NEW YORK -- Sixty years after the Mets entered the National League as an expansion team, and 53 years after the Padres joined them, the clubs will meet in the postseason for the first time.
They are teams with obvious similarities, including their dynamic rotations and back-end bullpen talent, but also a few notable differences. While the Mets stayed relatively quiet at the Trade Deadline, the Padres were the game’s most active team, making over their roster with the acquisitions of Juan Soto and Josh Hader.
Ultimately, neither team could overcome the juggernauts within their own divisions -- for the Mets, the defending World Series-champion Braves; for the Padres, the 111-win Dodgers. But both clubs remain talented and dangerous in an October setting.
“They’re a really good team,” Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo said of the Padres. “They obviously improved during the Trade Deadline. It seems like it took a little bit for them maybe to mesh or come together as that new team, but they have really good players, really good pitchers. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the word.”
San Diego took four of six from the Mets during the regular season, winning both series, though as Nimmo noted, that shouldn’t mean much come October. Instead, this best-of-three Wild Card Series will likely come down to which rotation cracks first, as the Mets and Padres each line up three of the NL’s top pitchers at Citi Field.
Here’s a primer for how things will unfold:
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 1: Friday, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, ESPN
Game 2: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
Game 3 (if necessary): Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
All games will take place in Queens because the Mets finished with a better record than the Padres and are the NL’s No. 4 seed. The Padres are the No. 5 seed. ESPN will broadcast the games with a team of Karl Ravech, David Cone, Eduardo Pérez and Buster Olney. In the event that the Rays-Guardians Wild Card Series ends in two games, Sunday’s game will move to 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT.
All series are available in the US on MLB.TV with authentication to a participating Pay TV provider. Games are not available live internationally (archives are available approximately 90 minutes after the game ends).
What are the starting lineups?
Padres: Even with Scherzer starting, the Padres went with the righty-swinging Wil Myers, who's been swinging a hot bat, at first and kept switch-hitter Josh Bell in the lineup as the DH. In center, Trent Grisham has struggled at the plate, but he got the start over José Azocar, who doesn’t offer much against right-handed pitching.
Mets: Starling Marte will be in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 6 after he was hit by on the right middle finger on a Mitch Keller pitch. The 33-year-old slugger will bat sixth and start in right.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Padres: No formal announcement for a possible Game 3, but it seems highly unlikely the Padres would tinker with their rotation alignment at the last minute. That should line up this trio:
Manager Buck Showalter has hinted that if the Mets lose Game 1, deGrom will pitch Game 2, but if the Mets win, it will be Bassitt. The benefit of that strategy is that if the Mets sweep, the team would have deGrom ready to go for Games 1 and 5 of the NL Division Series on regular rest, allowing them to use their two aces for three of the five Division Series games.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Padres: The rotation has been a bit of a throwback this season, in that their starters have often pitched six or seven innings, and almost always well into the third time through the order. Ideally, the Padres would get a deep start from Darvish, then hand the ball to Robert Suarez and/or Luis García as the bridge to Hader. Nick Martinez might also see high-leverage relief innings, and Tim Hill will be the weapon against tough left-handers.
Mets: The Mets will try to allocate as many outs as possible to closer Edwin Díaz and top setup man Adam Ottavino, both of whom received ample rest down the stretch. The more significant issue is one the Mets never solved during the regular season: Who will pitch to a tough lefty such as Soto in a big spot? Lefties Joely Rodríguez and David Peterson are both options, as is right-hander Seth Lugo, who features reverse platoon splits (both this season and for his career). The Mets could also ask Díaz to face Soto if the game is on the line in the seventh or eighth. He doesn’t necessarily have to close.
Any injuries of note?
Padres: The Padres have managed to stay injury-free (aside from the absences of relievers Drew Pomeranz and Austin Adams, who haven’t been available all season anyway). One lingering concern, however: Mike Clevinger was scratched from his start on Wednesday with an illness. He cleared COVID protocols after two negative tests and is scheduled to join the team on Friday. But it's unclear if his status as a long-relief option on the Wild Card Series roster is now in jeopardy.
Mets: The most significant injury belongs to Marte, who will play in his first game since Sept. 6.
Elsewhere on the roster, deGrom dealt with a blister issue during his last start but appears to be fine heading into the playoffs. Finally, Ruf has been on the injured list due to a stiff neck, but he is available if the Mets want to carry him on the roster.
Who is hot and who is not?
Padres: Machado is raking -- although when isn’t he? The Padres have also gotten some excellent production from Profar of late, as he reached base at a .373 clip over the season’s final two weeks. (Profar figures to be a crucial part of the Padres’ playoff push as the tablesetter for Soto and Machado.) Myers might not start, but he’s been a .300 hitter over the past month.
Meanwhile, Bell has struggled since essentially his arrival in San Diego (but the Padres need his switch-hitting power bat in their lineup, so he’ll almost certainly play). In center field, both Grisham and Azocar have struggled over the past month -- Grisham in particular.
Mets: Escobar was the National League Player of the Month in September thanks to a performance that saw him drive in 24 runs in 26 games. He cooled a bit in the early days of October, but he has three extra-base hits in 17 career at-bats against Darvish. The hottest Mets hitter is either Nimmo (who enters the playoffs riding a five-game hitting streak with home runs in consecutive games) or McNeil (who hit .465 over his final 10 games to win the Major League batting title.)
Although the Mets have received a bit more production in recent weeks from Nido and Vogelbach, the catching and DH positions remain clear lineup weaknesses. James McCann was in a 1-for-29 slump before homering in the season finale; he risks ceding much of the postseason catching work to Nido.
Anything else I should know?
• Soto is back at Citi Field, where he has posted a career .350/.464/.709 slash line. On top of that, he’s set to face Scherzer, with whom he helped win the 2019 World Series with the Nationals. Said Soto of that matchup: “It’s going to be pretty fun -- and more now that I’ve faced him a couple times. … But I know it’s a different Max Scherzer in October.”
• If Marte can't appear in the series, the Mets will miss him for many reasons, including his success against San Diego's best pitchers. Combined, Marte is 18-for-47 (.383) with four homers, a triple and two doubles against Darvish, Snell, Musgrove and Hader.
• Although neither the Mets nor the Padres are snapping significant postseason droughts, the Mets have not won a postseason game since they reached the World Series in 2015. The Padres have won just three postseason games since the turn of the century, while the Mets have advanced past the Division Series only once in the past 16 years.