Thor prepared, eager to start Wild Card Game

Thor prepared, eager to start Wild Card Game

NEW YORK -- There was no singular moment when Noah Syndergaard morphed from a potential superstar into an actual one, his vast pool of potential fulfilled. Mets manager Terry Collins simply recalls bits and pieces of watching the process unfold. Long possessing physical gifts beyond those of nearly every player in baseball, Syndergaard began scribbling down notes from other starters. He watched what Jacob deGrom did to win, for example, emulating it as best he could.

"He figured out himself what he's got to do to be successful on the mound," Collins said. "It's hard for a young guy to learn, yet he learned it on the fly, and I think that's what's helped make him better."

Entering Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game against the Giants at Citi Field (8 p.m. ET on ESPN), Syndergaard can now call himself one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, an easy entry on the short list of the game's top arms. Syndergaard's four-seam fastball hits 101 mph. His slider has been clocked above 95 mph. His sinker, curve and changeup are all weapons he uses every game.

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That is why the Mets chose him to start their most important game of the season -- win or go home. In reality, with deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz all injured, it was not much of a choice.

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"He's one of the best young pitchers in the game," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "You look at his stuff, he's just grown as a pitcher -- his command, his secondary pitches, everything. You saw what he did in the postseason last year."

In his first full big league season, Syndergaard constructed a resume that looks an awful lot like what the Mets hoped it would. Despite pitching through a bone spur in his elbow that caused intermittent inflammation, Syndergaard finished 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA, the latter mark third in MLB. He tied for fourth in the NL with 218 strikeouts and led the league in pitcher WAR, according to Fangraphs' calculations.

Collins on Thor vs. Bumgarner

Perhaps most encouraging, after a midsummer string of pedestrian starts, Syndergaard completed the season with a 2.06 ERA over his final seven outings. Thanks to the Mets' early clinch on Saturday, he will start the Wild Card Game on extra rest, throwing an extended bullpen session on Sunday to prepare.

"There's really no reason to be nervous when you're prepared," Syndergaard said. "That's my motto. I'm more anxious and just excited to get out there and compete."

Like all pitchers, Syndergaard is not without his weaknesses. While he can regularly run his fastball up to 101 mph, Syndergaard's max-effort style often results in gaudy pitch counts and early exits. His inability to contain the running game is also a significant issue; Syndergaard allowed 48 stolen bases this season, 13th most in big league history.

Syndergaard on holding runners

But Syndergaard knows how to intimidate -- remember that first-pitch fastball that knocked down Alcides Escobar in Game 3 of last year's World Series? -- and possesses perhaps the best pure stuff of any starter in baseball. His last start against the Giants was one of the best of his career: eight innings, two hits, no runs and six strikeouts.

Anything approaching that effort on Wednesday will give the Mets a strong chance to win, regardless of what ace counterpart Madison Bumgarner does for the Giants.

Pence on facing Syndergaard

"It's two Goliaths going at it," Giants outfielder Hunter Pence said, "two big guys and that makes for some good drama, some good excitement. That's the fun of playoff baseball is getting out there and competing against the best."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for 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.