Mets consider MLB playoff strategy that would delay Jacob deGrom

The Mets plan to start Max Scherzer in Game 1 of their Wild-Card series against the Padres and are considering — in their best-case scenario — a strategy of not using Jacob deGrom at all in this round. It aligns with a trick Buck Showalter used in 1995 when he first made the playoffs as a manager with the Yankees.

If this plan is used, Scherzer would start Friday night’s opener, and if the Mets win and thus not face elimination on Saturday, Chris Bassitt would start Game 2.

If the Mets lose the opener, the strategy would be to start deGrom in Game 2 to try to avoid elimination. If the Mets win the opener but then lose Game 2, deGrom would start Game 3 to try to salvage their season.

But if the Mets were to sweep the Padres in two games, deGrom would be in line to start Games 1 and 5 against the Dodgers in the Division Series. This strategy is designed to ensure that both Scherzer and deGrom start in the wild-card round if the Mets ever face an elimination game, while at best trying to maximize their chances of winning more than just the wild-card round.

The Mets have not announced a final decision on how to approach these games. They could always just follow what seemed to be the plan from the moment Scherzer signed last season — to start him and deGrom back-to-back if the team made the playoffs; with all indicators at the moment Scherzer starting the opener no matter what. Scherzer and deGrom are both available on extra time to open the series against San Diego.

The Mets can potentially hold Jacob deGrom back until the NLDS if they can sweep the Padres in the wild-card round.
The Mets could potentially hold Jacob deGrom back until the NLDS if they can sweep the Padres in the Wild-Card round.
Jason Szenes

If they go with the strategy of starting Scherzer in the wild-card opener and, with a win, then going with Bassitt in Game 2, expect the Mets not to publicly state the biggest reason; at least not in real time. Because no Mets official would ever want to hear his players say they don’t believe the Mets can beat the highest scoring team (by far) in the majors unless deGrom is available to start Games 1 and 5 at Dodger Stadium, while having Scherzer for Game 2 and potentially a relief spot in Game 5 against Los Angeles.

So you have to iron out Showalter’s story because in many ways this mirrors what he faced in 1995 as Yankees manager.

That year, Showalter’s ace, David Cone, won on September 27 pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in five years. There was an off day on September 28, and the Yankees entered the final three games in Toronto with a one-game lead on the Angels for the sole AL wild-card slot (it was the first season of the wild card).

Under a plan the Mets are considering, Chris Bassitt would start Game 2 for the Mets if they win Game 1 against the Padres.
Under a plan the Mets are considering, Chris Bassitt would start Game 2 for the Mets if they win Game 1 against the Padres.
Michelle Farsi/New York Post
Max Scherzer is set to start for the Mets in Game 1 against the Padres.
Max Scherzer is set to start for the Mets in Game 1 against the Padres.
Robert Sabo

Jack McDowell, like Cone, a former Cy Young winner, had not started since Sept. 21 because of a strained back muscle. Showalter felt McDowell needed more time to be at his best, but would have used him this past weekend if the Yankees faced elimination. Showalter made the decision that he would only use Cone on three days’ rest on Sundays, even if the Yankees faced elimination or on Monday if they had to play a one-game playoff against the Angels to save the season.

Why did he do this? In real time, Showalter talked about trusting all of his starters, as he almost certainly will if the Mets start Bassitt in Game 2.

But as 1995 faded further and further away, Yankee officials would come to admit that they didn’t think the Yanks had much of a chance against the Mariners’ lethal lineup in a best-of-five division series unless Cone started Game 1 and 5, while McDowell was available for a start and perhaps relief relief in Game 5 (if needed) in Seattle.

If the Mets keep Jacob deGrom back, it would be similar to a strategy he used with David Cone as Yankees manager in 1995.
If the Mets keep Jacob deGrom back, it would be similar to a strategy he used with David Cone as Yankees manager in 1995.
Paul J. Bereswill

The Yankees and Angels both won on Friday and Saturday, keeping the Yankees up by one game. So Showalter had Sterling Hitchcock start Game 162 in place of Cone on short rest to try to clinch. The Yankees beat the Blue Jays, so it didn’t matter what the Angels did (they won) because the Yankees had sealed their first playoff berth since 1981.

The way the playoffs worked back then was a two-three format. The Yankees won the first two games at home, including the opener behind Cone. McDowell lost Game 3, and Seattle also won Game 4. So Cone started the decisive Game 5 and pitched valiantly before driving in the tying run in the eighth inning. Showalter brought in the only effective reliever he had in that series, a rookie named Mariano Rivera, to get out of the eighth and get the first out in the ninth. But Rivera wasn’t Rivera yet—at least not in performance or full understanding of what he would be for the next year.

So Showalter removed Rivera and turned to McDowell, who got out of the ninth inning but famously gave up the game-winning, two-run double to Edgar Martinez to eliminate the Yankees in what would be Showalter’s final game as their manager.

2022 MLB Playoffs.
2022 MLB Playoffs.
NEW Postal illustration

Now Showalter once again has two former Cy Young winners. He has a division streak going against an offensive powerhouse. He and the Mets are trying to figure out how to maximize their chances to win it all, not just a wild-card round.

So one strategy that has been considered is one that Showalter already implemented more than a quarter century ago.

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