NL Wild Card Series Playoff Preview: Mets vs. Padres

Featuring the best record of any team in the Wild Card round, the Mets will look to avoid an upset at the hands of the Padres this weekend.

Pete Alonso
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 24: Pete Alonso #20 of the New York Mets runs after hitting a home run during the sixth inning against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field on July 24, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

For the first time since 2016, playoff baseball will return to Queens this weekend when the New York Mets host the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card round.

The Mets finished with the third-best record in all of baseball this year, but unfortunately for them, they tied with the Atlanta Braves and lost the division by losing their season series last weekend. Now they will look to turn the page to October baseball, with the San Diego Padres representing their first challenge in what they hope will be a deep playoff run.

While they were separated by 12 games in the Wild Card standings, the Padres are no slouch of a team in comparison to the Mets. They feature three quality starters and a lineup that has some of the best stars in the game today.

In a three-game series, anything can happen. Let’s preview what lies ahead this weekend, as these two teams battle it out to see who gets to advance to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in NLDS starting on Tuesday.

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Season Series: Padres Won, 4-2

The New York Mets first met up with the Padres this year in San Diego on June 6th, in a game where they went on to beat the home team by an 11-5 score. They then lost the following day, as Yu Darvish blanked the Mets over seven innings pitched, in what became a 7-0 win for San Diego.

In the rubber match of the series, the Mets turned to Chris Bassitt (who could find himself in a similar role this weekend) and he did not fare well. Bassitt allowed seven earned runs and was bounced in the fourth inning after having recorded just 10 outs on the day.

Fast-forward to the end of July and the Padres and Mets met again, but this time at the eventual home of this Wild Card round, Citi Field. The Padres took the first two games of that series, extended their season winning streak against the Mets to four games, before New York finally took the last game to conclude the season series with two wins in six tries.

Pitching Matchups

One of the great things about the best-of-three Wild Card format is the fact that every playoff team has at least three quality starters to throw out, giving us incredible matchups all weekend, regardless of the series.

This particular series is full of sexy matchups, with every single probable starter having once been an All-Star in their careers. Twenty All-Star appearances between these six starters, 19 200-strikeout seasons, six Cy Young Awards (five from deGrom and Scherzer, but hats off to Blake Snell), two ERA titles (deGrom and again, Snell!) and a partridge in a pear tree. Here are the potential matchups:

Yu Darvish (16-8, 3.10 ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (11-5, 2.29 ERA)

Ever since the New York Mets signed Max Scherzer to a three-year, $130 million contract this offseason, there was always one big question that came to mind. Who would start Game 1 of a playoff series, Scherzer or Jacob deGrom.

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Now we have our answer, as Buck Showalter announced that Scherzer would take the ball to kick off this series in Game 1. In this instance, the Mets are going with experience, both career and in-season.

Scherzer has more playoff experience than any pitcher in this series and almost any pitcher left in the playoffs (former teammate Justin Verlander has him beat by over 50 innings, as does Clayton Kershaw). He has pitched in the postseason in eight different seasons dating back to 2011, only missing out three times.

Jacob deGrom has only postseason run to his name, when he helped lead the Mets to the World Series in 2015. Along with the lack of experience in comparison to Scherzer, deGrom made just 11 starts this year compared to Scherzer’s 23 and did not face the Padres at all.

Scherzer took the ball against Yu Darvish on July 22nd and gave the Mets six strong innings where he allowed two runs and struck out eight. Only problem, Darvish was better. The Padres starter went seven innings and allowed just one run, picking up the win in what turned into a 4-1 game.

Against the Mets this season, Darvish went 2-0, pitching exactly seven innings in each start with 15 strikeouts and just one run allowed. For his career, Darvish has pitched to a 2.54 ERA against the Mets across eight starts. His career 0.741 WHIP against New York is his best mark against any team in baseball.

Beyond Game 1, neither team has announced their starting pitchers, although we can make a good guess which way they will probably go.

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Blake Snell (8-10, 3.34 ERA) vs. Jacob deGrom (5-4, 3.08 ERA)

Considering the Mets struggles against left-handed pitching this season, it would be pretty surprising to see the Padres start Joe Musgrove over Blake Snell in Game 2. Snell is one of the most dominant left-handed starters in baseball when on and he has been locked in throughout the second half.

Snell is pitching to a 2.19 ERA across 14 starts in the second half, with 105 strikeouts in 78 innings pitched. His 2.8 fWAR since the break is the second-best mark in baseball behind only Zac Gallen.

In his two starts against the Mets this year, Snell pitched to a 4.00 ERA, allowing four earned runs across nine innings pitched.

For the Mets, apparently the decision to start Jacob deGrom has not been set in stone, as Buck Showalter is contemplating saving deGrom until they face elimination. The idea being, if the Mets win Game 1, they could win Game 2 with Chris Bassitt and hold onto deGrom to start Game 1 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Joe Musgrove (10-7, 2.93 ERA) vs. Chris Bassitt (15-9, 3.42 ERA)

Joe Musgrove made the All-Star Game for the first time in his career this season and was rewarded with a five-year, $100 million contract extension. Musgrove’s numbers have been great overall, but he did struggle a bit through the middle of the season.

From July 13th through September 11th, Musgrove made 11 starts for the Padres and pitched to a 5.25 ERA across 60 innings pitched. During that span, he had five starts where he allowed four or more earned runs. He did however turn things around down the stretch, allowing just one earned run over his final four starts.

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Musgrove’s lone start against the Mets came on July 24th, where he allowed four earned runs off of five hits. Pete Alonso took him yard in that game.

For the Mets, if they don’t use Bassitt in Game 2, he would take the ball in the final game of the series. As previously mentioned, Bassitt was knocked around when he faced the Padres earlier this year, but that was just his first time meeting them. In his second start against the Padres, Bassitt allowed two runs over seven innings pitched, where he struck out a season-high 11 batters.

Manny Machado hit a two-run homer in that game that made the difference in what was a 2-1 victory for the Padres.

Who Has the Better Lineup?

The San Diego Padres might have the best two players in this series with Manny Machado and Juan Soto, but the Mets have the far deeper team.

Machado and Soto are the only two hitters who have a wRC+ over 110 for the Padres this season, at 150 and 145 respectively. Meanwhile the Mets have seven hitters in their starting lineup who have had a wRC+ north of 125 this year, six if we remove Starling Marte who is likely to miss the series due to injury.

The Mets will roll out a 1-4 of Brandon Nimmo (134 wRC+), Francisco Lindor (127 wRC+), batting champion Jeff McNeil (144 wRC+) and Pete Alonso (144 wRC+), while filling out the rest of their lineup with quality veterans like Daniel Vogelbach, Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha.

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New York has the advantage of playing in their own ballpark in front of what is sure to be a raucous crowd that has been starved from playoff baseball for the better part of the last decade.

If some of the Padres ancillary pieces like Josh Bell, Jurickson Profar and Brandon Drury contribute, Machado and Soto could get enough help to upset the Mets.

But there is a reason the Mets are -175 to win this series, while the Padres face the longest odds of any team (+155) to pull of an upset in the Wild Card round.