The only time the Mets and Giants faced off in the postseason was 2000. New York beat San Francisco three games to one in a series that saw the Mets win two games in extra innings. This year, the Mets took the season series four games to three, including a series in August that was the beginning of the Mets' turnaround from a struggling 60-62 squad to an 87-75 Wild Card team. The Giants stumbled in the second half, but managed to hang on to find their way to their second Wild Card game in three years.
CF-L Denard Span (.266/.331/.381/.264)
1B-L Brandon Belt (.275/.394/.474/.316)
C-R Buster Posey (.288/.362/.434/.289)
RF-R Hunter Pence (.289/.357/.451/.304)
SS-L Brandon Crawford (.275/.342/.430/.280)
LF-S Angel Pagan (.277/.331/.418/.274)
2B-L Joe Panik (.239/.315/.379/.256)
3B-L Conor Gillaspie (.262/.307/.440/.273)
P-R Madison Bumgarner (.186/.268/.360/.228)
3B-S Jose Reyes (.267/.326/.443/.285)
SS-S Asdrubal Cabrera (.280/.336/.474/.298)
LF-R Yoenis Cespedes (.280/.354/.530/.326)
CF-L Curtis Granderson (.237/.335/.464/.296)
2B-R T.J. Rivera (.333/.345/.476/.325)
RF-L Jay Bruce (.248/.318/.467/.276)
C-R Rene Rivera (.222/.291/.341/.239)
1B-L James Loney (.265/.307/.397/.257)
P-L Noah Syndergaard (.190/.277/.397/.245)
The Giants were ninth in the NL in runs scored, but some of this was a product of their ballpark, as they were seventh in TAv. The Giants don’t feature a Murderers’ Row, but have a solid group of hitters throughout the order. Span’s on-base percentage isn’t ideal in the leadoff spot, but his speed will be key against a Mets team that has had trouble with the running game, especially with Syndergaard on the bump. Belt, Posey, and Pence offer the Giants' best chance to score against a formidable opponent. Conor Gillaspie fills in at third base for the injured Eduardo Nunez, who would have been an excellent weapon against Thor on the bases.
Whose offense is better? It is a toss-up, but the two teams couldn’t be more disparate. The Mets lived and died by the long ball, socking 218 home runs compared to the Giants’ 130. This is offset at times by a station-to-station approach and extremely poor results with runners in scoring position. The Mets have the hardest contact rate in the majors, but also the lowest groundball rate; it is difficult to manufacture runs when so many balls are hit in the air. Another problem the Mets could have is a lefty-heavy lineup facing one of the best southpaws in the game. Rivera has filled in admirably for Neil Walker at second base, but it's asking a lot for him to pick up most of the righty slack for Walker and Wilmer Flores.
C-R Trevor Brown (.237/.283/.364/.237)
OF-R Gorkys Hernandez (.259/.298/.463/.273)
IF-R Kelby Tomlinson (.292/.370/.330/.261)
OF-L Jarrett Parker (.236/.358/.394/.281)
INF-S Ehire Adrianza (.254/.299/.381/.251)
OF-L Gregor Blanco (.224/.309/.311/.237)
IF-R Eric Campbell (.173/.284/.227/.210)
OF-L Michael Conforto (.220/.310/.414/.271)
C-R Travis D’Arnaud (.247/.307/.323/.239)
OF-L Alejandro De Aza (.205/.297/.321/.234)
IF-L Kelly Johnson (.268/.328/.459/.285)
IF-S Tyler Kelly (.241/.352/.345/.261)
OF-R Juan Lagares (.239/.301/.380/.245)
C-R Kevin Plawecki (.197/.298/.265/.228)
The Giants’ bench is a little thin without Nunez. San Francisco’s .226 batting average in pinch-hitting situations sounds bad, but was good for fourth-best in the NL. The Giants don’t have a big weapon on the bench in a pinch, but Tomlinson was 7-for-17 in the role in 2016. The Giants sport your typical NL bench, with a number of decent role players who offer defensive flexibility, but who would be stretched if pressed into regular at-bats.
The Mets do have some right-handed bats on the bench, but these guys aren’t going to cause Bumgarner to quake in his boots. Johnson and Conforto are more likely to provide a big blast off of the bench than nearly anyone on the Giants’ bench, but the absence of Lucas Duda as a late-inning pinch-hitting option stings. While the Mets may have an advantage with their backup bats, they lag behind San Francisco defensively. Lagares is the only obvious late-inning defensive upgrade for New York.
Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner (226.2, 2.74, 3.24)
Mets: RHP Noah Syndergaard (183.2, 2.60, 2.71)
It seems like yesterday that Bumgarner was a 21-year-old rookie in the 2010 World Series. Six years later, Bum is money, the guy with one of the best postseason resumes in baseball history. Bumgarner isn’t the hardest thrower there is, but he throws strikes, with a first-pitch strike rate that was seventh among qualifiers. He throws a low-90s fastball and a high-80s slider that are both hard to read, particularly for righties, due to a deceptive, across-the-body delivery. If that isn’t enough, Bum occasionally throws a mid-70s curve into the mix that freezes hitters looking for something faster. The Mets faced Bumgarner twice this season. He tossed six shutout innings at Citi Field in early May and allowed four runs in five innings at Pac Bell in August.
Syndergaard may have the best raw stuff in the game. He throws a fastball in the high-90s with regularity that sometimes touches 100 mph. This is complimented by a slider that averages 91 mph and features nasty, biting movement. Thor occasionally throws a changeup and a curve, but the fastball/slider combo is his bread and butter. If there is a weakness, it comes when Syndergaard exerts himself too much, misses with the slider, and loses movement on his heater, giving hitters a fighting chance if they repeatedly guess fastball. Syndergaard’s problems with the running game are well documented. His pickoff move is average at best, but the real issue is his slow timing to the plate, even when he is pitching out of the stretch. The Mets have paired Rene Rivera with Thor, which has helped to some degree, but look for the Giants to try to exploit this weakness as much as they can.
Bullpen (IP, ERA, DRA)
RHP Sergio Romo (30.2, 2.64, 3.63)
RHP Derek Law (55.0, 2.13. 3.69)
RHP Hunter Strickland (61.0, 3.10, 3.87)
LHP Will Smith (40.1, 3.35, 3.57)
RHP Santiago Casilla (58.0, 3.57, 3.31)
LHP Javier Lopez (26.1, 4.05. 5.25)
RHP George Kontos (53.1, 2.53, 6.17)
LHP Steven Okert (14.0, 3.21, 4.03)
RHP Jeff Samardzija (203.1, 3.81, 4.36)
RHP Johnny Cueto (219.2, 2.79, 3.53)
RHP Jeurys Familia (77.2, 2.55. 3.60)
RHP Addison Reed (77.2, 1.97, 2.31)
RHP Fernando Salas (73.2, 3.91, 4.06)
RHP Hansel Robles (77.2, 3.48. 5.01)
LHP Jerry Blevins (42.0, 2.79, 2.96)
LHP Josh Edgin (10.1, 5.23, 4.41)
RHP Bartolo Colon (191.2, 3.43, 5.15)
RHP Robert Gsellman (44.2, 2.42. 4.13)
In terms of both quality at the top and depth throughout, the bullpen has been a weak spot for the Giants this year. Their 4.52 relief DRA was 23rd in baseball and by far the worst for any playoff team. However, Romo and Law were both solid down the stretch for the most part, and the subtraction of Casilla from a high-leverage role is a plus for San Francisco. Both Samardzija and Cueto are on the roster with the understanding that Bruce Bochy won’t be afraid to think outside of the box if the game is on the line.
This is the one area where the Mets have a definitive advantage. Familia is a nerve-wracking pitcher to watch at times, but his disappearing sinker and biting slider are both difficult to square up against and his four-seam fastball isn’t a picnic either. The command can be wobbly at times, but it is difficult to lay off of the sinker if Familia can keep it within shouting distance of the zone. As great as Familia has been, Reed is arguably the Mets' anchor. Reed’s WARP was second among NL relievers, behind only the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen. Behind those two, the Mets have a competent group. Salas is likely to pitch in the seventh if Thor has to exit early, although look for Blevins in nearly any situation that calls for a lefty, particularly if Reed hasn’t been used yet.
This is where the Giants' biggest advantage rests. Posey is the best defensive catcher in baseball, Crawford is an elite shortstop, and Panik and Pagan were among the better defenders in baseball this year by FRAA. The Giants were third in the majors in raw Defensive Efficiency and ninth using Baseball Prospectus’ park-adjusted metric. There isn’t a weak link on the field, although Gillaspie-for-Nunez is a potential downgrade.
The Mets were 27th and 24th in raw and park-adjusted Defensive Efficiency, respectively. There isn’t a player on the team who was better than average at his position, and the Cespedes/Granderson/Bruce outfield alignment in particular is not pretty. Cabrera and Rivera are competent on the grounders they get to, but their range is sub par. One of the national broadcasters tonight is going to praise Loney’s defense. Don’t be fooled.
This year marks Bruce Bochy’s seventh trip to the postseason, and his fourth trip as Giants manager. It's possible that you have heard a few things about his playoff experience. Bochy’s strength as a manager shines in the postseason, as he is never afraid of bucking conventional norms, using a player in an unusual situation, and/or calling for a play that isn’t by the book. This isn’t to suggest that Bochy is one to get cute, but he is willing to try anything if he feels it will increase the team’s chances. It sounds clichéd, but Bochy’s biggest strength is that he is a different manager in October who understands the urgency of every game.
This is Terry Collins’ sixth year as Mets manager, and his second consecutive season in the postseason. He was placed under the microscope during last year’s World Series, in particular for leaving Matt Harvey in too long in a must-win game. Collins is frequently derided for relying on relief roles rather than managing to the situation and for leaning on struggling hitters in the lineup for far too long. Lost at times in all of the negativity is the solid work Collins did keeping his team motivated during a 27-13 stretch run to close out the regular season. Many of the scribes who cover the Mets have reported that the team believes that Collins’ steady hand and positive demeanor matters to this ball club.
With this pitching matchup, expect a low-scoring game and/or a battle of the bullpens. It could go either way, but the Giants’ postseason mettle and Bochy’s steady hand will push them to the NLDS for the fourth time in the last seven years.
It is almost a coin flip, with PECOTA giving the Mets a 51.2 percent chance of winning. This aligns well with the idea that the game is an even matchup between two 87-win teams and two elite starting pitchers whose performances will control the outcome to a significant degree. With any other pitching matchup, the Giants would have the advantage.
A special thank you to Maggie Wiggin of BP Mets, who helped with the Mets’ bullpen options for this article.