The New York Mets and San Francisco Giants will meet at Citi Field on Wednesday in a winner-take-all matchup that will decide who advances to face the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series.

Taking the mound for the Giants is Madison Bumgarner, arguably the best big-game pitcher in the major leagues. During the regular season, Bumgarner went 15-9 with a 2.74 ERA, striking out 4.7 batters for every one he walked. In the postseason, the two-time World Series MVP is 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA and 5.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“Any team would love to go into a one-game playoff with Madison on the bump,” Giants reliever Sergio Romo told Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. “He’s a workhorse. He has been since he’s shown up. Even in September of ’09 when he came, he was pitching solid games, and 2010. Going into a one-game playoff with him, it’s hard to not be confident.”

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The Mets have reason to be confident, too. Their ace, Noah Syndergaard, went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA despite playing with a bone spur in his elbow for most of the season. He also led the majors in fastball velocity at 98 mph. In fact, Syndergaard threw 1,047 pitches in excess of 98 mph this year, more than every MLB team except for one: the New York Yankees (1,262).

“We’ve got our guy. They’ve got their guy. It’s going to be a great matchup,” Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said.

There is no doubt these are two extremely good pitchers. However, Syndergaard has a weakness that can be easily exploited by the Giants if they are active on the base paths.

Syndergaard allowed 48 stolen bases in 57 attempts in 2016, the most since 2001 — when Hideo Nomo allowed 52 steals as a member of the Boston Red Sox. Syndergaard has also cost the Mets a league-worst six runs because of his inability to control the running game, the worst performance from a major league pitcher in almost a decade.

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And it’s not like Syndergaard ignores runners on base: he ranks eighth in the NL this season for pick-off throws per base runner (0.42).

The Giants, meanwhile, are an average base-stealing team (79 steals in 115 attempts), but they certainly picked up on this weakness earlier in the year when they beat Syndergaard and the Mets, 6-1, on May 1 at Citi Field. San Francisco went 3 for 3 on steals that day and handed Syndergaard his first loss of the season.

“Anytime you’re facing a top-end arm like that, you’ve got to try to take advantage of any opportunities he’s going to give you,” Giants third baseman Matt Duffy said after that game, admitting during the interview the team scouted charts of how long it took Syndergaard to throw the ball to home plate.

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Three of San Francisco’s hitters — Angel Pagan, Eduardo Nunez, and Denard Span — stole 12 or more bases in 2016, giving them ample opportunities to cause headaches for Syndergaard. And that doesn’t include Brandon Crawford, who tied with Pagan for the team lead this season for most weighted stolen base runs, which estimates the number of runs a player contributes to his team by stealing bases (1.1).

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And all it takes is one runner to advance to second base for the momentum to swing in the Giants’ favor.

When Syndergaard has not had any men on base, he has allowed a career OPS against of .622. That increases slightly with a man on first (.678) before rising to an above-average .813 OPS against with a man on second. To put this in perspective, it is the equivalent of turning whomever is at-bat from Jason Heyward, who has the second-lowest OPS in the NL (.631), into Bryce Harper (.814 OPS).

Syndergaard’s strikeout-to-walk ratio also takes a nosedive from 8.3 with a man on first to a paltry 1.4 with a man on second.

The Mets will attempt to lessen the effect of this Achilles’ heel by having Rene Rivera behind the plate instead of Travis d’Arnaud. Teams attempt fewer stolen base attempts when it is Rivera catching Syndergaard (2.4 per nine innings) rather than d’Arnaud (2.6), and are less successful, too.

Looked at another way, Rivera saved the team two runs this season by throwing out runners and preventing them from attempting steals in the first place, while d’Arnaud cost New York four runs for the same. That six-run swing equates to almost two-thirds of a win, which could be the difference between the Mets moving on or spending the rest of the postseason at home.
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