When Bud Selig created the second wild card and the one-game death match that determined who would go into the division series, this is exactly the kind of game he had in mind. Two major markets. Two teams with ravenous fanbases. Meeting in a winner-take-all. The Giants and the Mets will each turn to their aces, Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard, respectively. It’s the kind of excitement that, honestly, you can only generate in baseball.
The Mets and Giants met seven times in 2016, and seemed relatively evenly matched. The Mets won four of those games, but only outscored San Francisco by four runs. Each pitcher got two starts in versus their opponents, and threw well. If all goes according to plan, tonight is going to be fantastic.
But, then, things don’t always go according to plan. And it’s something both of these teams were reminded this year as they struggled to fend off the St. Louis Cardinals and capture the Wild Cards. It took a lot of adjustments as the year went on to earn the right to get here.
Giants trade for help to stay afloat
The Giants made major investments in the offseason to bolster their club, committing more than a quarter of a billion dollars to sign Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Denard Span as free agents. And those moves paid dividends. Cueto rebounded from a subpar 2015 to be the ace-caliber starter the Giants needed behind Bumgarner. Samardzija was an above average starter. And Span was a stable, if unspectacular, presence in center field all year.
But several of the veterans who had been with the Giants for years, namely Matt Duffy, Jake Peavy, and Matt Cain struggled mightily. coming out of the All Star Game, the Giants lost 11 of 13 games and slipped to just a one game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West. They would continue to struggle, but they arrested their freefall thanks to a trio of unspectacular deadline deals. With Duffy mired in a season-long slump, they traded for the Twins’ Eduardo Nunez to hold down the hot corner. Then they packaged Duffy with a couple prospects to acquire Matt Moore, who stabilized the back end of their rotation. Finally, the Giants overpaid to get Will Smith from the Brewers to support a faltering bullpen.
They haven’t solved all of the Giants’ problems. Even after the deadline, the Giants finished 36-44, but they did just enough to hold off St. Louis and set themselves up for more even year glory.
Hold your nose and sign Jose
The Mets’ moves this offseason were less splashy, more responsible, but equally effective. They acquired Neil Walker from the Pirates, re-signed Yoenis Cespedes, and signed Asdrubal Cabrera. But once the season started, they were forced to scramble.
Injuries did their best to kill the Mets in 2016, but they kept finding ways to plug the leaks. Lucas Duda, David Wright, Neil Walker, Travis d’Arnaud, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz all spent a lot of time on the disabled list. But the Mets found ways to go on. They used Wilmer Flores all over the infield and traded for Kelly Johnson for the second year in a row. Both of them were invaluable resources, able to play many different positions. They brought in James Loney. They turned rotation spots over to unranked prospects Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman and second base to T.J. Rivera.
And, in their most desperate moments, they turned to Jose Reyes.
Now, look, the decision to sign Reyes following his suspension for domestic violence is a complicated one. Certainly, even after his reprehensible behavior, Reyes has a right to earn a living after he’s been punished if he can find a team willing to employ him. That the Mets, the organization he grew up in, offered him a chance to rebuild his career and maybe his reputation is predictable.
As much as the decision to sign Reyes feels kind of gross, from a baseball perspective, the move undoubtedly worked, with Reyes starting 60 of the team’s final 63 games, and hitting .267/.326/.443. His performance was a big reason the club went 42-38 after signing him, while the rest of the team crumbled and succumbed to every injury and malady short of Zika. Without him, they wouldn’t be here, as difficult as it is to say that.