By Steven Conley/@stevenhood14/September 18, 2015
As the Mets chase down their first division title since 2006, Steven Matz has suddenly become their wild card.
After a lull in the action against the Marlins, the Mets (84-63) returned to their winning ways with a 5-1 victory over the Yankees in the first of three games in the Subway Series this weekend.
Matz (4-0) has put himself in position to be an October rotation fixture for the Mets. The rookie lefty clamped down after allowing a run in the first, tossing six innings of one-run ball with four strikeouts to notch his fourth win in four career starts. The Long Island native used an assortment of change-ups, curveballs and a newly developed slider to complement a fastball that touched 97 mph on the radar gun.
The Mets hitters had cooled recently, having been shutout in their last game, albeit with a lineup missing a few regulars. Lucas Duda got himself back on track with a homer and a double off Masahiro Tanaka on a night the Mets didn’t get much else going against the Yankees starter.
Daniel Murphy broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth with a two-out blast off Tanaka, his 12th of the season. Juan Uribe homered again to provide insurance while David Wright stayed locked in with two hits.
In addition to Matz stepping up as the postseason approaches, the Mets are going to need Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom to find their second winds if the team wants to be a factor deep into October. With Harvey’s innings potentially limited in the postseason and deGrom not his dominant self of late, Matz provides cushion if not much more.
He showed against the Yankees he can handle the big moment and the big stage that comes with a pennant race in New York. After working up a pitch count over the first few innings, Matz settled down and handed the ball to the bullpen after throwing 102 pitches, 67 for strikes. He lowered his ERA to 1.80.
There was talk recently of Matz being used out of the bullpen in October, but a team needs four starters in the Division Series, and after Friday’s performance the rookie is no worse than fourth in the pecking order. Bartolo Colon seems to fit best in a long relief role. His calm-under-pressure demeanor is well-suited to the pressures of entering a game in the early going in a tough spot.
Jonathan Niese was rocked for six runs on eight hits in three innings against the Dodgers on July 24, and cannot be trusted with another start against them. He could potentially be used out of the bullpen against a lefty.
The rest of that bullpen seems to be getting itself righted after a period of uncertainty regarding the 7th inning role. Addison Reed has shown flashes of his former self in solidifying that 7th inning and Hansel Robles has stepped up recently to put himself in the mix for important innings. Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia have been lights out.
Now with an 8-game lead with 15 to play, there was a risk the Mets could fall into a malaise, but the Subway Series and the energy it brings comes at a great time for the club. The weekend series has more meaning than it ever has for the Mets and Yankees, with both teams in position to qualify for the playoffs.
As each day passes, the postseason picture will become a little clearer. The Mets are closing in on their first NL East title since 2006, and the sooner they do it the better. You want to get some guys a little rest, but at the same time you want to be clicking on all cylinders from the get-go.
Entering play Friday, the Mets trailed the Dodgers by two in the loss column for home field advantage in the NLDS.
Whether they start the series at home or on the road will determine the Mets rotation. At home for games 1 and 2, they would seemingly go with deGrom and Syndergaard, with Harvey/Matz pitching games 3 and 4 on the road. Starting the series on the road, deGrom and Harvey would go games 1 and 2 with Syndergaard/Matz pitching games 3 and 4 at home. deGrom would take the ball for a potential game 5 under either scenario.
The Magic Number is down to 8, and the excitement grows each day in Flushing.