In one sense, there shouldn’t be much for the Mets to ponder. Just align Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Chris Bassitt and either Carlos Carrasco or Taijuan Walker for the postseason pitching rotation and go from there.
And maybe it will turn out that way.
But given the undecided NL East race and the possibility the Mets still could end up playing a best-of-three wild-card round, there is some nuance involved for team brass in trying to get it right.
As it stands, the Mets have 11 games remaining, which means two turns through the rotation for each of the five. There could be a third turn for somebody if needed, or if the Mets have clinched the division before the Oct. 5 regular-season finale against Washington, a bullpen game easily could be arranged behind, say, a shortened deGrom start.
Where it gets sticky is trying to determine how to handle their ace deGrom if that regular-season finale means something. By pitching deGrom next Friday in Atlanta, the Mets would be in position to start him five days later if the division was still unsettled. The risk would be potentially eliminating deGrom from the wild-card round if the Mets were to take their best shot at winning the division and miss. The wild-card games would run Friday and end by Sunday, meaning deGrom would have to pitch on short rest for Game 3 if he started the regular-season finale.
“I think it’s one of those things where the Atlanta series will give us pretty clear direction which way we’re going one way or the other,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner told Post Sports+.
The Mets, with one victory in Atlanta, would own the division tiebreaker based on head-to-head record. That means if the Mets extend their NL East lead to three games by the time they leave Truist Park a week from Sunday, the race would be over.
The goal in the days ahead is to secure the bye and advance directly to the NLDS, where the Mets easily could align their rotation and ponder whether they would go with Walker or Carrasco if they went with a four-man playoff rotation.
“Some element of a hot hand, some element of who is feeling good,” Hefner said of how the team will determine who takes the mound in October. “Guys deal with [ailments] throughout the year, and that will probably be some determination. Missing bats is important. Striking out people is important in the playoffs, limiting home runs, those types of things, so we’ll kind of take all of that into account and make the best decision we can.”
Carrasco has struck out 24.1 percent of the batters he’s faced this season. Walker has struck out 19 percent. The pitchers have had similar success in limiting home runs. Carrasco has allowed one homer every 9.6 innings. Walker has surrendered one every 10.6 innings. There is a big difference in whiff percentage (swings-and-misses relative to swings) between the two: Carrasco owns a 28.2 percent whiff rate and Walker stands at 22.4 percent.
“Whatever they want me to do,” Walker said this week. “This is my ninth year in the big leagues. If they want me to start, I can do that. If they want me to go into the bullpen, I can do that also. I know how to prepare. I know what my body needs, so whatever the team needs, I’m here for them.”
Hefner was asked what he likes most about his rotation these days.
“There is no foot off the pedal,” he said. “They’re consistent. It’s been full throttle the whole time, and the attention to their craft has been impeccable and that hasn’t changed. You use the shark analogy where there is blood in the water and they smell it. I don’t think that’s just the starters. I think it’s our whole group.”
Max is ready for a change
Scherzer has already given significant thought to next year’s rules changes, which will include a pitch clock and the elimination of defensive shifts. And he’s convinced he will benefit more than most players.
“I understand what these rules are, and I think it’s going to help me,” Scherzer said. “I can work quickly. That’s not a problem on my end.”
But Scherzer declined to offer how, exactly, he would be helped.
“Read the rules and think about how I pitch and that’s how I’m going to do it,” Scherzer said. “I’m not going to sit here and complain — yeah, I can say, ‘X, Y, Z’ — but at the end of the day, these are the rules and I’m not going to complain about the rules. I’m going to use them and find a way for them to work for me.”
The best-laid plans of commentators and managers
Buck Showalter this week recounted a plan he first presented while working at ESPN a few years ago about how he would fix baseball’s alignment and scheduling issues.
His first idea called for eliminating the AL and NL as we know them and placing the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Nationals, Orioles and Blue Jays in one division. There would be three other such geographic divisions.
But wait, that’s only 28 teams. Showalter’s plan called for contracting two teams. That would leave 27 opponents, meaning six games against each team for a total of 162.
Showalter recalled concluding the on-air segment by saying his plan made way too much sense for it to be embraced.
Of course, it’s way more likely that teams will be added than subtracted as markets such as Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas and Montreal vie for potential expansion teams, bringing the total to 32 clubs (16 in each league) and eliminating the need for an interleague game most every day.