Mets Bullpen Shines in NLCS Game 2
The Mets closer has been great all postseason, but on Sunday night the rest of his pen mates got the job done as well. (Flickr : Keith Allison)
So far in the postseason, the New York Mets have had a lot go right for them to establish a 2-0 lead over the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS. But, even as they won their NLDS matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers to set up a meeting with the Cubs there remained one glaring weakness.
The Mets’ bullpen, aside from closer Jeurys Familia, struggled towards the end of the season and continued to show weak spots against the Dodgers, While Familia retired all 16 batters he faced in the NLDS, the regular season’s seventh and eighth inning guys showed signs of struggles. Addison Reed came into game two of the series with two men on in the bottom of the seventh and allowed back-to-back doubles which enabled three runs to score. Tyler Clippard allowed a run in his appearance in game one of the series.
The questions continued about the trust of any reliever aside from Familia when starter Noah Syndergaard was asked to pitch in relief in game five of the NLDS before Familia was brought in for a six out save keeping the ball out of the hands of Reed and Clippard in the Mets’ biggest game of the year. And then in game one against the Cubs it was again Familia who came in in the eighth with a two run lead to relieve starter Matt Harvey.
After game one Mets’ manager Terry Collins made sure to note that having just starters and Familia touch the ball was not anything against the other relievers in the bullpen.
“It’s just we got pretty good starting pitching, and if they can get deep into the game you’ve got, again, what I think is one of the best closers in baseball,” Collins said. “If you can get your starters to give you eight, and turn the ball over to him, I like your chances. But believe me, I like the guys that are setting up.”
Collins said at the time that he would have no problem using Clippard as the closer in game two, a role he has decent experience in, if Familia was too tired and unavailable.
Familia was not unavailable in game two Sunday night, but Collins’ still had to turn to his bullpen. Even though the starter, Syndergaard, was tossing a terrific game, he was on a strict pitch count after pitching in relief in the NLDS. Once he got to around 100 pitches thrown in the sixth inning and had allowed his second run of the game it was time for him to come out.
With the lefty Anthony Rizzo due up and a man on second, Collins turned to south paw Jonathon Niese. Niese has spent most of his career with the Mets as a starter, but got moved to a bullpen role for the postseason.
“Just treat it like any other situation,” Niese said after the game about coming in mid inning with a runner on. Niese seemed to do that perfectly and struck Rizzo out to strand the runner at second. Niese has now faced two runners this postseason and struck them both out.
Reed was next up for the Mets in the top of the seventh, the role he had for most of September when he went his first 15 outings in New York after being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a late August trade before giving up a run.
“I wasn’t a pitcher so I never thought to have a particular role outside of the guy pitching the ninth inning was that big. But at this level, it is big,” Collins said following the game. “Guys want to know when they’re going to be used.”
Reed looked very comfortable back in his familiar role and retired all three batters he faced in the seventh.
The eighth inning belonged to Clippard, who established himself as one of the top relievers in the league over several seasons with the Washington Nationals before being dealt to the Oakland Athletics in early 2015. In July, the Mets pulled off a trade to get him from Oakland and in August he allowed just three runs on seven hits in 15 games. But September did not go so well for Clippard. In 14 games he allowed ten runs. He also allowed four homers in the month, from all of April to August he had allowed just four.
After retiring the first two batters he faced with ease, Clippard allowed a single to Dexter Fowler setting him up to face Kyle Schwarber. If the Mets’ Daniel Murphy has been the hottest hitter on the plant this postseason, Schwarber may be the second hottest. The rookie has become known for hitting monstrous home-runs, setting up a dangerous situation for Clippard. But no harm was done as Clippard got two strikes on Schwarber and on a 2-2 count he got him to fly out to left field to end the threat in the eighth.
Clippard said after the game he had been “itching” to get into more games looking to find the consistency of getting into games the regular season provides but the postseason may not as much.
“I think more than anything the reps is the most important thing, just getting out there on the mound and feeling game speed again,” Clippard said. “I’m a guy who likes to pitch consistently.”
All that was left was the ninth inning, which belonged to Familia who continued his stellar postseason allowing just one hit on his way to closing out the game and sending the Mets to Chicago just two wins away from the World Series.
Most importantly now as the Mets head to Chicago they have to feel more comfortable with the entire backend of their bullpen after Sunday night. The team’s one weak spot so far in their magical postseason run has suddenly stopped looking so weak.