Another Steven Matz start and another seven innings. Since coming off the Disabled List, Matz has pitched seven innings in three of his four starts. Tonight might’ve been the best start of the lot.
Matz pitched seven shut out innings befuddling the Marlins. No Marlins player would even make it to third base. He pitched mainly to contact, weak contact, which permitted him to once again go deep in the game. Over the seven innings, he needed just 110 pitches.
His final line was seven innings, six hits, no runs, one walk, and four strikeouts.
And Matz would get the win in this game with some help of some veterans looking to boost their trade value.
Curtis Granderson was great just like he’s been all June. In fact, he’s been among the top three hitters in the majors during the Month of June.
— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) June 28, 2017
He’s been much better since moving to second base.
Overall, Reyes was 3-4 with a double and an RBI. With his seventh inning single, he passed Ed Kranepool for second on the Mets all-time hit list.
The Mets offense would go silent from there until the Marlins brought Dustin McGowan into the game. d’Arnaud got it started with an RBI single, and he’d go to third on the aforementioned Reyes single. If that ball does not hit McGowan, Reyes has an RBI.
After a Matz sacrifice bunt, the Marlins brought in the left-handed Justin Nicolino to face Granderson. Granderson responded by hitting a bomb:
— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) June 29, 2017
This was the third straight game Granderson hit a home run.
The Mets would build on this 6-0 lead in the eighth. Brandon Nimmo continued his terrific work as a pinch hitter delivering a two out RBI single giving the Mets an 8-0 lead. That’s a lead not even this Mets bullpen could blow.
Mets are back on track for at least one day, and they look to take the series tomorrow.
Yesterday, the Mets lost their cool with Yasiel Puig‘s home run trot. Wilmer Flores had something to say to him as he passed first base. Travis d’Arnaud said something as Puig crossed home plate. Between innings, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Reyes pulled Puig aside to talk with him about the incident. Jay Bruce voiced his displeasure with Puig in a post-game interview. That’s where we are this season.
Cespedes and Reyes, two players known for their on field celebrations, are talking to another player about how he acts on the field. More than that, it’s bizarre that a Mets team who has played terrible baseball this year is going to go out there and tell another player how the game should be played. Instead of Puig, maybe the Mets players should be focusing on their own issues:
1. They Can’t Pitch
The Mets have a team 5.05 ERA, which is the worst ERA the Mets have had since the 1962 Mets. It doesn’t matter Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Seth Lugo, and Steven Matz have been injured this year. That ERA is just inexcusable. There was still enough talent on this roster that an ERA that high should never be that possible. Certainly, there is no reason why this pitching staff should be in the same conversation as the worst baseball team in history.
2. The Defense Is Terrible
The team -9 DRS and team -7.3 UZR ranks 21st in baseball. Their -14 DRS at the shortstop position is the worst in baseball, and the -6.0 UZR is ranked 27th. At third base, the Mets -7 DRS is 27th and -4.8 UZR is 26th. Behind those numbers, Asdrubal Cabrera has no range anymore. Travis d’Arnaud is having difficulty throwing out base stealers. Flores and T.J. Rivera have once again showed they are bats without a position. Overall, it’s ugly, and they are not helping their pitching staff.
3. They’re Always Injured
Of all the position players on the Opening Day roster, Michael Conforto, Bruce, and Reyes are the only ones who have not spent time on the Disabled List. For his part, Conforto is playing through back issues, and his play has dipped in June. The only two pitchers in the starting rotation from the famed seven deep group who haven’t been on the Disabled List are deGrom and Gsellman, both of whom are coming off of offseason surgeries. In the bullpen, the Mets have seen Jeurys Familia go down with an injury, and Terry Collins pitched Josh Smoker into one. If the Mets want to be angry, be angry with their trainers, physicians, and maybe even themselves for how they prepare.
4. They’re Under-Performing
So far this season, the Mets have had 13 position players with at least 100 plate appearances. Only five of them have an OPS+ over 100. Cespedes is the only player with a .300 batting average. Conforto is the only one with a .400 OBP. Aside from Cespedes, each player has had one month where they have been in a deep slump.
Other than Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins, no Mets pitcher who has thrown at least 15 innings has an ERA below 3.29, and that ERA belongs to Syndergaard. After him the lowest ERA on the team is 3.94. There are five pitchers who have an ERA over 6.00 and seven with an ERA over 5.0
We can get on Collins for his bizarre managing decisions all we want, and they are quite justified. Still, Collins is not to blame for these players under-performing. That’s on all of them.
5. They’re Not Showing Up For The Big Games
It’s easy to forget, but the Mets were on the precipice of being relevant in the National League East and Wild Card races. They had back-to-back four game sets against the Nationals, who were reeling with their terrible bullpen, and the Dodgers, who have had injury issues of their own. Instead of taking control of their destiny and making themselves relevant, the Mets fell flat on their faces. In the seven games thus far, they have allowed 14 homers and have been outscored 53-22. It is one thing lost six of seven. It is a whole other thing to be dominated by teams the Mets believed they were better than entering the season.
If the Mets want to be angry with anyone, they should be angry with themselves. They are allowing the homers. They are the ones who are getting their doors blown off on a nightly basis. They are the ones who have taken a promising season and made it a disaster.
For once, Collins had it right when he said, “We’ve got bigger problems than somebody’s home run trot right now.” (Anthony DiComo, mlb.com). Maybe instead of focusing on Puig, the Mets should be focusing on those bigger problems.
With the NHL having their expansion draft tonight, each of the pre-existing 31 teams will sit and wait to see which one of their players will be selected to became an inaugural member of the Vegas Golden Knights. With the Golden Knights being required to select one player from each NHL team, each franchise is going to see a player depart their franchise.
Occasionally, there have been discussions MLB will expand. Whenever that happens, each MLB team will have to go through the same exercise each NHL team just did. If that were to happen, it would be interesting to see exactly who each MLB team would protect.
In terms of the NHL draft, teams can protect somewhere between eight to 11 skaters and one goaltender depending on who the team decides to protect. Given an NHL has a maximum roster size of 23 players, the 8 – 11 paradigm is a good framework for a potential MLB expansion draft.
Assuming MLB lands upon eight players, it would be interesting to see who the Mets decided to protect. Now, where the Mets are lucky is players with less than two service years are automatically protected. As such, Amed Rosario, Dominic Smith, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman, and any other young player you would consider protecting are already protected. With that in mind, here are the eight players the Mets should protect should such a draft take place:
1. RHP Noah Syndergaard
Arbitration Eligible: 2018
Free Agent: 2022
Last year, Syndergaard emerged as the ace of the Mets staff with a repertoire that has never been seen by a Major League Starting pitcher. He has a fastball that tops off at 100 MPH and a slider that he can throw in the mid 90s. He also has a swagger on the mound, and he gets up for the biggest games. Again, like Cespedes, this is a no-brainer even with his lat injury this year.
2. LF Michael Conforto
Arbitration Eligible: 2019
Free Agent: 2022
Conforto has been around for only three years, but it has been a whirlwind. In 2015, he was a budding superstar. In 2016, he had a wrist injury, struggled, and was demoted to Triple-A multiple times. In 2017, he has emerged as an All Star. Even with a rough June, there’s reason to believe in Conforto being a budding superstar, including but not limited to his ability to hit left-handed pitching. Conforto is a foundation piece and should be the Mets right fielder for decades.
3. LF Yoenis Cespedes
Remaining Contract: 3 years $87.5 million
Given the fact players with no trade clauses must be protected in an expansion draft, the Mets would be required to protect Cespedes. Even if that wasn’t the case, the Mets need to protect Cespedes. He’s been a superstar with the Mets hitting .286/.354/.565 with 56 homers and 146 RBI since joining the team. More than that, he puts fans in the seats. You have to protect him at all costs.
4. RHP Jacob deGrom
Free Agent: 2021
After an injury riddled year, and some ups and downs this year, deGrom has rediscovered himself, and he’s back to pitching like an ace. That is evident with his being the National League Pitcher of the Week last week. We also saw what deGrom was made of during the 2015 NLCS when he outpitched both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. There are only a handful of the pitchers on the planet that can do that, and when you have one of them, you don’t let them go.
5. LHP Steven Matz
Arbitration Eligible: 2019
Free Agent: 2022
When Matz is healthy, he has the potential to be an ace. Before his bone spur issues arose in late June last year, Matz was 11-3 with a 2.58 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, and an 8.9 K/9. In his return from season ending surgery, he has pitched well lasting seven innings in both of his starts. Overall, when he’s healthy, he’s terrific, and he’s not someone you part with so easily.
6. RHP Jeurys Familia
Free Agent: 2019
When you consider the Mets bullpen is in shambles, and they are going to have to rebuild it in totality, the Mets need to keep Familia at all costs. It is also important to keep in mind that despite his injury this year, Familia has been an absolute work horse for the Mets with his making the most appearances out of the bullpen and pitching the most innings from 2014 – 2016. If the medical reports are promising, there is every reason to believe Familia can return to being that pitcher again.
7. C Travis d’Arnaud
Free Agent: 2020
There is every reason to leave him unprotected. He has regressed in most aspects of his game, and he had yet another stint on the Disabled List this year. Still, d’Arnaud is a good pitch framer, who still has offensive upside. Before injuring his wrist, d’Arnaud was hitting .270/.357/.541. While his stats have dropped precipitously, his .223 BABIP suggests d’Arnaud is due. More than that, there’s really no better options available. The catching across Major League Baseball is on a downturn, and you need someone to bridge the gap until Tomas Nido is ready.
8. 3B David Wright
Remaining Contract: 3 years $47 million
As noted above with Cespedes, the Mets would have to protect Wright due to his no trade clause. Even without it, there is a case for keeping Wright. Wright is the team captain, and he is the guy you want leaving an impression on Rosario and Smith when they get to the majors. His contract is insured, so if he can’t play, you can reallocate the money. More to the point, could you possibly imagine Wright in another uniform? Me neither. Is this all a stretch? Sure, but fact is Wright will remain with the Mets until he finally decides it’s over.
As with any decision like this, there were hard choices. Matt Harvey has been a cornerstone of the Mets rebuild, but his injuries and impending free agency, you’d be forced to expose him. Zack Wheeler has had a strong return from the Disabled List, but even before he was injured, he was 18-16 with a 3.50 ERA, 1.339 WHIP, and a 100 ERA+ in 49 career starts. In 2017, he has not appeared to be more than that. That coupled with the rise of Gsellman and Lugo as well as other pitchers in the Mets farm system, you could very well expose Wheeler.
Overall, the hypothetical player that would get taken from the Mets roster would be damaging. That includes Juan Lagares, who is a Gold Glover that showed some promise this year, but still has a terrible contract. That also includes Wilmer Flores who still doesn’t quite have a position.
With all that said, it does speak to the talent Sandy Alderson has brought to this organization that the Mets could lose one of the aforementioned players and still have a team that could compete for a World Series next year.
There’s one fatal flaw if the strategy against the Nationals is to get into their bullpen – you have to actually get into their bullpen. With how dominant Max Scherzer has been against the Mets, and how dominant he’s been this year, that wasn’t happening tonight.
That’s not to say the Mets didn’t have their chances. The Mets grounding into three double plays only confirms the Mets had their chances. Like all double plays, these were back breakers.
The following inning, Steven Matz tried to help his own cause with a lead-off single, but he was erased when Michael Conforto grounded into the double play. The shock here was that entering tonight’s game, Conforto actually hit Scherzer well going 6-15 with three homers off him. Tonight, Conforto was 0-3 with a walk and two strikeouts.
Finally in the sixth, the Mets had runners on first and second with one out. That rally ended with Wilmer Flores grounding into the inning ending double play. It was the latest sign Flores is cold. After scorching through May and earning a starting job, Flores is 2-19.
The squandered opportunities cost the Mets. It put Matz, who was making his second start off the Disabled List, in the unenviable position of having to be perfect. Unfortunately, Matz was just good.
While he generally kept the Nationals off the basepaths, he was victimized by the long ball. Matt Wieters and Michael Taylor went back-to-back to start the third. In the sixth, Anthony Rendon hit an opposite field two run homer that just cleared the wall.
With that, the Nationals were up 4-0 and in position to win despite the Matz pitching fairly well. His final line was seven innings, eight hits, four runs, four earned, no walks, and four strikeouts.
With Dusty Baker understandably not wanting to go to his bullpen, a tiring Scherzer pitched the eighth. Things got a little interesting with Reyes leading off the inning with a homer, and Curtis Granderson sending one to the wall in his pinch hitting appearance.
This is where Scherzer showed how great he is. He was clearly on fumes, but he bore down. He made quick work of Conforto before entering a battle with Yoenis Cespedes. Despite Scherzer quickly getting up 1-2 in the count, Cespedes fouled off a number of pitches, and the count would go full. On the 11th pitch, Scherzer finally got his strikeout.
Still, it was within striking distance at 4-1. That’s when the Mets defense blew their chances.
Taylor led off the inning with a well placed bunt single. Flores made a nice play, but with his arm, he had no shot at Taylor. Same went for d’Arnaud when Taylor stole second. Taylor was certainly helped by Fernando Salas not even bothering to hold him on.
Despite all of that, the Mets had a chance to get out of the ninth inning unscathed. There were runners at the corners with one out, and Brian Goodwin hit a tailor made double play ball. For some reason, T.J. Rivera lollipopped it over to Reyes, who had no shot to get the speedy Goodwin.
After a Bryce Harper single, Ryan Zimmerman hit a single to left. Goodwin seemed like he would score with ease, and for some reason, Harper headed to third. Cespedes made a one hop throw to third Flores could not field. It at least appeared if Flores fielded it cleanly, Harper would’ve been out before Goodwin scored thereby negating the run.
It didn’t happen that way and because official scorers do that the do, Cespedes was charged with the error despite his heads-up play and good throw.
Then Terry Collins does what he does best. He made a questionable move.
Despite the Nationals bullpen being bad, they’re not six runs in the ninth inning bad. The real shame is the Nationals bullpen pitched as expected with Jay Bruce greeting Shawn Kelley with a lead-off home run in the ninth to make it 7-2. The Mets would get no closer.
The Mets have had two cracks at the Nationals to help them make some headway in the National League East. They responded by playing some of their worst baseball this month. They were not fundamentally sound, nor were they smart. They didn’t effectively work counts to get into that bullpen, and they played poor defense.
The most the Mets can hope for now is a split. If they continue playing like this, it won’t happen.
Ray Ramirez and Barwin Method jokes aside, do we really know who to blame for all of these Mets injuries? Thi has seemingly been an issue since Pedro Martinez was with the Mets when in three straight seasons the Mets suffered a rash of injuries to their starting rotation. It should be noted, Pedro put some blame on Jeff Wilpon’s shoulder for making him pitch hurt, but that doesn’t address how Pedro go hurt in the first place.
We saw it again last year with Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz needing season ending surgery. It is happening again this year with Harvey and Matz both landing on the Disabled List. We also have seen Seth Lugo, Jeurys Familia, Tommy Milone, and Josh Smoker land on the Disabled List.
It goes further than that. The position players keep getting injured too. This year, Travis d’Arnaud, Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, David Wright, Asdrubal Cabrera (twice), Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares (twice), and Brandon Nimmo have all landed on the Disabled List. If you’ll notice, you will have seen many of those names pop up on the Disabled List last year.
There’s a simple reason for that. Here’s example of how the Mets handle the situtaion:
Maybe if the Mets continue handling training and treatment of injuries the same way, maybe they’ll have a breakthrough. Just like the Futurama clip, it’s not going to happen.
This game started just like yesterday’s game with Anthony Rizzo leading off the game with a home run. Then, things were worse than where last night’s game started when Ian Happ followed with a home run of his own to make it 2-0 Cubs before there was an out in the game.
It seemed Iike things were going to be worse than that. It has become passé to say Matt Harvey didn’t have it, but he really didn’t have it tonight. He was throwing his two seamer in the high 80s. Even when Harvey’s been at his most injured, he was never there. The Cubs would take advantage too.
Kyle Schwarber was chief among them with this shot OVER the Shea Bridge:
Kyle Schwarber launches a majestic fly ball well over the wall in right-center field for a two-run homer, extending the Cubs' lead to 4-1!!! pic.twitter.com/wM7tKuEMjv
— TheRenderMLB (@TheRenderMLB) June 15, 2017
The Cubs would go up 4-1, and Harvey would only last four innings.
However, unlike last night, the Mets were in this game.
In the fourth, the Mets loaded the bases with no outs with Harvey due up. Yoenis Cespedes wasnot yet warmed up to play, because, why have all your players ready to play the game. Michael Conforto likely wasn’t an option with the left-handed starter Mike Montgomery on the mound. Terry Collins opted to go with Steven Matz as the pinch hitter.
Matz made Collins look like a genius (nah) with an infield single in a ball Javier Baez didn’t get quite cleanly enough. After Juan Lagares‘ sacrifice fly, the Mets rally sputtered, and the Mets went to the fifth inning and their bullpen down 4-3.
The Mets pitchers contributions were terrific. Matz had the RBI single. Paul Sewald pitched two scoreless. Fernando Salas pitched two-thirds of an inning scoreless. Jerry Blevins had his longest outing of the year pitching 1.1 scoreless innings. Robert Gsellman entered the game as a pinch runner.
Their collective work allowed the Mets to stay in the game and have a chance to win.
The chance came when Curtis Granderson earn a lead-off walk. Two outs later and two strikes on Lagares, it appeared as if the Mets might squander the opportunity. Then, Lagares hit a ball off Pedro Strop only Lagares could’ve caught:
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) June 15, 2017
The score remained tied until the eighth when Granderson did what Granderson does when the Mets need a huge hit:
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) June 15, 2017
The homer ignited the Mets offense. The next big hit came from Lucas Duda:
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) June 15, 2017
As it turns out, Duda wasn’t even supposed to be in the game. With the left-handed starter on the mound, he was on the bench. However, when Neil Walker suffered a leg injury attempting a bunt single, Duda came in the game.
The homer didn’t kill the rally either. The Mets poured it on against Carl Edwards, Jr. Three more hits would follow culminating in a T.J. RBI single to make it 9-4.
Collins went to Addison Reed to close out the game. It wasn’t easy with the Cubs loading the bases with two outs and Rizzo coming to the plate. Rizzo grounded out, and the Mets won 9-4.
This was a huge win in front of a huge series this weekend. Things are definitely looking up for this Mets team.
Game Notes: Walker is getting an MRI tomorrow and is likely DL bound. Gavin Cecchini was held out of the 51s game, and he looks like he will get the call once Walker is put on the DL. Granderson’s eighth inning home run was the 300th of his career.
Well, this was exactly how the Mets drew it up. Dominant starting pitching and an offense to match. They only thing missing was the players capable of doing it.
But either Cespedes or Matz had an impact in this double header, Robert Gsellman made his latest case as to why the Mets should keep him in the rotation.
Gsellman flat out dominated the Braves over 6.1 innings allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out four. It was his latest big start after he had been temporarily moved to the bullpen due to his early season struggles.
The Mets needed that start too. They needed it because the Mets bullpen has been a mess. They needed it because of the double header. They needed it because Sean Newcomb was dealing for the Braves.
The Mets were only able to scratch one run against him in the second with the assistance of a throwing error from Newcomb. T.J. Rivera hit a sacrifice fly to make it 1-0. Mets had to wait until the eighth to get another real threat going.
The Mets had second and third with no outs against Luke Jackson after he hit Michael Conforto with a pitch, Cespedes singled, and Jackson threw a wild pitch. Ender Inciarte took what was a sure extra base hit and turned it into a Wilmer Flores sacrifice fly.
The Mets had Jackson and the Braves on the ropes, but they left him off the hook. Then Fernando Salas allowed an eighth inning homer to Brandon Phillips, and he needed to get bailed out by Addison Reed, who was coming on for the five out save partially because Terry Collins ripped through his bullpen yet again.
The ominous tone of the game, and perhaps the season changed with one swing of the bat:
Just like that, it was 6-1, but it was more than that. The Mets were rejuvenated. They won the first game, and then they went out and dominated the second game.
Like the first game of the double header, it all began with the starter. Matz pitched seven innings allowing just one run. That one run was in the seventh, but by that time, the game was already over.
Jay Bruce hit a three run homer in the fifth off Matt Wisler. Somehow in the sixth, Flores hit a triple, and he scored on a Travis d’Arnaud sacrifice fly making it 4-0.
T.J. Rivera provided insurance with an eighth inning two run homer. In the ninth, Juan Lagares hit a two run double making it 8-1. That’s a lead not even Neil Ramirez or Tyler Pill could blow.
That’s how different things are with Cespedes back in the fold. The Mets are scoring insurance runs, and their bullpen doesn’t blow leads.
Overall, it was a double header sweep where the Mets dominated the Braves. The Mets looked like the team many thought they would be to start the year. Both starters pitched into the seventh. There was a different vibe around this team. At least for one day, you believed this team still has some life.
Game Notes: Neil Walker returned from the stiff knee and played in both games starting the second. Cespedes was the 26th man. Rivera and Pill were sent down after the game to accommodate Matz and Seth Lugo being activated from the disabled list. Flores, Jose Reyes, and Conforto were the only players to start both games. Asdrubal Cabrera committed two errors.
The Mets have a number of excuses why they are in the position they are. Those excuses mostly surround the pitching. Noah Syndergaard went down in April with a torn lat. Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom haven’t been the same since returning from their season ending surgeries. There has been a revolving door at the fifth starter spot that has seen the likes of Rafael Montero, Adam Wilk, Tommy Milone, and Tyler Pill. This has put stress on the bullpen, and the bullpen broke.
They broke because Jeurys Familia went down for the season. Hansel Robles couldn’t keep up with the workload and fell apart. Josh Smoker hasn’t been able to figure it out this year. Addison Reed is a much better set-up man than a closer.
Through all of this, despite playing a weak schedule, the Mets are seven games under .500. The Mets are THIS CLOSE to being sellers.
However, there is hope. Seth Lugo and Steven Matz are coming off the Disabled List. Last year, Lugo was 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA and a 1.149 WHIP. He followed that breakout performance with a breakout performance in the World Baseball Classic.
Matz is even better than Lugo. Before succumbing to the bone spur in his elbow last year, Matz had a stretch from April 17th to June 18th where he was 7-2 with a 1.91 ERA and a 1.047 WHIP. That was after his rookie season where he was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA and a 1.234 WHIP.
That combination of Lugo and Matz vastly improves the Mets rotation. It also bumps a good pitcher like Robert Gsellman into the bullpen. Lately, Gsellman has figured it out. In his last four appearances, he’s 2-0 with hold posting a 2.66 ERA and a 1.082 WHIP. This will give the bullpen a fresh arm. More than that, it means one of Smoker or Neil Ramirez is going to be gone from the bullpen.
Finally, the Mets will have the pitching to help an offense that has tried to carry this team. In May, the Mets averaged the second most runs per game (5.7) in the National League. Things promise to get better with Yoenis Cespedes having played in his first rull rehab game for St. Lucie last night.
With that, the Mets will have as complete a team as they can expect for the reason for the season. Now, they just have to take advantage of their opportunities. That starts with the four game series with a Braves team who is a half game up on the Mets for second place in the National League East. Sweep them, and the Mets will find themselves just three games under .500.
After that, the Mets have a seven game home stand. First, there are the Chicago Cubs, who are not the same team they were last year. After that, the Mets have a four game set with the Washington Nationals.
If the Mets take care of business against the Braves and Cubs, that could be a HUGE series for this Mets team. Sweep the Nationals at home, and all of a sudden the Mets could be just eight games back in the division or better. That’s still a large deficit to overcome, but it’s not as daunting as the 12 games they are now.
The Mets don’t take advantage of this opportunity? It’s time to sell. At that point, the team should look to move everyone to pave the way for Amed Rosario, who frankly should be here now, and Dominic Smith to become the David Wright and Jose Reyes of this generation.
If the Mets don’t want to do that, it’s time to take care of business. That starts tonight with a huge start for Matt Harvey. This used to be the exact moment you wanted him on the mound. It is time for that to happen again.
Back when the Mets traded Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler, the Mets touted the trade as the team adding another potential ace that would one day serve as one of the cornerstones of a rotation that would bring the Mets their third World Series title. Unfortunately, with Wheeler missing two years after his Tommy John surgery, it hasn’t happened that way.
In the time he was gone, he almost became expendable. Matt Harvey was the ace in 2013, and he was well on his way in 2015 to re-claiming that spot. Jacob deGrom went from 2014 Rookie of the Year to the Game 1 starter of the 2015 NLDS. Noah Syndergaard brought a repertoire that included a 100 MPH fastball and a mid 90s slider. Throw in the tantalizing talent of Steven Matz, and the Mets almost moved Wheeler in 2015 as part of the ill-fated Carlos Gomez deal. With Gomez’s hips, Wheeler remained a Met, but after he missed all of 2016 as well, he was almost an afterthought.
Now, he has gone from damaged goods to the staff ace. After shaking off some rust in the early part of the season, he really has been a dominant starting pitchers. Since May, Wheeler has made six starts going 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA, 1.431 WHIP, and a 7.7 K/9 while averaging over six inning per start. Last night, we watched Wheeler play the part of the stopper with him going seven strong and giving the Mets a chance to snap the Mets out of a funk that saw the team lose five out of its last six games.
Now, many would point to the fact Wheeler is now the staff ace because the rest of the rotation is either injured or has struggled. Syndergaard is likely gone for the year with a torn lat. Matz and Seth Lugo have yet to throw a pitch this season. Harvey and deGrom have not been the same pitchers after last year’s season ending surgeries. And frankly, anyone is better than Rafael Montero, Adam Wilk, and Tommy Milone. Still, even if everyone was pitching to their best abilities, Wheeler would stand out.
It’s easy to forget, but we did get a taste of this with Wheeler. In 2014, Wheeler had a stretch from July until September 6th where he made 12 terrific starts. In those starts, Wheeler was 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA, 1.213 WHIP, and an 8.9 K/9. During that stretch, Wheeler looked like the ace the Mets thought they were getting when they traded away Beltran. It was during that stretch where you believed the three starters who would carry the Mets to the World Series were Harvey, deGrom, and Wheeler.
It seems as if Wheeler is recapturing some of what he was back in that terrific 2014 stretch. If he is, he is certainly becoming the ace the Mets believed he could be. More than anything, he is the ace the Mets need right now.
Given his struggles as a starter of late, there have been growing calls to make Matt Harvey the closer for the Mets. Given how Harvey has pitched this season and how the Mets bullpen has performed, this may not be just an absurd fan overreaction to the struggles of a pitcher returning from season ending surgery last year to alleviate the effects of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). In fact, you could argue the TOS could be part of the reasons for Harvey’s struggles, and why he needs to be moved to the bullpen.
The biggest case you can make for Harvey moving to the bullpen is his numbers. This season, Harvey is 4-3 with a 5.43 ERA, 1.484 WHIP, and a 6.8 K/9. It’s scary to think about, but Harvey is actually putting up numbers worse than the numbers he posted last year when everyone was wondering what was wrong with Harvey. The surgery that was supposed to fix Harvey hasn’t tangentially resulted in better numbers. Instead of getting stronger and better as the seasons has progressed, Harvey is regressing. In Harvey’s first four starts, he was 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA, 0.947 WHIP, and a 6.0 K/9 while averaging 6.1 innings per start. In his seven starts since, Harvey is 2-3 with a 7.25 ERA, 1.861 WHIP, and a 7.3 K/9.
Normally, you would take someone like this out of the rotation, but there was no one to put in Harvey’s stead. However, with Steven Matz and Seth Lugo coming off the Disabled List, and Robert Gsellman starting to return to form, the Mets have the avenue to move Harvey to the bullpen if they were so inclined. Putting aside for the moment whether they would be willing to do so, or whatever interference may be ran by Scott Boras, the question is whether such a move would make sense for the Mets.
Let’s start with the positive. According to Brooks Baseball, Harvey certainly has the velocity to be an elite bullpen arm. After the surgeries, he is averaging just under 95 MPH with his fastball. If given the opportunity to air it out for one or two innings, we could see him once again touch the high 90s he did back in 2013 and 2015. Even if he can’t, Harvey’s current velocity should be more than sufficient. A move to the bullpen would also allow Harvey to focus more on his two or three best pitches to get batters out.
And despite everything that has gone on, Harvey still has that grit and determination. Despite diminished stuff, Harvey bears down when he needs to most. Batters are hitting just .132 off Harvey this year with runners in scoring position. No one has gotten a hit off of Harvey this season with a runner in scoring position and no outs. This should come as no surprise. Harvey has always wanted to be the guy on the mound in those pressure situations, and he has consistently delivered in those situations. Certainly, Harvey has the stuff and the swagger to be a dominant late inning reliever.
Unfortunately, there is more evidence to suggest the bullpen is the wrong place for Harvey. Batters leading off an inning are hitting .327/.439/.709 off of Harvey. In high leverage situations, batters are hitting .273/.368/.545 off of Harvey. In Harvey’s first 25 pitches of a game, batters are hitting .241/.353/.534 off of him. More than any of this, Harvey has been more than susceptible to the long ball. In all but one of his starts, Harvey has allowed a home run, and he has allowed 1.9 homers per nine innings.
The biggest reason for all of these struggles is Harvey is having difficulty putting batters away. His strikeouts are way down this season as batters are either fouling off his pitches, or they are better able to take a pitch they would have felt inclined to swing at two or more years ago. In fact, Harvey has a career high 4.7 BB/9.
Overall, Harvey isn’t putting guys away, he’s walking them, and he’s giving up a lot more home runs. That’s not a recipe for success in the bullpen.
And yet, the Mets need to do something. Maybe emulating post-Tommy John surgery John Smoltz is the way to go. For those that forget, Smoltz was suffering from the same issues Harvey is now. He found himself in the bullpen, became a dominant reliever, and he would return to the rotation to be a good starter once again.
Given Harvey’s early season struggles, it might be time to try something different. It might be time to at least try him in the bullpen for at least the short term just to try to help him find himself. If a Hall of Famer like Smoltz accepted the move, everyone else should be willing as well. Harvey included.