Here we are, folks. The 2022 MLB regular season is complete and the Mets are still playing for the first time since 2016. Regardless of how the last month of games has gone for New York, we’d all be taking this outcome if it was told to us back in February.
Manager Buck Showalter’s club won 101 games this year. It’s the franchise’s best regular-season performance since 1986 and the fourth time New York has ever reached the century mark. This is all terrific, but settling for a Wild Card is still tough to swallow after what happened in Atlanta last weekend.
After all, this is a team that spent 175 days in first place, had an NL East lead as big as 10.5 games on June 1st, and never lost more than three consecutive games. But of course, that final series in Atlanta (after not taking care of business against lesser opponents in September) was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It’s OK to be annoyed about that, but the Mets are still in the postseason. Their road to the World Series is much harder than it would’ve been if they were NL East champs, but it is what it is now. They just need to go execute.
They’ll be welcoming the San Diego Padres to Citi Field for a best-of-three Wild Card series. The winner of this matchup will have the honor of facing a Dodgers team that won 111 games this season. New York posted a 2-4 record against the Padres this year, and all those meetings happened before San Diego acquired Juan Soto at the trade deadline.
Here are four things I’ll be watching throughout this series.
Mets’ aces actually delivering this time?
We saw Showalter specifically reconfigure his rotation to have Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Chris Bassitt face the Braves in the season’s second-to-last series. It was an aggressive move since New York went into that matchup with a one-game lead in the NL East, and I loved it.
However, it failed in a slow and painful fashion. None of them allowed fewer than three earned runs. As a unit, they combined to allow 11 runs (including six homers) in 14.1 innings of work.
This team’s ultimate fate hinges on how far the starting pitching can carry them. We can throw Bassitt into this equation, but I’m really talking about deGrom and Scherzer.
San Diego doesn’t have as deep of a lineup as the Braves do, but they have a couple of game-wreckers in Manny Machado and Juan Soto. It’s hard for me to think all three of these dudes will be off their game again after that Atlanta series. They’re annoyed and out for blood, so it’ll be interesting to see how they perform this weekend.
Getting the ball to Ottavino and Diaz
DeGrom, Scherzer, and Bassitt are the rotation horses. When they’re feeling good, each of them can easily stay on the mound deep into a ballgame. But this is the postseason and the hook is a lot quicker because managers don’t want games to get out of hand.
If any of New York’s pitchers can only get through five or six innings, Showalter may have to depend on other relievers to bridge that gap to Adam Ottavino and Edwin Diaz. Several relievers have finished strong, but once again, things are different in October. When are Trevor May, Seth Lugo, and Joely Rodriguez used? Does David Peterson have Buck’s trust despite only being in the bullpen for a short period of time? Who is going to face Soto and Machado in a big spot?
Showalter came to Flushing with a reputation for managing his bullpen effectively. Now is the time for that part of his resume to shine. He hasn’t been afraid to use Diaz for more than three outs in strategic spots — he’s done it six times in 2022. Whenever Buck takes that opportunity to get four, five, or six outs from Sugar, it’ll likely be the only time he gets to do it in the Wild Card round.
Having the Mets’ lineup firing on all cylinders
The Padres will be throwing Yu Darvish in Game 1 and Blake Snell in Game 2. They took the regular-season series from the Mets this year, and these two hurlers were part of the reason why.
In two starts against New York this season, Darvish racked up a 0.64 ERA and 0.50 WHIP in 14 innings. As for Snell, he posted a 4.00 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in nine innings (two starts). For his career, though, the southpaw owns a 2.73 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 33 innings against the Amazins.
Overall, the Mets’ offense has been excellent, as the unit’s season-long 116 wRC+ would suggest (third-best in baseball). However, it’s been quite inconsistent, especially over the past few weeks. Pete Alonso is the lone legit power hitter in this lineup, and he’s the centerpiece of this offense, along with Francisco Lindor.
These two are the engine that makes the Mets’ offense go, and they need to get revved up ahead of Game 1. New York is a squad that isn’t big on homers (171 dingers as a team ranked 15th in MLB this year). So, they need to put together good at-bats, keep the line moving, and capitalize when runners are in scoring position.
Buck getting himself over the hump?
Speaking of Showalter, he’s seen a lot over the years. The three-time Manager of the Year Award winner has now steered his fourth club to the postseason and has won 1,652 regular-season games.
The postseason, though? That’s been the skipper’s white whale. He’s managed in October five different times, and while he’s advanced from the Wild Card round twice (both with the Orioles), he’s gotten past the Division Series just once.
And when he did in 2014 with Baltimore, they were swept out of the ALCS by the Kansas City Royals. He’s 9-14 overall in the postseason, so this is certainly an area of his career he’d like to have some success in sooner rather than later.
Is it going to make him manage any differently? Will he wilt under the pressure of October? No and no — he’s been around long enough to know that’s not helpful. Having his experience (both in the regular season and the playoffs) will be helpful for a roster that doesn’t have a bunch of postseason experience itself.