NEW YORK -- Should the Mets beat Madison Bumgarner and the Giants to win the National League Wild Card Game on Wednesday, their reward will be a best-of-five Division Series against the 103-win Cubs -- baseball's best team by no small margin.
Anyone who has watched October baseball knows beating the game's best is far from impossible -- it happens more often than not. But the Mets likely won't come close to defending their NL pennant without strong performances from Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, the two rookie pitchers who have kept their season afloat. The Mets' X-factors this postseason, Lugo and Gsellman could make the difference between a deep October run and an early exit.
If the gravity of that responsibility is affecting them, they're not showing it.
"Everyone keeps asking me that," Gsellman said, laughing off the pressure of starting critical games in October. "It hasn't really kicked in yet. But it's fun."
This should be a fun experience for Gsellman, who ended the season with his two best starts yet: a combined 13 innings of one-run ball spanning two victories, with 15 strikeouts and three walks. A 13th-round Draft pick in 2011, Gsellman relies on his mid-90s sinker to generate ground balls at an elite rate, allowing him to go 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA as a rookie.
Then there is Lugo, a 34th-round pick in that same Draft, known primarily for the novelty of his curveball's elite spin rate. Perhaps that's finally changing for a pitcher who actually throws his curve less frequently than his sinker, four-seam fastball and slider. Lugo has used all of those pitches in constructing a 5-1 record and 2.68 ERA since joining the rotation, where he will stay if the Mets win the Wild Card Game.
"Playoff time is fun," Lugo said. "So the more fun you're having, it makes it that much easier to play."
It is worth noting that of the 15 games Lugo and Gsellman started down the stretch, only four of them came against teams that finished the year above-average in total offense. The Cubs boast a decidedly different caliber of lineup, as one of only three Major League teams to score more than 800 runs. And if the Mets advance beyond the Wild Card Game, Lugo and Gsellman will face only top-half offenses the rest of the way.
But manager Terry Collins believes Lugo and Gsellman have two things working to their advantage. First, both pitchers have grown obvious confidence as the year has progressed, feeling and believing that they belong in this spot. Second, and perhaps more practically, the only playoff club that has ever faced Lugo or Gsellman is the Nationals; all others, including the Cubs, would be facing them for the first time. And as any hitter knows, all the video in the world cannot adequately simulate the look and feel of a particular pitcher.
So the Mets will take their chances with Lugo and Gsellman -- minus Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, they don't have much of a choice -- in the hope that they can rise to the postseason atmosphere facing them.
"I've seen what they can do," Collins said. "Coming into the situation that they came into -- it's playoff baseball, certainly it's a bigger stage, but I think they're going to handle it just great. They've handled this tremendously. They'll be jacked up, which they should be. But so far, they've showed they can control themselves. They can control their emotions. Their demeanors on the mound have been great. So it will be fun, certainly, fun to watch. I know it can be done. We've seen it from our guys last year, and there's no reason why these guys can't do it."
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.