the eye. For Lugo, a 90 percent strand rate, while impressive, is not sustainable, and his 13 percent home run/fly ball rate is partially why FIP and DRA don’t particularly like him. Both pitchers have around a league-average walk rate, which indicates that control is not a major issue for either of them.
For Gsellman, the story is a bit different. Gsellman was brought into the rotation in late August, so this has been quite the month-plus for the 23-year-old rookie. The strikeouts are there and, over his last two starts, Gsellman has only allowed one earned run in 13 innings. For the Mets, these two young pitchers couldn’t have picked a better time to contribute in such strong ways. Perhaps the magic will wear off, and the league will adjust, but for the Mets' sake let’s hope that they can stave off that adjustment until 2017.
But rookies are rookies, and we are talking about the playoffs. Both of these pitchers have only been pitching at the major-league level for a handful of starts, and while being thrown into a starting rotation in the middle of playoff race may present a certain type of pressure, actually participating in that race is another animal. A new type of pressure is sure to mount, and when facing some of the opponents this team could be asked to face, this tandem’s true colors could eventually show through. October is a different game, and much of it depends on luck, state of mind, and which opponent comes to the table more prepared.
The Mets will need to make sure that their offense is ready to support the pitching staff during this time of need, which could be a tall task for a team that has been ranked in the bottom half in baseball in numerous pivotal stats. Take a look:
What’s playing in the Mets' favor is that they have the aid of Cespedes, and some seasoned veterans in Asdrubal Cabrera and Curtis Granderson. Bruce ended his season on a high note and could be poised to shine on the big stage, becoming a huge key offensively. The Mets are in a decent position going into October, but they are also at a definitive turning point. It’s sink or swim for this lineup, which TAv suggests has been underrated by a pitcher-friendly ballpark that supresses raw totals.
Many of the teams that the Mets have the potential to face if they make it past the Giants on Tuesday evening are strong contenders, and have been for some time. But one game at a time, one day at a time. The Mets made it here against all odds, so perhaps they will persevere. That’s the beauty of October baseball, you have to throw away the stat sheet sometimes and watch the story unfold instead.