Posted on October 1, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine

New York Mets James Loney

Image via nydailynews.com

After enduring a season of injuries and setbacks, the defending National League champions are heading back to the postseason. After beating the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3 on Saturday, the New York Mets have clinched the top wild card spot in the National League. The Mets will host a one-game playoff on Wednesday against either the San Francisco Giants or St. Louis Cardinals. The winner will move on to play the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS.

“It’s just great to see the team this year accomplish as much as it did with as many obstacles placed in its path that they had to negotiate,” said GM Sandy Alderson after the game. Alderson is arguably the MVP of New York’s season, as he’s made a number of additions throughout the course of the season to fill the void of injured players.

Jose Reyes, James Loney, Rene Rivera, and Jay Bruce are all players who were not with the team at the start of spring training but turned into key players. Reyes and Loney in particular were picked up off the scrap heap and became important contributors. On top of that, injures to several of the Mets highly regarded starting pitchers forced pitchers like Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman to take over spots in the starting rotation. If not for those players, who were nowhere near New York’s plans at the start of the season, the Mets would not be playing playoff baseball.

“This game is about pitching,” said manager Terry Collins. “It tells you that this organization has done a tremendous job of stockpiling some pretty good pitching. We traded a bunch of them last year to get us to the World Series, and yet we still had Gsellman and Lugo and guys that have come in this year and saved us — just literally saved us — with all of the injuries we’ve had to our pitching.”

On August 19, the Mets were two games under .500 and 5.5 games behind the Cardinals for the second wild card spot. They looked all but finished, burdened with injuries and poor performances. But the Mets won two straight against the Giants to salvage a split of a four-game series and then took two of three games against the Cardinals in St. Louis, jumpstarting the long climb to the top of the wild card standings.

“You can hit yourself in the head so many times before you start to say, ‘Geez, it’s just not going to happen.’ And these guys never stopped,” Collins said. “They just kept coming every day and played no matter who was out. You get kind of numb to the situation — ‘Hey look, somebody’s out.’ Well, somebody else has got to play there. They’ve just kept grinding it out.”

With the Mets clinching a wild card spot with one game left in the regular season, ace Noah Syndergaard will make a cameo appearance on Sunday before getting the start in the wild card game Wednesday against either the Giants or Cardinals. The Mets couldn’t have planned it any better, as Syndergaard is the only healthy pitcher of the five young starters the Mets thought they’d have carrying them this season. “I think it’s like every little kids’ dream come true to pitch in a high-stakes game,” Syndergaard said. “I’ll embrace it. I’ll look forward to it. It should be a lot of fun.”

It’s more likely that the Mets play the Giants on Wednesday, potentially setting up a heavy weight pitching matchup between Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner. If the Giants win on Sunday, they will play the Mets, but a San Francisco loss and a St. Louis win on Saturday will force the Giants and Cardinals into a one-game playoff for the right to play the Mets on Wednesday. Either way, this year’s National League wild card goes through New York.

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