Playoff Reset: The NL Wild Card Game

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The Game: San Francisco Giants @ New York Mets, NL Wild Card game
The Time: 8:00 PM EDT
The Place: Citi Field, New York
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Madison Bumgarner (Giants) vs. Noah Syndergaard (Mets)

The Upshot:

  • This one is all about the starting pitching. You may not much like one-and-done baseball, but Madison Bumgarner vs. Noah Syndergaard is as good as it comes.  Bumgarner needs no postseason introduction. And, it should be noted, he has had his greatest postseason moments on the road. Think about his 10K, complete game shutout of the Pirates in the 2014 Wild Card Game. Think about his performance against Kansas City in the World Series that year in which he won Games 1 and 5 and then came back on two days rest, on the road, to throw five innings in relief for the save in Game 7. There is not much pressure like Wild Card Game pressure, but Bumgarner has been there and he has done that.
  • If Bumgarner can’t go the distance, or at least most of it, Giants fans are gonna be nervous: the Giants blew nine ninth-inning leads in the second half, including five in September. The once-reliable San Francisco bullpen has been a liability for months. The Mets bullpen, meanwhile, has been much more steady, possessing the sixth-best bullpen ERA in baseball this season.
  • Syndergaard is, by default, the Mets ace. But he may have nonetheless been their best pitcher anyway, even if Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom didn’t go down to injuries. Syndergaard led the league in FIP and was the stingiest starter in the National League when it came to allowing home runs. The Mets have all sorts of injuries and concerns when it comes to playing a five or seven game series, but in one game, with Thor on the mound, they match up with anyone. And while Syndergaard may not yet be a postseason legend like Bumgarner, he came out of the bullpen to pitch a scoreless seventh inning in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers last year and won Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs and Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals. He’s got the chops to handle the pressure.
  • The offenses are a study in contrasts. The Mets hit more home runs than the Giants (218 to 130) yet the Giants scored more runs than the Mets (671 to 715). The Mets don’t strike out as much as a lot of power-dependent teams do, though, so it’s not like it’s all-or-nothing for them. The biggest concern for New York: their best power threat, Yoenis Cespedes, enters the postseason on a bit of a cold streak. The Giants’ offense is more varied and their defense is superior. But again, this whole game is going to come down to Bumgarner vs. Syndergaard. The first team to have their starter knocked out is probably gonna lose this one.
  • These teams enter the postseason on distinctly different trajectories. The Giants owned baseball’s best record at the All-Star break but stumbled badly in the second half, losing a large division lead to the Dodgers and then just barely winning the Wild Card on the final day of the season. The Mets, in contrast, were nearly six games out of the Wild Card in late August, and were under .500 as late as August 20. They caught fire after that, however, going 26-13 in the final 39 games of the season.  Late season momentum has been shown to be a poor predictor of playoff success in the past, but that’s how things ended for them.

This is a really even matchup and predictions are probably beside the point. I’ll say, however, that if you’ve made a habit of betting against Madison Bumgarner in the postseason, you’ve probably lost a lot of money.