Pa Jake Mintz
Posted by FOX Sports MLB

It’s time to say the two best words in sports: Game 3.

Sunday in the Queens Baseball Cauldron Metz and Padres to face in the first Wild-Card Series competition where the winner takes it all. New York will send Chris Bassitt to the mountain. San Diego will counter Joe Musgrove. If you’ve ever wanted to watch 40,000 New Yorkers vomit in horror at the same time, be sure to tune in.

And because the other three Wild-Card series have ended in sweeps – so be it does a two game series win really count as a sweep? — Mets-Pods is the only postseason baseball on Sunday. It also seems fitting: two teams with legitimate World Series aspirations in spring training who have come through unusually tumultuous seasons going head-to-head in a newfangled playoff round for the honor of drawing criticism from Smart people Next week. Such a fatalist! So much fun!

MLB Playoffs: Jacob deGrom & Co. forcing the game 3

Ben Verlander and Alex Curry break the Mets-Padres streak. The Padres hit Max Scherzer in Game 1, but Jacob deGrom and the Mets were able to take Game 2. Which team is your favorite in the series?

Anyway, here are the four questions that make up Key Sunday Game 3.

Will we see a Juan Soto moment?

In 2019, the 20-year-old baby-faced killer lit up October with a sunny smile and plenty of mantel moments. Single in the eighth inning in the Wild Card game against Milwaukee. Silence the crowd, the game ties the start Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the NLDS. A pair of timely major World Series flyouts Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlandertwo of the most dominant pitchers of the era.

Like Soto and his Citizens teammates ran through the streets of D.C. during their next championship parade, it seemed like the gregarious slugger would call the nation’s capital home for years to come.

But it was a pandemic before. Times change, and so do the lineups. Soto now finds himself in the middle of a different order, in the middle of a different postseason. The Padres gave up their entire farm system for a reason. They know Soto has the potential to single-handedly change a game, a series or a season. He’s done it before.

And on Sunday against Bassito, San Diego, hopefully he can do it again.

Can Chris Bassitt contain the Padres offense?

Soto only faced Basit three times (2-3 with two singles), not enough for a sample to collect anything. But throughout his career, Bassitt has at times struggled against patient lefty hitters who possess light tower power. Sound familiar?

Jordan Alvarez is 4-for-10 with three homers against Bassitt. Joey Gallo, Daniel Fogelbach and Carlos Santana are a combined 9-for-26 with five homers. Most notably, the Padres slugger Josh Bell 2-for-5 with several long balls against Basit. Between Soto, Bell, the second baseman Jake Cronenworth and a center fielder Trent Grisham (two homers already in this streak), the Padres have a bevy of left-handed (or, in Bell’s case, switch) hitters who are more than happy to wait on Bassitt if they can pitch.

In his final regular-season game against the Mets’ division hopes in Atlanta last Sunday, Bassitt buckled under the pressure, allowing four runs on three walks in just 2⅔ innings. In retrospect, he admits he tried to do too much and pushed himself out of his comfort zone.

After Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom it’s not an easy job, but Basit has done it admirably over the last few months of the regular season. The Mets will hope he learned from his failures in Atlanta; their season depends on it. With Scherzer and deGrom out and no other traditional starters even on the wild card roster, the Mets can’t afford another early shower for Bassitt.

As much as possible Edwin Diaz give?

The Mets have relied on a flamethrowing pitch all season, relying on late-game brilliance from Diaz to cover what was otherwise an … adequate bullpen. On Saturday, when the Mets started, captain Buck Showalter made the unorthodox decision to bring his ninth inning guy into the bottom of the seventh.

Nowadays, using your best reliever against an opponent’s top order, regardless of pitching, is a rational strategy supported by sablemetrics. But against the Padres Game 2Showalter went 8-9-1 against San Diego hitters for Diaz.

So when the scoreboard at Citi Field went off and the first notes of “Narco” played as part of Diaz’s now-iconic performance, the sold-out Mets crowd looked a little confused, almost stunned. Timmy Trumpet? In the seventh? That’s not what Australian house music is about!

Despite​​​​ that, except for a lone single from the San Diego catcher Austin Nola, Diaz flied through the Padres in the seventh. The Mets then exploded for four runs in the bottom of the inning, spanning a whopping 45 minutes. Despite the long layoff, Diaz returned from the dugout to finish eighth in retirement Manny Machado and Bell before giving way Adam Ottavina.

In all, Diaz threw 28 pitches on the evening, many of which were relatively unnecessary. After the game, Showalter confirmed that Diaz would be ready for Game 3, but it’s reasonable to wonder if the Mets need their best bullpen arm to go out and waste precious bullets with a five-run lead.

If Diaz’s surprising outing Saturday limits him on Sunday — generally, anyway — Showalter’s erratic use of his closer will be a huge storyline if the Padres advance.

How will the Padres use Josh Hader?

Like a great white shark with long blond hair, Hader has been quietly lurking in the Citi Field bullpen the past two nights, patiently waiting for a hit. Thanks to a pair of explosive games, the Padres have yet to deploy their best bullpen arm in this series.

Acquired a day before the August deadline for a fellow lefty Taylor Rogers, Hader struggled mightily in his first few outings for San Diego. Actually, “struggled hard” doesn’t quite describe it. We’re talking bride-passing-at-the-altar disaster, waiter-sneezing-in-the-soup levels of cringe. In his first seven outings, Hader allowed 12 runs in 4⅔ innings. That’s a 23.14 ERA for those of you counting at home.

But since the disaster with six corrals against Art Royal On August 28, Hader seemed to have things figured out, allowing just one run over his last 12 outings for the Pads. Apparently, skipper Bob Melvin could use Hader for more than three outings, though the closer hasn’t worked for more than one inning all season.

Still, desperate times call for desperate measures, and if Melvin believes pushing Hader outside his comfort zone is his team’s best way to close things out, he won’t blink.

Jake Mintz, Louder Half @Cespede’s BBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan who lives in New York, so he’s been single for most of October. When he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.

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