Catch Them If You Can
Mets call up top prospect ahead of critical series
Well, here we are. 156 games played. 98 of them won. And the Mets still need to win a few more to clinch their first division title since 2015.
The pennant race reaches a boiling point this weekend with the Amazins looking to exorcise some southern demons that have haunted them from Atlanta for too long.
As if that wasn’t enough, baseball’s top prospect will join the party. We learned late last night the Mets are reportedly calling up Francisco Álvarez to presumably DH against left-hander Max Fried tonight.
I will talk much more about Álvarez in a bit. But first, I will preview this weekend’s showdown, which looks like will be played as scheduled with the hurricane pulling away from the Atlanta area.
🍎 NOTE: I will publish special-edition newsletters this weekend. From now until the end of the postseason, there will be the regular weekday issues, along with weekend newsletters on mornings after the Mets play.
Everything you need to know before the Mets and Braves face-off tonight…
PATH TO WINNING THE DIVISION
It’s pretty straight forward. Since the Mets currently lead the head-to-head series 9–7, they only need to win once this weekend to secure the tiebreaker in the standings. As part of the new playoff format, MLB eliminated the one-game playoff that teams used to play when tied atop the division after 162 games.
If the Mets sweep, they clinch the division.
If the Braves sweep, Atlanta steals the head-to-head tiebreaker and would win the division with any Mets loss or Braves win over the final three games.
If the Mets win two, they secure the head-to-head tiebreaker and reduce their effective magic number to 1, meaning any Mets win or Braves loss over the final three games would give New York the division.
If the Braves win two, the Mets still secure the head-to-head tiebreaker, but their effective magic number would be 3, meaning the Mets would need to at least match what Atlanta does against the Marlins to win the division.
If all of that is too complicated to read, here is a handy table:
Essentially, if the Mets win at least one game in Atlanta, they will control their own destiny over the final three games of the season and have an inside track toward the NL East crown.
DIVISION TITLE IMPLICATIONS
Why does winning the division matter? You could argue it doesn’t. Both the Mets and Braves have already punched their tickets to the postseason. And no matter how many rounds you introduce, October baseball is still a crapshoot.
That said, with the NL East winner guaranteed a first-round bye, winning the division takes one crapshoot round out of the equation. It also sets a path that avoids the Dodgers until the NLCS, if at all.
And if you are a diehard enough fan to subscribe to this newsletter and follow every regular season pitch, winning the division rewards you! The Mets have only won six division titles in 60 years of existence; it’s time they add another banner to the Citi Field facade.
When we look back at the 2022 Mets, we might talk about a World Champion. We might talk about a team that fell apart in the playoffs. It would be a shame if we couldn’t at least talk about a team that gave us an incredible regular season that led to a division title.
PLAYOFF MATCH-UP IMPLICATIONS
The division winner gets five days of rest before playing the Cardinals, Phillies or Brewers after each of those teams have used their starters in a way that prevents them from throwing their ace twice on regular rest in a five-game series.
The team that doesn’t win the division (or 4-seed) would be forced into a best-of-three against likely the Padres beginning just one day after the regular season ends. If they survive this round, they would then face the Dodgers in the NLDS.
Using FanGraphs’ postseason odds, by skipping the first round, assuming each series is a coin flip, the Mets would essentially double their odds (from 6.25% to 12.5%) of winning the World Series by locking up the division title and avoiding the first round.
🔗 MUST READ: Just how much is winning NL East worth to Mets, Braves? by Mike Petriello, MLB
It took 29 games and 66 at-bats for the Mets to finally decide they have seen enough of Darin Ruf from the right side of the plate. After Starling Marte injured himself, they tried Mark Vientos’ youthful bat at DH, playing Ruf occasionally in Marte’s spot in right, but it hasn’t worked out.
Enter Francisco Álvarez, considered by many to be the top prospect in all of baseball. He will surely DH in place of Vientos (whom could be sent down in a corresponding roster move) against Fried on Friday. Who knows how many more at-bats he will see beyond that this weekend or over the final three games of the season against Washington (the Nats are lined up to pitch left-hander Patrick Corbin on Monday). Of course, Álvarez could also see pinch-hit opportunities against lefties in games he doesn’t start.
It’s pretty simple, if Álvarez hits, he will play. I wouldn’t rule out him owning the DH spot against both left-handed and right-handed pitching if he provides a shot in the arm with a hot bat. I suppose it’s possible he could catch a bit — remember he caught Scherzer and deGrom during rehab starts this summer — but the Mets would probably only do that as a last resort since his defense still needs development.
Álvarez struggled after being promoted to Triple-A Syracuse in early June, but quickly found his power stroke. His numbers against lefties have also been strong (.315/.424/.595). And he has hit .362 with three homers over the past few weeks after returning from the IL due to loose bodies in his right ankle. Overall, he has 27 home runs in 112 minor league games this season.
He will become the youngest player to play in the majors this season and the sixth youngest Met to make his debut this century (Dilson Herrera, Jenrry Mejia, Fernando Martínez, José Reyes and Ruben Tejada).
POSTSEASON STATUS: Typically, players must be on the 40-man roster by 11:59 PM EST on August 31 to be eligible for the postseason. That would mean Álvarez, who is just joining the 40-man now, wouldn’t be eligible. However, the Mets can get around that by adding him as an injury replacement. Put simply, he could make the postseason roster.
📚 LEARN MORE: What to expect from Francisco Álvarez, by Sam Dykstra, MLB
🏁 TONIGHT’S STARTING PITCHERS
The Mets decided to start Jacob deGrom a day early (but on five days of rest). As we have discussed, this allows them to bring him back on regular rest for the final game of the regular season. But it also allows them to set the tone early in this series against Atlanta. The Mets decided to stack deGrom and Scherzer in the first two games of this series, hoping they can quickly position themselves to clinch the division.
deGrom will be looking to bounce back from one of his worst performances of his career last week in Oakland. He was pitching on five days rest in that game, too. He is 2–2 with a 3.52 ERA when pitching with an extra day of rest this season. He has been much better with two extra days off, although he has only started two such games.
Atlanta will counter with Max Fried on Friday. The skinny, left-hander hasn’t allowed more than two runs in his past nine starts. This will be the fifth time the Mets have seen him this season. Fried is 2–2 with a 3.00 ERA in those games.
🚪 BULLPEN REPORT
The formula for the Mets should be deGrom for 7 or 8 and Edwin Díaz for the rest. They need to have a lead for that to happen. Perhaps Mr. Álvarez can introduce himself to this rivalry with a big night at the plate.
At this point, Showalter has two relievers he can really trust in Díaz and Adam Ottavino. It’s deGrom’s job to make sure nobody else needs to be called upon from the bullpen in a big spot tonight.
Some more news and notes from yesterday…
⚾️ MOST TRUSTED: In a poll of nearly 200 players conducted by The Athletic, the Mets’ starters and closer were voted as most reliable in a win-or-go-home game.
Jacob deGrom was named the starter most players would want pitching in Game 7 of the World Series. He received 33.9% of the vote, with his teammate Max Scherzer finishing second at 17.2%.
Edwin Díaz was named the closer most players would want recording the final three outs in Game 7 of the World Series with 44.5% of the vote.
✍️ INTERNATIONAL SIGNINGS: The Mets have signed 17-year-old outfielder Randy Guzmán as an international free agent, per Jacob Resnick. They also plan to sign three of MLB Pipeline’s Top 50 international prospects in January.
🔗 Baseball's top prospect is 20, powerful and laser-focused, by Anthony DiComo, MLB: “Francisco Álvarez is a baseball player, un jugador. Always has been. Álvarez’s mother, Yolanda, likes to tell of the time when Álvarez, just 2 or 3 years old, snuck under some netting and wandered onto his older brother’s field in Venezuela. Once there, he found an adult-sized cap and placed it on his head. His family took to calling him ‘Charlie Brown.’”
🔗 Braves, Mets meet in showdown that may rekindle rivalry: ‘It should be this way’, by Tim Britton and David O’Brien, The Athletic ($): “The most famous homage to the rivalry between the Braves and Mets turned 18 last month. That would be Shea Jones, third son of Chipper, named for the Hall of Famer’s prowess at a certain visiting ballpark. While Shea knows all about the derivation of his name – he “ate it up,” Jones said – he’s never fully experienced the rivalry that inspired it. That could change this weekend. For the first time in a generation, the Braves and Mets are battling for the National League East crown. The teams enter a pivotal three-game series at Truist Park separated by a single game. At stake is a division title and a first-round bye in the postseason.”
🔗 The biggest regular-season series in a decade? Why Mets-Braves showdown could shake up October, by David Schoenfield, ESPN: “Yes, both teams have clinched playoff spots, but given the ramifications of winning the division and receiving a first-round bye compared to having to use your best starters out of the gate in a best-of-three wild-card series -- where anything can happen -- both teams desperately want to win the division, and which one does will shape the shape the entire MLB postseason.”
And we close this one out with a final word from Steve Cohen…
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