When you’re 63-76 and are the fourth-best team in your division, there’s generally little to be positive about. But for the New York Mets, their starting rotation is finally fulfilling its destiny as it’s forming the elite unit it’s been hyped up to be over the last five years.
For years, the narrative surrounding the Mets has been if their starting pitching can remain healthy, they can be one of the best in the game and help lead the Mets to the promised land. While the second part of that belief has proven to be a daunting task, their starting rotation has established itself as one of the best in the game.
The biggest storyline surrounding the Mets this season has been Jacob deGrom. While the righty was already classified as one of the best starters in the game, this season deGrom has been arguably the best pitcher in Major League Baseball. Currently owning an MLB-best 1.68 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, recording 230 strikeouts, and surrendering just nine home runs, he’s en route to potentially winning the National League Cy Young Award. He’s also surrendered over three runs in just one start this season, and it came back on an April 10 outing against the Miami Marlins.
Much like deGrom, righty Noah Syndergaard has been the forefront of the Mets rotation, and while he continues to struggle with injuries, Syndergaard has been productively efficient in the 20 outings he’s made in 2018. Albeit the career-worst 1.21 WHIP, the 26-year-old owns a 3.33 ERA and has recorded 128 strikeouts and surrendered just six home runs. Sunday afternoon, Syndergaard pitched a complete game on the road against the San Francisco Giants where he recorded 11 strikeouts and surrendered just three baserunners and one run; he looked like the dominant righty the Mets are accustomed to.Behind Jacob deGrom and Zach Wheeler, the @Mets starting rotation has finally come to fruition. Click To Tweet
Outside of deGrom, the most encouraging campaign by a Mets pitcher this season has been that of Zack Wheeler. In 2013 and 2014, Wheeler looked like a promising righty who could be a focal point of the Mets rotation, but he ended up missing the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to elbow discomfort and recorded an abysmal 5.21 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in his return to the big leagues last season. In 2018, he’s been a completely different pitcher. Throughout the first half of this season, Wheeler was struggling to turn a corner, or show glimpses of hope, but since the Mets began dangling him in trade talks (throughout July), he’s been brilliant. He surrendered just five runs in 40.0 innings pitched in August and has been pitching deep into games. In doing so, Wheeler has lowered his ERA to 3.39 and stayed healthy.
While it hasn’t been some of his finest work, lefty Steven Matz has been reliable this season. Yes, he owns a 4.20 ERA, but that figure is so high based on two starts (one on July 31 against the Washington Nationals and the other on August 16 against the Philadelphia Phillies) where he surrendered 11 earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched. Sure, they were awful outings, but outside of those two starts, the southpaw has been a steady force. He’s been executing his breaking pitches well, and has, more importantly, stayed healthy — which has been an issue over the duration of his career.
Seth Lugo has served as a fill-in starter when need be and has served as a flex pitcher. His versatility works in manager Mickey Callaway‘s favor when injuries present themselves. And if they don’t, Lugo can serve as a reliable long reliever.
The quartet of deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, and Matz has proven that it can hold its own against some of the most formidable lineups in the game. The problem is the Mets anemic offense. Going into Wednesday night, the Mets were 24th in runs (570), 29th in hits (1101), 23rd in home runs (143), 29th in team batting average (.236), 23rd in on-base percentage (.312), 25th in slugging (.388), and 24th in OPS (.700). Heck, their offense has rewarded deGrom’s heroics with an 8-8 record. Granted the baseball world is well-aware of the year deGrom has put together, award voters are stat crunchers, and the righty’s win-loss record could be the factor that prevents him from being crowned the NL Cy Young.
Now, while there are some young players for the Mets to consider building around such as Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, Michael Conforto, and Jeff McNeil, this team has proven it’s not a unit capable of picking up the slack for its starting pitching — which terminates the notion that a healthy starting rotation was all the Mets needed to contend.
In a perfect world, the Mets would’ve watched Matt Harvey return to prominence and be a focal point of the team’s success while the rest of their rotation stays healthy, but after two disappointing seasons, a drop in velocity, and a demotion to the bullpen, it wasn’t realistic to expect Harvey to right the ship. And, truth be told, it’s a huge what if and distraction that’s in the rearview for the Mets, since they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds.
There are a number of areas the Mets need to improve in both internally and from the outside if they wish to compete for the playoffs, but the fact that their starting rotation is coming into its own is a huge sigh of relief for this franchise. If you have a stout, or at least reliable starting rotation, all you need is a mediocre offense to pose a playoff threat.
It sounds bizarre to say a particular facet of a losing team is coming out of its shell, but this is the most optimistic the Mets can be about their biggest asset since their 2015 World Series appearance. Ironically, the aspect of the Mets roster that now needs to stay healthy is their positional players. Over the last three years, the narrative was that their starting pitching couldn’t stay heathy, and if it could, the Mets would be a playoff team.
The Mets starting rotation isn’t going to lead them to the promised land in the foreseeable future, but for the better part of this decade, they’ve been talked up to be a spectacle. And as the 2018 season wanes down, they’re finally performing up to the hype.