It didn't get much notice, but Major League Baseball announced something on Monday that may help the Mets go deep in the playoffs if they win the NL East.
MLB released the postseason schedule all the way up to Nov. 4, which would be the date for the seventh game of the World Series. But for the moment we're focused on the Division Series, which would feature the Mets if they hold off the Nationals for their first division crown since 2006.
The regular season ends on Sunday, Oct. 4. The NL Division series won't begin until Friday, Oct. 9, which will give the three Senior Circuit division champions a full four days to set up their pitching for the first round.
Baseball wanted to make the division championships more valuable than the two wild cards, and with this schedule they have succeeded, at least for Round One.
Let's say the Mets have to go all-out to win the East and start Matt Harvey on the regular season's final day against Washington. Because of the postseason schedule, the Mets could bring Harvey right back for Game 1 of the NLDS on normal rest and then slot the rest of the rotation however they chose. And Harvey would be available to start a Game 5.
Is it a big deal? For the Mets, it may end up as one.
"It's such a big deal that I could imagine the Mets going deeper in the playoffs because of the layoff," said Ron Darling, the Mets broadcaster and MLB on TBS analyst. TBS will carry the NL wild-card game on Oct. 7 and both NL Division Series.
"I think it's a huge advantage for every team, but it's an even bigger advantage for the Mets," Darling said. "You are not completely sure about their bullpen. You're pretty sure about their rotation. The rotation is the strength of their team.
"Teams have done it different ways. You saw the Kansas City Royals do it with their bullpen. When their starter got into trouble in the fifth inning, sixth inning, they were out of there. You saw the Giants do it with one overwhelming player .
"For the Mets to go deep into the playoffs, they'll have to have their starting pitchers not only pitch great, but also go deep into games. And I don't mean deep like 6 2/3 innings. Like eight-plus. With that rest, I think it's going to put them in a great position -- if they win their division."
The Giants and Royals were both wild-card teams last season, and they made it to the World Series. While MLB has made the road to the World Series more difficult for wild-card teams, obviously it's not impossible.
One of the beliefs is that wild-card teams benefit by playing many high-pressure games in a short span and can get on a roll. Conversely, a division winner that coasts down the stretch and then has a layoff could grow stale.
Darling, though, doesn't think that will be an issue for the Mets. Extra time off before the postseason probably wouldn't hurt David Wright or some of their other position players.
"I think it's not a disadvantage for the Mets the way their team is constituted now," Darling said. "Because they've got a little older team, an older bench. It gets Juan Uribe off his feet, Kelly Johnson off his feet, [Yoenis] Cespedes off his feet . . . Daniel Murphy . . . Curtis Granderson. So I think it's a real huge advantage for the Mets that way, also. It's a big deal for them."
If the Mets do win the East, general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins will have to grapple with which four pitchers would start in the Division Series and which, if any, of the other starters could help bolster their suspect bullpen. And a certain Long Island lefty and flame-throwing rookie righty may figure prominently in those discussions and decisions.
"Identifying who can help them and who can't hurt them in the bullpen, especially if they are going to make it to the postseason, I think is the most important decision Alderson, et al, are going to have to make," Darling said. "If that means that Steven Matz starts a game and Noah Syndergaard goes to the bullpen -- he'd throw 104 out of the bullpen, wouldn't he? -- maybe that's a decision you make. I know I'd care if I was on the team and we had our shot that we took our best shot."