Monday, September 7, 2015

Why One Series Win Against the Nats Could Do Wonders For the Mets' Postseason Chances

With the Mets losing and the Nationals winning on Sunday, the two teams will head into their critical three-game showdown this afternoon with New York leading the division by four games.  The teams will also face each other at Citi Field for a three-game series in Games No. 160, 161 and 162.  That means both teams still have to play 20 games against other teams.

Mets fans know the story of being seven games up with 17 to play in 2007.  New York went on to go 5-12 in their final 17 affairs, while the Phillies finished strongly at 13-4 to claim the NL East by one game.  The Mets and Phillies played each other three times during the season's final 17 games, with Philadelphia taking all three games.  That means the Mets still lost nine of the other 14 games they played while the Phillies took 10 of 14 against their non-Metsian opponents.  (New York also lost four straight to the Phillies in late August, before "seven-games-up-with-seventeen-to-play" became a thing.)

The main reason the Mets failed to hold on to the division lead in 2007 was their pitching.  Mets pitchers allowed a whopping 115 runs in the team's final 17 games, allowing six or more runs in 11 of those contests.  The offense, which scored 98 runs in the 17 games (an average of 5.8 runs per game), couldn't overcome the shoddy pitching, as the Mets scored six or more runs ten times in the 17 games, but were only able to win half of those ten affairs.

In 2015, the Mets have far superior pitching to their counterparts from eight years ago.  The 2007 squad had Oliver Perez leading the team with a 3.56 ERA and Orlando Hernandez was the only starting pitcher with a WHIP under 1.27.  This year's Mets have three starters (Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard) who have ERAs lower than Perez's team-leading mark in 2007, and only Jonathon Niese has a WHIP higher than the one posted by El Duque eight years ago.

In addition, the current Mets have Jeurys Familia (36 saves, 1.78 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) closing out games, while the 2007 club had Billy Wagner (34 saves, 2.63 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), who suffered from back spasms at the end of the season, but still pitched through the pain and it showed.  Wagner pitched to a 6.91 ERA and 1.74 WHIP in the team's last 40 games, blowing three saves.

The 2015 Mets will probably not allow almost seven runs per game over the final 26 games like the '07 squad allowed in their last seventeen, especially considering that this year's pitchers have allowed three runs or less in 74 of their first 136 games.  (The '07 club allowed four runs or more in 91 of their 162 games.)  So they probably won't have a catastrophic season-ending slump - one that would allow them to lose 12 of their last 17 games, a la the 2007 team.

But let's say the Mets just play .500 ball in the 20 games in which they're not playing the Nationals.  That would give them 85 wins in 156 games.  Now let's look at what the Nationals would have to do in their other games, considering each win-loss scenario in their final six games against the Mets and assuming the Mets win just half of their other 20 games.

Nationals go 6-0 against the Mets:
Mets finish with an 85-77 record.
Washington would need to go 9-11 in their other 20 games to win the division with an 86-76 record.

Nationals go 5-1 against the Mets:
Mets finish with an 86-76 record.
Washington would need to go 11-9 in their other 20 games to win the division with an 87-75 record.

Nationals go 4-2 against the Mets:
Mets finish with an 87-75 record.
Washington would need to go 13-7 in their other 20 games to win the division with an 88-74 record.

Nationals split the six games against the Mets:
Mets finish with an 88-74 record.
Washington would need to go 15-5 in their other 20 games to win the division with an 89-73 record.

Nationals go 2-4 against the Mets:
Mets finish with an 89-73 record.
Washington would need to go 17-3 in their other 20 games to win the division with a 90-70 record.

Nationals go 1-5 against the Mets:
Mets finish with a 90-72 record.
Washington would need to go 19-1 in their other games to win the division with a 91-71 record.

Nationals go 0-6 against the Mets:
Mets finish with a 91-71 record.
Washington would be golfing after October 4 regardless of how they fare in the other 20 games.

Of course, the Mets could somehow finish with a losing record in the 20 games they're not facing Washington, just as they could finish with a winning record in those games.  But seven of those 20 games are against the Atlanta Braves - a team that is on a run of historically bad proportions.  Atlanta is 12-41 in its last 53 games.  Their .226 winning percentage in those games - which add up to approximately one-third of the season - is lower than the .250 winning percentage posted by the 1962 Mets.  Yeah, it's been that bad in Tomahawk Town.

Some of you might say, "but the Mets lost a whole bunch of games to the Nats and Marlins down the stretch in 2007, when both teams were under .500."  That's true.  That Mets team went 5-8 against Washington and the then-Florida Marlins.  But those Nats and Marlins teams weren't 2015 Braves bad.  This year's Atlanta squad could lose 100 games and finish with the worst record in baseball.  The 2007 Nationals and Marlins won 73 games and 71 games, respectively.  There's no way - I repeat - NO WAY the Mets lose more than a game or two, if that many, against the Braves down the stretch this year.

With the team's excellent pitching, and with so many games left against the struggling Braves, it would be hard to fathom a sub-.500 record for the Mets when they're not facing Washington.  Losing five of six to Washington or even worse, a six-game sweep, in the remaining matchups between the two NL East contenders would be cause for concern.

If the Mets win just one game against the Nationals, that would force Washington to play .550 ball over their remaining 20 games, which is quite possible, assuming the Mets play .500 ball in their other 20 games.  However, should the Mets win just one out of three in each series against the Nationals (two total wins in the six games between the two teams), Washington would have to play .650 ball in their other games.  A split between the two teams and Washington would have to go on a run reminiscent of what the Phillies did in 2007.

The Mets couldn't defeat the Phillies down the stretch in 2007.  That cost them the division more than losing to the Nationals and Marlins did.  All the Mets have to do is win one series against the Nationals over the final month of the 2015 campaign and it might not matter what either NL East contender does in their other games.

Even with the Mets losing 2½ games in the standings over the last four days, the division title is still very much within the Mets' grasp.  Only a National disaster could keep the Mets from playing past Game No. 162.

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