|Tale of 2 bullpens as Mets, Indians conclude series|
The New York Mets have climbed back into playoff contention thanks to a much-improved bullpen. The Cleveland Indians are going to need a similar transformation by closer Brad Hand if they are going to hang on to a postseason spot.
The surging Mets will look to complete a three-game sweep of its interleague series with visiting Indians on Thursday night, sending Noah Syndergaard (8-6, 3.86 ERA) to the mound to face rookie Aaron Civale (1-2, 1.50) in a battle of right-handers.
The Mets won their fourth straight game Wednesday, when J.D. Davis' RBI single to left capped a two-run 10th-inning comeback and lifted New York to a 4-3 victory.
While Davis' at-bat against Hand garnered the immediate notice -- Davis fell behind 0-2 but worked the count full and fouled off three consecutive pitches before delivering the game-winning hit -- the Mets likely wouldn't have been in position to win without a quintet of relievers who combined to allow two runs over six innings after starter Marcus Stroman exited with a left hamstring injury.
Mets relievers entered Wednesday with the fourth-highest ERA (5.18) in baseball. But the bullpen has a 3.88 ERA in the second half, during which New York has gone a baseball-best 26-10 to jump from next-to-last in the National League to 1 1/2 out in the race for the second wild-card spot.
"That was the missing piece of the puzzle from the beginning," Mets manager Mickey Callaway told reporters of his bullpen. "Early in the season, we were doing the same things late in the game that we're doing now. Just our bullpen was struggling. And we knew, hey, if we get our bullpen straightened out, we're going to win a lot of games because we would have won a lot of games in the first half had that been the case."
Hand has spent most of the season as a key contributor to an Indians bullpen that entered Wednesday with the best ERA (3.47) in the American League. But the left-hander, who made the All-Star Game for the third straight time this year, has struggled mightily over his last 13 games, posting a 6.39 ERA and blowing four of his nine save chances, including his last three.
Manager Terry Francona indicated Wednesday he's not ready to move away from Hand -- who opened the season by converting 27 of his first 28 save opportunities -- as the Indians vie for their fourth straight playoff berth. Cleveland occupies the first wild-card spot in the American League and is three games behind the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central.
"We can't run from Brad," Francona said. "To get where we want to go, we've got to get him hot."
Both Syndergaard and Civale took the defeat in their most recent starts last Friday. Syndergaard gave up two runs over six innings as the Mets fell to the Kansas City Royals 4-1. Civale, making his fourth big-league start, allowed three runs (two earned) over six innings as the Indians were edged by the New York Yankees 3-2.
Syndergaard has never faced the Indians and Civale has never opposed the Mets.
--Field Level Media