By Joe Rini
The bridge closer to Edwin Diaz has often resembled a minefield for Mickey Callaway’s Mets during the first few weeks of 2019.
Six innings of shutout ball by Jacob deGrom followed by scoreless relief from Seth Lugo, Jeurys Familia, and Diaz on Opening Day appeared to provide the roadmap to victories this season. Unfortunately, in the weeks since the 2-0 Opening Day win over the Washington Nationals, the pitching staff has often made the trip through nine innings as excruciating as a GPS that continually squeaks “recalculating.” Starters not going deep into games, relievers not able to throw strikes or keep the opposition off the board has squandered some of the offense’s early productivity.
Pitching was expected to be the team’s strength but 23 games into the season, the Mets staff sits 14th in team ERA and WHIP among National League teams. Fortunately, a rebound by the offense powered by fast starts by Michael Conforto and newcomers Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil have the Amazins in first place at 13-10, one game ahead of the Phillies in the competitive National League East.
A starting staff anchored by deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler and a bullpen bolstered by the additions of Diaz and Familia to close out the eighth and ninth innings looked to be the formula for success but that formula at times seems to be as elusive as the formula to Coca Cola.
Jacob deGrom reminded fans that he is actually not super-human with two consecutive sub-par outings—but news this past Friday that the Mets ace experienced elbow soreness and would go on the injured list and undergo an MRI on Saturday subsequently produced more twists and turns and ups and downs than a Simone Biles gymnastic floor routine.
Fears that deGrom would ultimately need surgery were replaced by the incongruous reports of deGrom throwing in the outfield in St. Louis before Saturday’s game and the Mets saying he wouldn’t necessarily need an MRI and would pitch at Citi Field on Friday April 26, which of course, produced an outcry among fans and media to get the MRI just to be safe. The Mets ace eventually had the MRI on Monday, which came back clean. His reward will be trying to keep reigning NL MVP and Derek Jeter cast-off Christian Yelich from adding to his NL leading home run total on Friday when the Mets play the Brewers.
If the Mets are going to be competitive over the long haul of 2019, they will need Syndergaard to start pitching like the Syndergaard of 2018 and for Jason Vargas not to pitch like the Vargas of 2018. The 6-foot-6 righty has fallen short by allowing at least four runs in four of his five starts while Vargas has lasted a combined five innings in his last two starts to go along with a 9.58 ERA. Vargas’ struggles and the lack of pitching depth at the Triple-A level has led to speculation that the Mets may sign free agent pitcher Gio Gonzalez but the former Nationals starter could also be an attractive target to the Brewers and Red Sox.
Similarly, Jeurys Familia’s struggles with his control. Nine walks in 10.2 innings has wreaked havoc with navigations through the eighth inning so he’s another important player who needs to find his groove. Perhaps his one inning of clean relief in Monday’s 5-1 victory versus Philadelphia is a sign of better times for the former Mets closer.
On a positive note, Zack Wheeler has improved in his last three starts, highlighted by seven shutout innings and 11 strikeouts (to go along with hitting a home run, doubling, and knocking in three runs) in Tuesday’s 9-0 zipping of the Phillies. Likewise, Steven Matz rebounded from a disastrous outing in the City of Brotherly Love on April 16, and limited the same Phillies to one run in six innings in Monday’s 5-1 victory.
The current homestand will continue through the weekend against the aforementioned Brewers with the Reds visiting for four games next week before the Mets begin a road trip in Milwaukee on May 3.