|Marcus Stroman on the mound last Wednesday against Cleveland. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Mets will be hosting the Chicago Cubs for a three-game series starting Tuesday night, with each team's playoff fates in the balance.
The Cubs hold the second Wild Card spot with a record of 69-61, two games ahead of the Mets, who are 67-63, with the Philadelphia Phillies in between them at 68-62.
Both the Mets and Cubs had brutal weekends, as the Atlanta Braves swept the Mets, and the Nationals did the same to the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Those results were consequential, in that the Mets are only thinking Wild Card, as that left them 12 games behind Atlanta (now 11 1/2 since the Braves lost a make-up game in Colorado on Monday), and the Nationals (73-57) opened up a four-game lead on Chicago (and six games on the Mets) for the top Wild Card spot.
With that sweep, the Cubs' Central Division title hopes also took a dent, as they fell three games behind St. Louis Cardinals, who have a record of 72-58, winners of five in a row and eight of their last 10 game.
Essentially, what was a seven-team race for two Wild Card spots is more of a six-team sprint for the second one, if in addition to the Cubs, Mets, and Phils, you include Milwaukee (67-64), Arizona (66-66), and San Francisco (65-66), as all four teams are separated by just four-and-a-half games.
Marcus Stroman will get the start for the Mets on Tuesday night, matched up against Chicago's Yu Darvish.
This will be Stroman's fifth start for the Mets, and third at Citi Field, and first since he had to leave against Cleveland last Wednesday with a tight hamstring.
"I think we just have to be smart with him," Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said, when asked if there are any limitations on the right-hander. "We have to keep an eye on him when he's fielding his position, things like that, but no limitations at this point."
Stroman has yet to go past six innings in one of his four starts with the Mets since they acquired him from Toronto. That does include his last outing, in which he had to leave after four innings having thrown just 62 pitches.
"I think it's just the pitch count gets run up there a little bit," Callaway said when asked why Stroman hasn't been able to go late in games. "He's battled. I don't think we've really seen him have a full game at his best yet. I've seen him throw some really, really good games in the past.
"His first home game here (on August 9 against Washington), he came out lights-out, striking a lot of guys out. I think the strikeouts (nine) took its toll on his pitch count, but I'm expecting that he's going to continue to battle."
Stroman only has one victory - in Atlanta on August 15 - and three no-decisions with the Mets, but Callaway sees a larger point in how he has pitched.
"The thing that has impressed me the most - we haven't seen his best and he's kept us in every game that he's pitched in. He does an outstanding job of identifying what he has that night and doing whatever it takes to keep as many runs off the board as possible, so that's been really impressive. His pitching instincts, his ability to field his position, and his competitiveness really allow him to keep runs off the board, and it's shown up in this ERA this year," Callaway said, referring to how it's 3.18 this season, compared to 5.54 last season and 3.78 for his career.