Starting tonight and lasting throughout the weekend, the Redlegs will host the surprise NL East leading New York Mets for a four game, late September meeting on banks of the Ohio River. The game matters in varying degrees to each club. The Reds obviously just trying to play out the string on a 2015 season mainly defined by injuries and the trading away of former keystones for the club. The Mets, however, are accelerating toward the other end of the spectrum: a year of surprise and early arrival to competency and competitiveness in a division that most pundits picked to be a two horse race between two teams not named the Mets. Instead, the Mets have opened up a 6.5 game lead on everybody's preseason favorite Washington Nationals with 10 games to go. The race is all but over, but having a solid series in Cincy could put that Nats away for good, and you can bet the Mets will be determined to do just that.
On the mound, New York will be throwing its best at the Redlegs. The probable match ups shake out like this:
Thursday: LHP Steven Matz (4-0, 1.80) vs. RHP Josh Smith (0-2, 7.71), 7:10 p.m. ET
Friday: RHP Noah Syndergaard (8-7, 3.39) vs. RHP Anthony DeSclafani (9-11, 3.79), 7:10 p.m. ET
Saturday: RHP Matt Harvey (12-7, 2.80) vs. LHP John Lamb (1-3, 4.60), 4:10 p.m. ET
Sunday: RHP Jacob deGrom (13-8, 2.64) vs. RHP Keyvius Sampson (2-5, 6.45), 1:10 p.m. ET
For fans of the Reds... oof.
Matz was making his major league debut the last time the Reds saw him (against Josh Smith, no less), going 7.2 IP with 2 ER and 6 Ks. Maybe just as important, Matz enjoyed both a double and a single at the plate on a day that featured 4 RBIs. Matz made only one more start after his debut before landing on the DL with a lat tear. He just returned to work earlier this month and has shown little ill-effect from his injury. In three starts, Matz has gone 16.1 IP with a 2.20 ERA, 12:5 SO/BB. Needless to say, the fantastic rookie will look to slice up the Reds lineup one more time Thursday night.
Syndergaard will look to replicate stellar performance that he had against the Reds when he takes the bump on Friday. Thor lived up to his superhero nickname in his only appearance versus the Reds this season, tossing 8 innings of 1 run baseball, striking out 5 and walking none in only 89 pitches. The Reds looked mainly hapless against the right handed rookie, but, well, the Reds look mainly hapless against most pitchers these days. The fortunate news for the home team: Syndergaard is coming off a 5 earned, 7 hit, 6 IP start his last time out against the crosstown Yankees. In fact, since August 1st, Syndergaard has seen his ERA rise nearly one full run, and has gone 48.2 IP with a 4.62 ERA in 8 starts, allowing opponents a .780 OPS. He's can still strike people out, and he doesn't walk many (just over 1 per game), but he's given up 11 home runs in that time frame. If there's one thing the Reds can and will do it's hit the ball out of the park given the opportunity.
Harvey's season has been great, as the record and ERA in the twos would suggest, but it's the off-the-field narrative that's becoming something of a must-watch. Harvey is in his first season back from Tommy John surgery, and the Mets were expected to be careful with Harvey's phenomenal right arm as the season progressed. Problem is, nobody knows exactly what "being careful" with Harvey's phenomenal right arm actually is. And now, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson and Harvey agent Scott Boras are locked up in a showdown over the controversy in which there will probably be only one clear loser: Matt Harvey. The medical science behind limiting innings after TJS is limited at best, and every arm is different, but you'd certainly understand why Harvey (and his agent Boras) would be concerned with preserving it and therefore preserving future earnings. However, in the middle of an unexpected pennant race, if Harvey is anything but frothing at the bit to take the mound, he's going to be perceived as weak/soft/pick your favorite faux-machismo pyscho-babble BS used by fans to criticize players. And he just happens to playing in the most critical media market in America.
More on Matt Harvey's innings from our friends at Amazin' Avenue.
With all that said, the most impressive and important of all these fascinating (and young) pitchers is probably Sunday starter and 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. deGrom has been nothing short of special this season following up his Rookie of the Year season with one fit for a Cy Young. In 181 IP, deGrom owns the aforementioned 2.64 ERA with a 0.994 WHIP, good for a 142 ERA+. deGrom walks under 2 per 9 while striking out nearly 10 per. In an alternate universe devoid of Clayton Kershaw, Zach Grenkie, and obsession over pitcher wins (deGrom's only got 13 of those), young Jacob could quite possibly be running away with this. Even still, his name will be squarely in the conversation. The one thing the Reds can look forward to is that deGrom, similar to Syndergaard, has slowed down his torrid pace with an ERA of over since August 1st. He was skipped in his last start in order to save a few innings on that arm going into October. There is certainly a lot riding on it.
Pitching isn't the only story in New York these days. Prior to the All Star break, the Mets bats struggled to keep pace with their outstanding arms, and they rode a mere .233/.298/.363 triple slash into the break. However, as we now know, changes were coming by the trade deadline, as the Mets went from seemingly blundering buffoons when they rushed and ultimately failed to land Carlos Gomez for Zach Wheeler and Wilmer Flores (Flores infamously couldn't hide his emotions on the field when the Mets jumped the gun). Then, the Mets seemingly did much of the same with our very own Jay Bruce (and it's still not clear who backed out of that one) before landing Yoenis Cespedes from the Tigers. And the Mets seemed to have pulled all of the right strings; since the deadline, they have batted .267/.340/.473 on the back of the addition of Cespedes, the return of David Wright, the call up of Michael Conforto, and the renaissance of Curtis Granderson in his age 34 season. For some reason, manager Terry Collins seems to want to toy with what's been working in their platoon system, but as of right now, it's all working.