|Oct. 5||8 p.m. ET||SF @ NYM||ESPN|
Buster Posey (115 Weighted Runs Created Plus, where 100 is league average) was the fifth-best hitting catcher of the 24 with at least 300 plate appearances, and is still regarded as a truly elite pitch framer (+25 runs, second-best in baseball), but he also had his weakest full season and went two entire months without a home run. Neither Rene Rivera (70 wRC+) nor Travis d’Arnaud (74 WRC+) hit even a little, however, so this is still lopsided in San Francisco’s favor.
Big advantage: Giants
If it seems like Brandon Belt never gets enough respect, that’s probably true, because he stayed healthy and put up a star-level season (138 wRC+) that was actually about the same as what Paul Goldschmidt (134 wRC+) delivered. The Mets find themselves in the odd position of having the partially healthy lefty Duda sharing time with the slick-fielding lefty James Loney, neither one of whom can touch lefty pitching. Still, Terry Collins (probably) isn’t going to pencil Eric Campbell into the lineup.
Big advantage: Giants
With Walker and Flores out, career Minor Leaguer T.J. Rivera has taken over at second base, and he’s been stunningly successful, hitting .333/.345/.476 (119 wRC+), although in just 113 plate appearances. Joe Panik, who dealt with concussion issues this year, took a big step back, hitting .239/.315/.379 (90 wRC+) after his big 136 wRC+ 2015. Panik is the better player with the longer track record, though the Mets can hold out hope for the hot hand here.
Panik’s two-homer game
ATL@SF: Panik launches a pair of homers vs. Braves
Joe Panik launches a solo home run in the 2nd and a two-run smash in the 4th against the Braves for the first multi-homer game of his career
Though he’s getting somewhat lost in the sea of new young shortstops, Brandon Crawford is an elite fielder with a strong arm (average of 86.7 mph, per Statcast™, fifth among regular shortstops) and a solid enough bat to be worth over 5 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs. That’s the fourth best among an impressive crop of shortstops, and it’s his fith straight year being average or better. That this is even a conversation says a lot about how great Asdrubal Cabrera has been, as he’s hit a scorching .347/.409/.639 since his trip to the disabled list, thanks to some real changes in his approach.
Small advantage: Giants
Both teams have a hot corner in flux. With Matt Duffy traded to Tampa Bay and Eduardo Nunez questionable with a hamstring injury, the Giants may be forced to go with Conor Gillaspie and his career .308 OBP. Meanwhile, the Mets brought back old friend Jose Reyes, and he’s been solid as Wright’s replacement, hitting .267/.326/.443 (108 wRC+).
Advantage: Mets, if Nunez can’t play, and maybe even if he can
After starting the year in center, Yoenis Cespedes has settled into left field, and he’s been nothing short of outstanding, putting up a .280/.354/.530 (134 wRC+) line that’s basically the same as during his stellar 2015, just with double the walk rate. It should be noted that Angel Pagan bounced back from 2015’s disaster to put up a league-average line of .277/.331/.418 (105 wRC+), but this one isn’t close.
Big advantage: Mets
Cespedes homers off sculpture
NYM@MIA: Cespedes belts homer off sculpture in Miami
Yoenis Cespedes launches a 432-foot home run that hits the outfield sculpture at Marlins Park
There’s nothing ideal about having Curtis Granderson in center on defense, but the Mets’ outfield alignment demands it, and he’s put up a solid offensive season, popping 30 homers with a .237/.335/.464 (114 wRC+) line that closely matches his career averages. On the other side, Denard Span‘s Giants debut hasn’t gone as well as expected, with his 97 wRC+ representing his lowest mark since 2013.
Hunter Pence‘s wRC+ this year was 121; last year it was 125, and the year before that, 122. For his career, it’s 121, which is to say that you know exactly what you’re getting from him, and that’s solidly above-average play. For the Mets, it’s difficult to imagine Jay Bruce‘s first summer in Queens going any worse (.219/.294/.391, 82 wRC+), but in his last eight games, he’s got 12 hits, including four home runs and a double, so perhaps he’s heating up at the right time.
The Mets have quietly built themselves a nice bench, though Flores would help here. Lagares provides elite defense, Kelly Johnson has quietly turned a miserable half-season with Atlanta (.215/.273/.289, 48 wRC+) into a productive one with the Mets (.268/.328/.459, 113 wRC+), and we haven’t even talked about Michael Conforto, who remains a dangerous hitter against righties (career 126 wRC+). The Giants will counter with names like Kelby Tomlinson and Gregor Blanco, as late-season pickup Gordon Beckham is ineligible.
We usually remind fans that in a one-game playoff, the bullpens will be active early, with few starters asked to turn over the order more than twice. Of course, few teams have Bumgarner and Syndergaard, a pair of true aces who finished 3 and 4 in the National League in ERA, and so there’s no real edge here. Barring disaster, it’s difficult to see either Bruce Bochy or Terry Collins taking either out early unless the game is lopsided. On the other hand …
Asked if he learned anything last October that he can put to use this year, Terry Collins quipped: “Yeah. I’m going to put Familia in.”
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) October 2, 2016
Slight advantage: Giants, due to Bumgarner’s stellar postseason track record
Round and round the San Francisco closer carousel goes, and it appears to have landed on Sergio Romo, who has thrown six scoreless innings since getting his old job back. Either way, Jeurys Familia is near the top of the second tier of relievers just below the Britton-Jansen-Miller-Chapman group, as he’s piled up 84 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings while allowing just a single home run. Romo has the experience, but Familia has the stuff.
Big advantage: Mets
In a one-game playoff, we could potentially see some starting pitchers throw innings, especially if Bochy truly doesn’t trust his bullpen — though for all the bad press, Cory Gearrin has quietly struck out 13 of 24 hitters he faced since Sept. 1, allowing only three hits and a walk. The Mets relievers constantly feel like they’re one man short, but Addison Reed (1.97 ERA, 91/13 K/BB) has been outstanding, and Hansel Robles and Josh Smoker offer some interesting stuff ahead of him.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Source: Mets News / SF-NYM: A position-by-position Wild Card look