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What to Look for in the NL Wild Card Game

The San Francisco Giants rode a season-ending sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers to secure the second wild card spot and a date with the New York Mets in Queens on Wednesday night

After a stellar first half, the San Francisco Giants struggled mightily after the All-Star break, leading many to wonder if the team would even make the playoffs, and if they even deserved to. Well, they're in. At least for one game. 

With Madison Bumgarner set to take the ball at Citi Field against Mets ace Noah Syndergaard, the Giants have the man they want starting this game. In the 2014 Wild Card game Bumgarner went nine scoreless frames against the Pirates, allowing just four hits and a walk while striking out a dozen. Another complete game from the 27 year old would mask the team's biggest recent weakness in their bullpen. 

This season against New York the Giants southpaw has a 3.27 ERA in two starts, spanning eleven innings. That includes a scoreless six inning outing at Citi Field on May 1. The one concern for Giants fans may be the fact that the Mets have done a good job of working Bumgarner's pitch count this season, which could lead to the bullpen making an appearance and making this game a bit more exciting. 

Syndergaard has also had a a couple of impressive outings against San Francisco this year, posting a 2.63 ERA over 13 2/3 innings. The Giants touched him up for four runs over 5 2/3 in his May 1 matchup with Bumgarner, but he rebounded nicely against San Francisco in his more recent at AT&T Park, going eight scoreless innings over two hit ball. 

If Syndergaard has his slider working on Wednesday night, that could spell trouble for the Giants bats. Per Baseball Savant, of the 612 sliders that the right-hander threw this season, 176 of them were swung on and missed. Buster Posey has seen his worst in-zone exit velocity against pitches down and away, which is exactly where you want to throw a slider. A resurgent Brandon Belt could be a difference maker against the Mets ace, as he has hit five of his 17 home runs this season down in the zone and in the middle of the plate. If he gets a slider that doesn't quite finish breaking, he could do some damage with his bat. 

On the down side, Belt has been susceptible to pitches up in the zone, and Thor's fastball runs at 97 miles per hour. Hunter Pence has had trouble over the last month making contact with pitches up and just outside of the zone, which could lead to a steady diet of fastballs in the attempt to get him to chase. 

Expect this to be a low scoring affair that may very well come down to a battle of the bullpens. If that's the case, the Giants bullpen on the year had a very comparable ERA for the season at 3.65 to the Mets' 3.53, but according to FanGraphs New York's relievers were responsible for nearly four and half more wins above replacement, which includes a 2.1 WAR over the past 30 days. Sergio Romo is the only reliever right now that inspires anything close to confidence for the Giants, and the innings it takes to get from Bumgarner to Romo may just be matchup based, with Will Smith and Steven Okert being two of the more likely options to be used. 

All things considered, this won't be a cake walk for the Giants by any means, but if Bumgarner pitches like he tends to do in the postseason (career 2.14 ERA, 1.03 in 2014 postseason), then it's going to be extremely hard to pick against the Giants in this one. With the sheer number of injuries that the Mets have been facing to their rotation, and some key regulars, a one-game playoff doesn't sit in the favor of the Giants. But, Wilmer Flores, who has crushed left-handed pitching this season (.340 batting average, 11 home runs, 28 RBI) will be out due to injury, leaving the bats to worry about at Yoenis Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera. Justin Ruggiano, who has hit Bumgarner very well in his career, is also on the 60 day D.L. and will be unavailable for the game. 

Cespedes is 3-for-10, while Cabrera is 2-for-4 in a small sample size. Jay Bruce has taken him deep once in 21 at-bats, but is batting .143 overall. All it could take is one swing of the bat to change the game and the Mets finished second in the National League in home runs, putting up 88 more than San Francisco over the course of the season. Even with that disparity, the Giants ended up scoring more runs than New York in 2016. The Giants don't need the long ball to win games. All they need is a solid outing from their ace, and the offense to put up a couple. 

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