Scherzer certain in Game 1, but after that ...

October 7th, 2022

NEW YORK -- As things stood on the eve of National League Wild Card Series Game 1, only one piece of the Mets’ rotation was cemented into place.

planned to go home, spend time with his family, perhaps watch “Batman” with his children and do “some good dad parenting.” His objective was to take the Citi Field mound against the Padres on Friday night in his usual frame of mind, then put the Mets in position to advance.

And then? After Scherzer, New York’s strategy remains an open question. The Mets can go in multiple directions with their rotation. Judging by manager Buck Showalter’s comments on Thursday, they don’t intend to commit to either one just yet.

If the Mets win Game 1, Showalter hinted, they are likely to start  in Game 2. If they lose Game 1,  probably will take the ball instead.

“They know the order, how it may fluctuate,” Showalter said. “It’s kind of been a strength of our club is that guys don’t let their ego get in the way of it: ‘Tell me when I can contribute, and I will.’”

Here’s why the Mets are considering this unorthodox strategy in their best-of-three Wild Card matchup against the Padres:

• If Scherzer wins Game 1, the Mets could potentially sweep with Bassitt on the mound in Game 2. That would allow them to line up deGrom and Scherzer for Games 1 and 2 of a potential National League Division Series against the Dodgers, with deGrom available on full rest in Game 5 (and Scherzer potentially available out of the bullpen on short rest).

• If Scherzer loses Game 1, the Mets would have deGrom and Bassitt available to pitch Games 2 and 3, in that order, allowing them to avoid being swept by the Padres without using one of the best pitchers on earth.

The strategy can also potentially provide three extra days for the blister on deGrom’s right middle finger to heal -- something Showalter admitted is “part of the equation.”

The downside is that it requires both deGrom and Bassitt to be nimble -- not necessarily a strength of starting pitchers, who tend to be creatures of routine. That’s why Showalter discussed the strategy with both in late September, giving them time to line up their bullpen sessions in an appropriate way.

Showalter downplayed the significance of waiting until the 11th hour to decide on his Game 2 starter, likening it to a pitcher having his start pushed back due to rain.

“We talked about this a week ago at least,” Showalter said. “They’ve been aware for a long time where it falls.”

Generally speaking, the strategy is an acknowledgement that, while the Mets hope to win this best-of-three series against the Padres, it won’t mean much if they fall flat a week later against the top-seeded Dodgers. The Mets are trying to set themselves up for the best chance of success throughout October.

“We’ve got to take care of business starting on Day 1,” general manager Billy Eppler said. “That starts [Friday] with Max. What comes after that, we’ll just kind of take all the information as it comes in. Everything is a data point. Everything has a learning benefit to it. So we’ll take that, make the decisions on Day 2 and go from there.”

No matter what the Mets decide, the Padres will throw Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in Games 1 and 2, respectively, and likely Joe Musgrove in a Game 3.

As for Scherzer, he insisted that his left oblique, which has bothered him to various extents since June, is a non-factor heading into the playoffs. He stopped short of saying he’s prepared, at age 38, to complete the sorts of extra tasks he has in Octobers past -- pitching on short rest, closing out games in relief and other such feats -- though he didn’t rule them out.

“[I’ll] worry about that at a different point in time,” Scherzer said. “We have a three-game set. All I’ve got to do is go out there and pitch Game 1. You figure out the rest later. We’ve got to win this series first.”