Mets know they face tough test in Bumgarner

Mets know they face tough test in Bumgarner

PHILADELPHIA -- There is some symmetry in the fact that the Mets' National League Wild Card Game opponent is the Giants. It was on Aug. 19 that the Mets hit the low point of their season, falling two games under .500 and thinking -- they admit this freely now -- that it just might not be their year.

The next night the Mets beat San Francisco behind Yoenis Cespedes' two homers. The night after that, Noah Syndergaard pitched one of the best games of his career in yet another victory. And from that point forward, the Mets constructed Major League Baseball's best record, clinching a Wild Card date with Madison Bumgarner and those same Giants at Citi Field on Wednesday night (8 ET on ESPN).

"They're a great team," Mets manager Terry Collins said after Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Phillies. "They had a rough second half, everybody knows that. But they're very talented. I know they're probably banged up a little bit, like we are. But we had to work real hard to get in. We had to reach down inside, so we can do it again."

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The Giants present a straightforward challenge: Their starting pitcher, Bumgarner, is one of the best in baseball, a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate. Though the Mets enjoyed some success against Bumgarner earlier this season, they've never beaten him, going 0-5 while scoring eight runs across 40 career innings.

Attacking hitters from an extreme left-handed angle, Bumgarner creates the effect of seeming to throw from behind lefty hitters. That's a problem for a Mets team stacked with them, and playing without Wilmer Flores -- their most potent lefty masher.

"He's proven time and time again that he's one of the best pitchers in the game," said Mets infielder Kelly Johnson. "It's similar to last year, when we ran through the gauntlet of [Zack] Greinke and [Clayton] Kershaw. You're going to face the top pitching in the playoffs, and this is going to be our first test."

Like the Mets and every team, the Giants do have their warts. The Mets would love to force their way into San Francisco's bullpen, which blew a league-high 30 saves this season. They also feel Syndergaard is plenty capable of bullying an offense that scored fewer runs than all but three big league teams after the All-Star break.

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But regardless of their troubles in the second half, the Giants are playing in October, bringing significant experience, with World Series wins in 2010, 2012 and 2014. A popular preseason World Series pick, the Giants lost four of seven to the Mets during the regular season, but understand the intricacies of competing in October as well as anyone.

"I think you can throw some of the stats out the window when you're talking about postseason, and especially a one-game elimination," Johnson said. "As we've seen with him the last time the Giants were in the postseason, [Bumgarner] really stepped up for them and kind of carried them through to the World Series. He's one of the greats, so we're going to have our hands full. But we think we've got a pretty good guy on our side, too."

"It's the big leagues," Collins added. "You're going to face great pitching in the postseason. I know they're in their clubhouse saying, 'Wow, we've got to face Syndergaard.' It should be a great game."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.