The Mets are planning to start Max Scherzer in Game 1 of their Wild-Card Series against the Padres and — in their best scenario — are contemplating a strategy to not use Jacob deGrom at all in this round. He harkens to a ploy 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, do not face elimination 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 attempt to save their season.
But if the Mets were to sweep the Padres in two games, deGrom would be lined up to start Games 1 and 5 against the Dodgers in the Division Series. This strategy is designed to make sure both Scherzer and deGrom would start in the wild-card round if the Mets ever face an elimination game while simultaneously, in the best case, trying to maximize their chances of winning more than just the wild-card round .
The Mets have not made public a final decision on how to approach these games. They could always just go with what had seemed the plan from the moment Scherzer signed last offseason — to start him and deGrom back to back if the team made the playoffs; with all indicators currently being that Scherzer is starting the opener no matter what. Scherzer and deGrom are both available on extra rest to open the series against San Diego.
If they go with the strategy to start Scherzer in the wild-card opener and, with a victory, then go with Bassitt in Game 2, you can expect that the Mets will not publicly state the biggest reason; at least not in real time. For no Mets official would ever want to have his players hear them say that 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 plumb Showalter’s history because this mirrors in many respects what he faced in 1995 as Yankees manager.
In that year, Showalter’s ace, David Cone, won on Sept. 27 pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in five years. There was an off-day on Sept. 28 and the Yankees went into the final three games in Toronto with a one-game lead on the Angels for the only AL wild-card slot (that was the first season of the wild card).
Jack McDowell, like Cone a former Cy Young winner, had not started since Sept. 21 due to a strained back muscle. Showalter felt McDowell needed more time to be at his best, but would have used him that final weekend if the Yankees faced elimination. Showalter made the decision he would only use Cone on three days’ rest on Sunday also if the Yankees faced elimination or on Monday if they needed 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 did not believe the Yanks had much of a chance against the Mariners’ lethal lineup in a best-of-five Division Series unless Cone started Games 1 and 5 while McDowell was available for a start and perhaps help in relief in Game 5 (if needed) in Seattle.
The Yankees and Angels both won Friday and Saturday, keeping the Yankees up by a game. So Showalter had Sterling Hitchcock start Game 162 rather than 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 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 walking 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 accomplishment or full understanding of what he would be by 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.
Now, Showalter again has two former Cy Young winners. He has a Division Series looming against an offensive powerhouse. He and the Mets are trying to determine 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 of a century ago.