Noah Syndergaard pitches to Wilson Ramos on Friday night in a game in which every shake off of a catcher’s sign and each shoulder slump will be dissected for meaning. Hyun-jin Ryu faces Jacob deGrom on Saturday night in a matchup teeming with NL Cy Young implications.
But by Sunday night — national TV — the major story line for Dodgers-Mets is going to be what happened in the three-game series.
Because the Dodgers have comfortably won their seventh straight NL West title and comfortably lead for the best record in the NL.
You know what would be uncomfortable, though? If the Dodgers let the Mets stay hot this weekend?
For if you were making a list of teams Los Angeles would prefer to avoid in the five-game division series — which almost certainly will match the Dodgers against the wild-card game winner — the Nationals and Mets would rank 1 and 1A in some form because of what high-end starting pitching could do in a short series.
The Nationals are all but assured to be in the Oct. 1 wild-card game, likely as the host. The Mets still have lots of work to be the opponent. But they improved their chances by sweeping four games from the Diamondbacks while accentuating what makes them so dangerous. DeGrom, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz and importantly — and finally — Marcus Stroman combined to hold Arizona to three runs in 26 ¹/₃ innings.
In the words of Mickey Callaway, “Performing like the Marcus Stroman I have seen in the past,” the righty authored his best start in eight as a Met by permitting one run in 6 ¹/₃ innings Thursday in an 11-1 demolition. Arizona arrived a hot team ahead of New York in the wild-card standings and left 1 ¹/₂ games behind after being outscored 26-4.
“We played good baseball and when we play good baseball we can play with anyone and it showed in this series,” Callaway said.
Now, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are separated in the NL West standings and talent by roughly the distance from Los Angeles to Arizona. The Mets are still looking up at the Brewers and Cubs for that second wild card without having shaken the Phillies and Diamondbacks. But the one advantage the Mets have — especially if this was a breakout for Stroman — is they will unleash a quality starter in each of the final 16 games, often having the edge there.
The very reason that Brodie Van Wagenen sold ownership on going for it this year was because of the presence of this rotation, and rather than tear down at the trading deadline the Mets built it up further with Stroman while keeping Syndergaard and Wheeler. In fact, at this point, to miss the playoffs would be to waste sturdiness that could not have been predicted, an availability that has allowed the Mets to avoid the talent drop-off to too much Walker Lockett or Chris Flexen.
The Mets are one of just three teams to have four pitchers make at least 27 starts each this year and without an injury, they will have four make 30 starts for the first time by the organization since 2003 — take a bow if you knew that was Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, Jae Weong Seo and Steve Trachsel. Stroman has made 29 already between the Blue Jays and Mets.
This weekend the Dodgers counter with their three best — Clayton Kershaw, Ryu and Walker Buehler. Can the Mets — at minimum — survive the weekend? Because if they do, their final 13 games include seven against the two worst teams in the NL (the Rockies and Marlins), three against the sub-.500 Reds and three to close the season at Citi Field against the Braves, when Atlanta will be in a mode of resting, refining and lining up for a division series.
Even with that schedule, the second wild card remains a long shot, especially if the Mets cannot get two weeks — just two weeks — of quality relief from Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. Two good weeks wouldn’t beautify their season, but it sure would throw some perfume on it.
That the Mets are still alive and dangerous is because of that starting pitching. The Dodgers will know this. Division title or not, expect Los Angeles to throw its A game at the Mets. The weekend promises drama and perhaps trauma depending how the pitcher-catcher dynamic goes between Syndergaard and Ramos.
Most important, can the Mets get through this weekend with a chance, when the Dodgers have lots of motivation to suffocate those possibilities?
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