Matthews OK for Mets, if he doesn't play

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It took eating $21 million of the $23 million he was owed over the next two years, but the Angels were able to move Gary Matthews Jr. on Friday. They even netted a decent piece in return, getting reliever Brian Stokes from the Mets. That makes it a clear win for GM Tony Reagins, who had to have weighed releasing the malcontent at several points since inheriting his job and the brutal contract from Bill Stoneman.
For the Mets, though, one wonders what makes Matthews preferable to a couple of the still available free agents, most notably Reed Johnson. Is it just cost? The Mets will only pay Matthews $1 million per year for the next two seasons, whereas Johnson’s 2010 price tag is probably still in the $2 million range.
In general, teams want their regulars to be all-around players and their backups to be more specialized. That’s Matthews’ problem at this stage; he’s no longer a solid regular and he simply doesn’t have any big strength to his game. Teams used to love his center field defense, but he was never really that good in the first place and he’s pretty obviously declined over the last few years. A switch-hitter, he has OPSs of 744 against lefties and 739 versus righties in his career, rendering him useless in a platoon. He’s not going to supply a lot of power off the bench or speed as a pinch-runner. He’s never hit 20 homers or stolen 20 bases in a season, and he certainly isn’t going to start now.
It doesn’t mean there’s no place for Matthews in the majors. He’d probably serve as an adequate placeholder if a team needed to start him for a few weeks. It’s just that there’s no real way for a smart manager to take advantage of his strengths and hide his weaknesses.
Compare that to Johnson. The two players have a similar level of offensive ability, but Johnson has a career OPS of 841 against lefties and 707 versus righties. He’s also a better defender than Matthews. He seems like an ideal choice to split time with Angel Pagan while Carlos Beltran is out. After all, Pagan, a switch-hitter like Matthews, has a 717 OPS against lefties and an 805 OPS against righties in his 752 career at-bats.
In the end, it probably won’t matter much. Pagan will likely get every opportunity to serve as the regular center fielder until Beltran returns. The Mets didn’t acquire Matthews because they were infatuated with him; they did it because he cost them very little cash and a reliever who wasn’t going to be guaranteed a bullpen spot following the signings of Kelvim Escobar and Ryota Igarashi. Now that the outfield again appears set, it’s time for Omar Minaya to get back to work and use Bengie Molina’s money on a real talent.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Saturday’s action

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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It’s the last Clayton Kershaw start of the regular season. Prepare yourselves accordingly.

The Dodgers already have the NL West in the bag, but they’re still fighting for home-field advantage against the Nationals. Should the two teams end up with the same regular season record by Monday morning, the edge will go to the Dodgers, who have a better head-to-head record this year. Kershaw has already been announced as the starter for Game 1 of the NLDS, while the Nationals have kept their lineup close to the vest for the time being.

Facing the Dodgers is Giants’ left-hander Ty Blach, who is poised to make the second major league start of his career this afternoon. The Giants are in a precarious position heading into the last two games of the year and have the potential to force a three-way tie among NL wild card contenders. A thorough breakdown of the wild card and home-field advantage possibilities has been outlined here.

You can find more from Saturday’s action below.

New York Mets (Bartolo Colon) @ Philadelphia Phillies (Phil Klein), 1:05 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha), 1:05 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Wade Miley) @ New York Yankees (Luis Severino), 4:05 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw) @ San Francisco Giants (Ty Blach), 4:05 PM EDT

Miami Marlins (Wei-Yin Chen) @ Washington Nationals (Tanner Roark), 4:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jon Lester) @ Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman), 4:10 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer) @ Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez), 4:15 PM EDT

Detroit Tigers (Jordan Zimmerman) @ Atlanta Braves (Aaron Blair), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Hector Santiago) @ Chicago White Sox (James Shields), 7:10 PM EDT

Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ) @ Boston Red Sox (Eduardo Rodriguez), 7:10 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Jake Odorizzi) @ Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis), 8:05 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta) @ Colorado Rockies (Jeff Hoffman), 8:10 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Clayton Richard) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (Archie Bradley), 8:10 PM EDT

Houston Astros (Collin McHugh) @ Los Angeles Angels (Tyler Skaggs), 9:05 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Jharel Cotton) @ Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma), 9:10 PM EDT

Settling the Scores: Friday’s results

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 30: Norichika Aoki #8 of the Seattle Mariners is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run off of starting pitcher Raul Alcantara #50 of the Oakland Athletics during the second inning of a game against the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field on September 30, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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Raul Alcantara was in the business of distributing home runs on Friday night.

Robinson Cano caught the tail end of a 94.1 m.p.h. fastball in the first inning, driving it to center field to put the Mariners on the board. In the second, Norichika Aoka found his fourth home run of the year on a similarly-placed heater. The Mariners then targeted Alcantara’s off-speed stuff, picking on the right-hander’s changeup and slider to get two more home runs in the third: the first, another dead-center blast by Cano, and the last, a bomb by Nelson Cruz that popped off the center field wall and survived an umpire review.

Taijuan Walker, who enjoyed the spike in run support from his 3.6 average, was not immune to the home run bug either, giving up the first and only run of the night on Ryon Healy’s 102-m.p.h. home run in the sixth inning.

While Walker excelled at run prevention, he also came one walk shy of hitting a career-high mark, with five walks spread over six innings. Seattle’s bullpen stepped in for three perfect innings to close out the game and, despite six perfect frames from Oakland relievers Zach Neal and Daniel Coulombe, quashed the A’s hopes of closing a four-run gap.

The Mariners’ win on Friday puts them one game back of the wild card; if they take the rest of the series and the Tigers and Blue Jays lose one of their remaining weekend games, the Mariners will tie for the remaining wild card spot. With Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez on the hill this weekend, winning shouldn’t be an issue. Getting the Blue Jays to collapse against the Red Sox (and, to a lesser extent, the Tigers against the Braves) is another story.

Here are the rest of the box scores from Friday’s games. Keep an eye out for the first modest bat flip of Jose Bautista‘s career, Madison Bumgarner‘s eighth RBI of the year, and the Orioles’ three-homer inning.

Orioles 8, Yankees 1

Marlins 7, Nationals 4

Mets 5, Phillies 1

Cubs 7, Reds 3

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 3

Tigers 6, Braves 2

Rangers 3, Rays 1

Rockies 4, Brewers 1

White Sox 7, Twins 3

Indians 7, Royals 2

Cardinals 7, Pirates 0

Diamondbacks 5, Padres 3

Angels 7, Astros 1

Mariners 5, Athletics 1

Giants 9, Dodgers 3