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Mets begin march to pennant against Padres in NL Wild Card Series

After leading the National League East for 175 days and winning 101 games, the New York Mets lost the division to the Braves in spectacular fashion. Instead of having a bye, the Mets move into the playoffs against the San Diego Padres in the National League Wild Card Series starting Friday night.

While the sting of dropping the division is still fresh, the Mets must brush it off and focus on this series. Even without Fernando Tatis Jr., the Padres are still formidable, especially after acquiring Met killer Juan Soto at the trade deadline.

The Mets are in the playoffs and attempting to win their first championship since 1986. How do they advance to the Divisional Series? Here are three keys to victory.

Starting Pitching

Max Scherzer will get the ball in Game 1 on Friday night. While he did not pitch particularly bad against the Braves during the series no one will speak of, it wasn't the performance he is capable of. When the right-hander signed a three-year/$130 million deal to come to New York, these are moments that Met fans wanted him here for. He will need to set the tone in the opener to get the crowd and his teammates revved up.

At press time, Mets manager Buck Showalter had yet to announce the starters for Games 2 and 3, but it can be assumed that it will be Jacob deGrom and Chris Bassit in that order for those games. deGrom has been awful over his last few regular season starts, and Bassit wasn't great by any measure during that fateful weekend in Atlanta. With the Mets' bullpen (except Edwin Diaz) inconsistent, the starters will need to go deep in the game and remove any doubts. Starting pitching will be the X-Factor of the series.

Catcher Production

While good behind the plate, James McCann and Tomas Nido are automatic outs at this point of the season. McCann has a slash of .195/.257/.282 with nine extra-base hits. Nido is a bit better at .239 but is mainly in the lineup for his glove. Francisco Alvarez will be a star with this team, but he is not ready to catch this pitching staff and hold it together under postseason pressure, so that is not even an option.

In this series, and the entire playoff run the Mets hope to make, they need offensive production from McCann and Nido. Do they need to hit eight home runs in the series? No, but they need to get some hits, drive in some runs, and move guys over to the next base. They must contribute offensively in some way, shape, or form to make San Diego pitchers think twice when they're at-bat. Heck, Todd Pratt wasn't Mike Piazza, but he did something. Remember the playoff walk-off homer?

Runners In Scoring Position

The poison pill of the three-game sweep in Atlanta was the Mets' inability to drive in runs. Although they are fourth in batting average with runners in scoring position (.269) and third in batting with runners in scoring position with two outs (.260), they have flashes of ineptitude in this area.

When the Mets get runners on, especially in scoring position, they must capitalize on every opportunity. The Padres are scrappy and will hang around until they get an opportunity. New York has to knock in runs and not give San Diego any chance to sneak back into or lead the game. Take advantage of every opportunity you have is the message coming from the clubhouse and dugout in this series.

The Mets are the better team in this series. You look position by position and it's not even a question. The Mets must take losing the division and use it as a motivator. You are not home on a bye like Atlanta, and your path is a little longer. The pain they felt leaving Georgia, as Buck said after that series, they must inflict on the rest of the National League en route to a pennant.

Stay with Jersey Sporting News throughout the Mets playoff run for complete coverage.

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