Alonso and Lindor vs. Machado and Soto. deGrom and Scherzer vs. Darvish and Snell.
There won’t be any shortage of star power in the Wild Card Series between the Mets and Padres at Citi Field this weekend, with Game 1 of the best-of-three set starting Friday at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
The Mets were forced into the Wild Card Series by an even stronger Braves team that swept them at the very end of the regular season and claimed the National League East title despite both teams winning 101 games. The Padres, no strangers to elite division competition, finished second to the 111-win Dodgers in the NL West, sending them to New York for the first round of the postseason. Let’s break down all the matchups ahead of the series.
Here’s a position-by-position rundown of the Mets-Padres Wild Card Series.
Neither team is particularly strong at the catcher position. For the Mets, Tomás Nido has been a good defensive catcher, with +5 framing runs and a fast average pop time of 1.96 seconds; he just doesn’t provide much offense (.239 batting average, .600 OPS, three home runs). James McCann was supposed to provide the offense, but he’s done even less, batting .195 with a .538 OPS. The Padres have a trio of catching options in Austin Nola, Luis Campusano and Jorge Alfaro, none of whom have been great defensively or offensively. But between the three of them, they probably give a little more juice at the plate than the Mets’ catchers. Maybe MLB’s No. 1 overall prospect Francisco Álvarez makes the postseason roster for New York and swings the catcher battle toward the Mets, but for now, small edge to the Padres.
The Padres have been going with a combination of Brandon Drury and Wil Myers at first base; they could also use Josh Bell there. None of them are Pete Alonso. The rock of the Mets’ lineup, Alonso hit 40 home runs and led the Major Leagues with 131 RBIs. He started 133 games at first base and 150 in the cleanup spot. He posted a 146 OPS+. On the other side, Myers had a 108 OPS+ this season, Drury had a 109 OPS+ after the Padres traded for him, and Bell has slumped mightily, with a 75 OPS+ for San Diego.
The Mets, ideally, will have the MLB batting champion at second base in Jeff McNeil. McNeil, who hit .326 in the regular season, also gets some starts in the outfield, but Tyler Naquin can man right field against the Padres’ righty starters, and if Starling Marte and/or Darin Ruf are healthy and on the Wild Card Series roster to face Blake Snell, McNeil could stay at second all series. If not, Luis Guillorme has been capable for New York all year, especially defensively. Jake Cronenworth (17 home runs, 88 RBIs) was an All-Star for a second straight year in 2022, but if it’s him vs. McNeil at second base, this one goes to McNeil.
Sorry, Eduardo Escobar. Manny Machado is a big edge for the Padres here — maybe their biggest at any position (but read on). Machado is one of the top NL MVP contenders along with the Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, batting .296 with 32 home runs, 102 RBIs and +8 outs above average on defense. His 7.4 fWAR led the National League and ranked behind only Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani in all of MLB. Escobar hit 20 home runs for the Mets this season, but he’s not close to Machado’s level.
Francisco Lindor vs. Fernando Tatis Jr. would have been one of the premier matchup battles in any playoff series. But Tatis won’t play this season, so instead, it’s Lindor, who’s won over New York with a resurgent second season there, vs. Ha-Seong Kim. Kim has done a fine job holding down the shortstop position in Tatis’ absence (150 games played, 11 home runs, 12 stolen bases) but just isn’t the difference-maker that Tatis is — or Lindor is. The Mets star finished the season with 26 home runs, 16 steals and a career-high 107 RBIs while playing an excellent shortstop with +13 outs above average.
Mark Canha had yet another productive season in his first year in New York, posting a .367 on-base percentage and 122 OPS+ with a Major League-leading 28 hit-by-pitches for a Mets team that set the modern hit-by-pitch record. Jurickson Profar has been solid for the Padres, too, with 15 home runs and a 111 OPS+, so this one is nearly even, but Canha’s been just a tiny bit better.
The Padres’ biggest question entering the postseason is what they’ll do in center field. Trent Grisham is a great defender, with +13 outs above average, and is in theory a home run threat, with 17 long balls on the season. But his offense has been nonexistent down the stretch — he batted .107 in September and October, bringing his season average down to .184, well below the Mendoza Line. But if not Grisham, the Padres would have to go to either José Azocar, who’s really a platoon player to face lefties — and the Mets’ starters are all righties — or Myers, who’s definitely not a true center fielder. The Mets, on the other hand, have the opposite of a question mark in center field: Brandon Nimmo. New York’s everyday leadoff man hit 16 home runs with a 130 OPS+ on the season and has been more than capable in center (+6 outs above average).
If Juan Soto is the Juan Soto who carried the Nationals to the 2017 World Series title, he’s as big an advantage as Machado. Even in a “down” season by his standards in 2022, when his batting average dropped to .242, Soto still led the Majors with 135 walks compared to just 96 strikeouts, and hit 27 home runs with a 149 OPS+. If he hits like he’s hit in every other season of his career, he could carry the Padres to the World Series, too. For the Mets, if Marte can return, they at least have an All-Star right fielder, too, but even Marte is far outmatched by peak Soto. If Naquin is out there, the gap is even bigger.
DH is also a question for the Padres because of Bell’s struggles — he hit just .192 post-trade to San Diego — which could prompt them to use Myers at DH instead. But the Mets have their questions there, too, on the right-handed side of their platoon. Lefty slugger Daniel Vogelbach will start against the Padres’ righties, and he’s been very good in New York, with a 139 OPS+ in 55 games (not to mention his high potential for postseason cult hero status). But against a lefty like Snell, the Mets’ options are either Ruf, who’s struggled and ended the regular season on the injured list, or a rookie like Álvarez or Mark Vientos. Because two of San Diego’s top three starters are righties, though (Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove), Vogelbach’s presence in the lineup for multiple games in the series gives the Mets the edge at DH.
You’d think the Mets’ elite rotation, fronted by Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt, would have the edge against anyone. But the Braves just proved even those three can be beaten — and the Padres, with Darvish, Snell and Musgrove, are one of the few teams with a top three that can rival New York’s. Still, overcoming deGrom (3.08 ERA, 14.3 K/9) and Scherzer (2.29 ERA, 10.7 K/9) in front of the home crowd in New York will be a daunting task in a short series. You have to give this one to the Mets, even if it’s close.
This battle is as good as the one between the starting rotations. Edwin Díaz vs. Josh Hader. Two elite closers. Hader had 36 saves this season and struck out 14.6 batters per nine innings — but he was also surprisingly vulnerable at times, with a 5.22 ERA overall and a 7.31 ERA since the Padres traded for him. And Díaz? Díaz is the best closer in the world right now. He notched 32 saves with a 1.31 ERA … and a staggering 17.1 K/9. He struck out over half the batters he’s faced this season. As far as the bridges to the two closers, both San Diego and New York have multiple capable setup men but some questions in middle relief. With Díaz, though, the Mets take this one.