For the past two weeks, the Mets have been a team fighting for the playoffs against teams that had long since lost that battle. As Shea's final homestand begins tonight, the Mets are still fighting against an opponent that has nothing left to fight for, but the situation is quite different from All Nats, All Braves, All The Time. The Chicago Cubs have nothing left to fight for because they have already won their battle for a playoff spot - they clinched the NL Central on Saturday, and their next win (or the next loss by the Phillies) will guarantee them the best record in the National League. They could pull their starting pitchers a bit earlier than what has been the norm, they probably will give a bit more playing time to their bench guys than a team that hasn't clinched yet would, they may not show all of the tricks up their sleeve to a team they could face again next week (the Mets would be heading to Wrigley Field for the Division Series if the season ended today), but a team talented enough to win 61% of its games should not be taken lightly even if they may not be going full throttle this week.
Jon Niese will make just the third start of his major league career this evening, after a shaky debut in Milwaukee at the beginning of the month and a stellar outing against the Braves at Shea nine days ago. The 21-year-old lefty did not have a significant platoon split in the minors this year, something that is worth noting because the Cubs are a predominantly right-handed team. In fact, Kosuke Fukudome is the only left-handed batter to have at least 300 plate appearances with the Cubs this year (the Mets, on the other hand, have three lefties and three switch-hitters with at least that many PA).
Jason Marquis's team has made the playoffs in every year of his major-league career (Braves from 2000-2003, Cardinals from 2004-2006, Cubs last year and this year), but has not appeared in a playoff game since 2005. If he is to appear in one this year, it will almost certainly be out of the bullpen, as he's clearly the odd man out in the Cubs rotation once the playoffs begin and a fifth starter is no longer necessary. He's the kind of pitcher who has decent stuff (a 90 MPH fastball, plus a slider and changeup and the occasional cutter or curve) but is prone to the more-than-occasional bad outing because he doesn't miss enough bats (just 87 strikeouts in 160 innings). If the number of runs the Mets score against Marquis is greater than the number of times Gary Cohen mentions that Marquis is a native New Yorker who once pitched for Tottenville High School, I would have a pretty good feeling about the likely outcome of tonight's game.
Let's Go Mets!
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