May 30, 2019 – RCT: Alonso Lives the Dream and Chats With the RCT … Callaway and Brass Juggling the Roster

By Joe Rini

The temperatures are rising but at least one polar bear is thriving in the New York City heat. Christened the “Polar Bear” by his teammates, Pete Alonso, the 6 foot 3, 245-pound power hitting first baseman, hasn’t shown any stage fright since debuting on the New York baseball stage this season and we chatted prior to Friday’s game, a 9-8 loss to the Tigers.

With 17 homeruns and 39 RBI by Memorial Day and a penchant for late inning power-hitting heroics, the “Polar Bear” has been anything but cuddly to opposing pitchers—but he’s lived up to the hype and quickly become a fan favorite. It was after Alonso had finished batting practice that he walked among the fans on the field behind the batting practice cage signing baseballs and posing for selfies that we had a chance to chat outside the Mets dugout.

I asked if he was surprised by his early season success, and Alonso admitted that he didn’t feel like he was exceeding expectations, but he spoke in terms of gratitude seeing his success as a “coming into fruition” and “justifying the hard work” he’s employed over the years.

Alonso was quick to share the credit for his current status as a favorite for Rookie of the Year. He cited his “countless coaches” over the years and the support system provided by his parents and his fiancé. “She’s been my rock,” he said.

Perhaps contrary to what some Mets might feel about Robinson Cano or Todd Frazier and their struggles early this season, Alonso particularly cited their influence on him among the “amazing guys on this team.” Guys like Cano and Frazier have been very “welcoming,” he said, describing them as an “open book” when it comes to sharing their experiences, whether it’s facing that night’s pitcher or other baseball experiences they’ve gone through multiple times.

With 11 of his 17 homers coming after the seventh inning, Alonso said, “I just want to win,” and described himself as an “extremely competitive” person who wants to be “clutch for his teammates.” In those late inning situations, Alonso said, “I don’t want one at bat to carry over to the next at bat,” whether he’s been 3 for 3 or 0 for 3. “Live in the moment,” he said.

The personable and accessible Alonso has the potential to become the face of the franchise, much like David Wright was for a decade. And if he continues to hit like he has, it’ll happen faster than the triple digit “exit velo” of some of his homeruns.

With the flurry of roster moves lately and what seems to be a steady stream of relief pitchers shuttling between Triple-A Syracuse and Citi Field, I asked manager Mickey Callaway at Friday’s pregame press conference about the challenge of maintaining a sense of cohesion and leadership on the team in such an environment.

Callaway cited the need for communication with the players and having the right guys in the clubhouse. “I think some of these guys going back and forth to Syracuse understand that’s going to happen. You have options, you’re a young kid…that’s how you build a roster,” Callaway said. He also mentioned having these types of conversations with individuals during spring training and they have embraced and accepted their roles.

“Do they get upset when they are sent down?” Callaway asked. “Absolutely…but they stay focused when they go down there,” he said, adding that they put themselves in position to contribute when they return, specifically citing reliever Drew Gagnon. “He did an unbelievable job of staying ready and now this opportunity presented itself and he’s been throwing the ball well.”

May 27, 2019 – NY Sports Day: Winning Is Fun But How About Some Agita?

By Joe Rini

As Vince Lombardi didn’t say, winning isn’t everything, it’s actually kind of boring.

The Yankees with the Baby Bombers or whatever else you want to call the collection of castaways that Brian Cashman skillfully pickpocketed from unsuspecting teams’ farm systems like Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, or Domingo German have been incredibly impressive in overcoming injuries and vaulting into first place in the AL East. It’ll be very exciting to watch them in the playoffs in October, especially when all the Big Boy Bombers are back and maybe Madison Bumgarner (or dare we dream, Matt Scherzer) is on the mound. But right now, it’s getting a little boring. Thankfully, they lost on Sunday to the Royals to keep us awake.

The Mets on the other hand, they’ll get your blood flowing.

A week ago, Mickey Callaway almost became Mickey Went Away after the Mets were swept by the barely thriving Miami Marlins. In perhaps the most dispiriting weekend by a visiting sports team in Miami since the Colts lost Super Bowl III to the Jets, there were more mental and physical errors than runs for the Mets as the Marlins swept a team for the first time since September 2017 in taking the games 8-6, 2-0, and 3-0.

Yet, on the day he was expected to fired, Callaway was upstaged by a hole in the ground.

GM Brodie Van Wagenene announced a week ago that Yoenis Cespedes suffered a fractured right ankle in a “violent fall” in a non-baseball activity at his ranch on Saturday. The press was told he had injured himself by stepping into a hole and and they even asked if a horse was involved (no, according to Van Wagenen). Considering Van Wagenen was formerly Cespedes’ agent, if the Mets try to void any of his contract for this non-baseball activity, they could have a real Yoenis Mess-pedes situation on their hands.

But just when fans of the Amazins may have wanted to look away, they took four straight from the Nationals in dramatic fashion and just when they wanted to jump back on the bandwagon, the Mets scored eight runs with Noah Syndergaard on the mound against the lowly Tigers (winless in nine games) and somehow managed to lose 9-8. But two wins later, the Mets are back at .500 and flying high, well at least flying to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers. Mickey Callaway’s job is safe for now unless they lose another three in a row, and then the Jim Riggelman or Joe Girardi or Wally Backman or Terry Collins watch will begin again.

The Yankees look to be a nice relaxing team to root for in 2019 but if you’re off caffeine and need a dose of angst, anxiety, or agita to rev up your fandom, there’s the team in Flushing.

May 9, 2019 – RCT: Mets in Need of a Spark at the Plate … Darling’s Diagnosis and Kranepool’s Surgery

By Joe Rini

The Mets have had outstanding pitching and hitting performances in 2019…unfortunately, not often in the same game.

The once formidable looking offense that compensated for spotty pitching performances in the early going of the season has been playing hard to get in the last two weeks after playing the over-eager suitor during the first two dozen games of the season. The Amazins lost eight of eleven and played a dreary brand of baseball in barely scoring two runs a game amidst mounting strikeouts and dwindling batting averages before breaking out for seven runs in Tuesday’s 7-6 victory over the Padres in San Diego.

Pick your worn down sleeve cliche to describe it: water seeking its level…the law of averages…every team goes through slumps…or could it be another fatally flawed team 2019 edition?

Call it coincidence, but little has seemed to go right since Jacob Rhame buzzed Rhys Hoskins in the ninth inning of the 9-0 blowout of the Phillies at Citi Field on April 23. Perhaps it did not wake up the Phillies as people feared but the Mets bats subsequently went aslumber. Since their 13-10 record put them a game up in first place, the offense not named Jeff McNeil or Pete Alonso shriveled and the Mets record fell to 17-19.

The heart of the lineup has hardly caused palpitations in the opposition lately; for instance, Michael Conforto and Wilson Ramos have seen their .300 plus averages drop to .254 and .227, respectively. Brandon Nimmo’s hitless streak of zero for late April and early May (aka 28 at bats) dropped his average below the proverbial interstate to .196 while Todd Frazier has struggled to a .146 average since his return from the IL.

With a .262 batting average entering play on May 8, Robinson Cano has not performed as expected. Whether the cause of his slump goes to the cold weather (optimistically, it will get warmer), adjusting to a new league (optimistically, he’ll adjust in time), a couple of unfortunate hit by pitches on the hand (optimistically, he’ll heal) or his age (uh oh, he’s 36 and not getting younger), Mets need Cano to perform close to his career slash line of .304/.354/.492.

Acquiring Cano at age 36 with five years left on his contract, the Mets were hoping he had at least two or three solid seasons remaining before age slowed him down. If Father Time is already creeping on Cano, the next five years will seem like a century to the people writing the payroll checks. Perhaps his 4 for 5 performance against the Padres on Tuesday is a good omen for Cano and the Mets.

On the positive side, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard have pitched better recently. Syndergaard became the first Mets pitcher to homer for his team’s lone run while pitching a complete game 1-0 shutout over the Reds on May 2 at Citi Field. deGrom has gone seven innings in each of his last two starts, allowing only two runs, yet only had a loss and a no-decision to show for it because the Mets were shutout each game.

On a more serious note, the trials and travails of the 2019 Mets were put in proper perspective with the health news surrounding Mets icons Ron Darling and Ed Kranepool. Darling, who underwent surgery to remove a mass on his chest, announced on May 6 that he’s been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The 58 year-old former pitcher said in a statement that his doctors “are optimistic that the cancer is treatable” and he hoped to return to the Mets broadcast booth in the next month or so.

One day after Darling’s announcement, the 74 year-old Kranepool underwent his long awaited kidney transplant surgery. It’s hoped “Steady Eddie” will be able to join his former teammates when the 1969 Mets are honored at Citi Field in late June. Best wishes for a full and speedy to Ron and Ed.

April 25, 2019 – RCT: Mets Surviving Despite Slow Start by Pitchers … Whew, deGrom’s MRI Is Clean

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.

April 11, 2019 – RCT: Brodie Era Begins for Mets, Streak Ends for deGrom

By Joe Rini

It’s a new season and a new era for the Mets.

With the start of the 2019 season, the Brodie Van Wagenen era officially begins. If the style of former GM Sandy Alderson could be likened to the new school principal bringing order to the school hallways and discipline in the classrooms, Brodie’s persona is more of the inspirational life coach who’ll get you to hit the gym, believe in yourself, and start your own business.

In contrast to Alderson, Brodie appears to be a more visible presence, at least early in the season. Prior to Sunday’s game, a 12-9 defeat at the hands of the Nationals, Brodie, in a sports jacket turned up at the collar, and Mets owner Fred Wilpon, in a windbreaker, chatted with each other and the players during batting practice, and afterwards he even greeted fans near the field. After batting practice on Sunday, I had a chance to chat with the new GM behind homeplate as he strided to the Mets clubhouse.

Having chatted with Brodie about organizing the front office at the BBWAA Dinner in January, I asked how he was handling the day to day of the regular season, and he brightly said it’s been fun and when I asked if he’s thinking about moves he can make, he answered that he’s more focused on supporting the players by providing them with the resources they need to succeed, whether its proper nutrition or proper mental preparation. The new Mets GM exudes an infectious optimism and fans hope it translates into wins.

When he took on the GM’s role, Brodie said prized prospect Pete Alonso could be the starting first baseman in contrast to teams that have held back rookies to gain an extra year of contract control. Alonso was subsequently in the opening day lineup and has delivered with five homeruns, 14 RBI, a .385 average, and boundless energy in the early going.

Two players the Mets are counting in 2019 are pitcher Zack Wheeler and outfielder Brandon Nimmo and both have started slowly. I asked manager Mickey Callaway prior to Wheeler’s start on Sunday about the impact of his expanded workload in 2018, and he said, “getting those innings under his belt was probably the most productive thing” for Wheeler and the team had a plan for rest and ramping up for him in the offseason. Callaway said Wheeler “understands what made him successful last year…and if he gets ahead at an elite rate with that great stuff,” he’ll be able to throw a lot of innings in 2019.

Callaway expressed confidence in Nimmo on Sunday despite starting 2 for 26 and the manager’s confidence was rewarded as the outfielder subsequently hit safely in three of his next seven at bats. I asked Nimmo on Sunday about his recent hand injury after being hit by a pitch and pointing to his knuckles, he said, “I dodged a bullet.”

Finally, after opening the season with 14 scoreless innings, Mets ace Jacob deGrom allowed six runs in four innings in Minnesota’s 14-8 trouncing of the Mets on Tuesday, thus ending his record-tying streak of 26 quality starts. The Mets Cy Young award winner will share the record with Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, though it should be noted, the term “quality start” did not exist in Gibson’s era, and if you told the ultra competitive Gibson that three runs in six innings was a quality start, he might’ve knocked you down with a pitch under your chin.

February 3, 2019 – RCT: BBWAA Honors deGrom, Wright, and 1969 Mets … Mariano Rivera First Unanimous Inductee to Hall

By Joe Rini

Despite the freezing temperatures that made me wish I had parked my car a few blocks closer to the New York Hilton Midtown on Saturday January 26, once inside its Grand Ballroom, it became a perfect night for baseball as the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) held its 96th annual dinner.

In presenting this year’s winners of the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year with their awards, the BBWAA dinner tied a bow on the 2018 season with the start of spring training 2019 within view. Among the other honors bestowed by the New York chapter were the Joe DiMaggio “Toast of the Town” award to David Wright, the Arthur Richman “You Gotta Have Heart” award to Sandy Alderson, and the “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke” award to the 1969 Mets.

The day to day of professional baseball can be grindingly glamorous, with moments of success and hours of training and preparation so it was moving to hear the honorees thank their families for their sacrifices and support that enabled them to succeed. In accepting the Casey Stengel “You Could Look It Up” award, Yankee broadcaster and former star outfielder Ken Singleton thanked his wife for her support and of his children he said, “I went 4 for 4.” Sandy Alderson, who brought cheers to the crowd when he announced he has been cancer free for four months, thanked his wife of 49 years (also a cancer survivor) for being there for him when he returned from the military, helping him through law school, and for her support in his career and dealing with his recent illness.

AL MVP Mookie Betts recalled his mother’s fast and adventurous driving that got him to his games on time and recounted the hours his father pitched to him, shooting hoops together, and running football pass patterns with him. Tongue in cheek, Betts even thanked his 10-week old daughter for the two hours sleep she allows him a night (hopefully, she’ll be sleeping through the night by Opening Day, Mookie). Cy Young award winner and “New York Player of the Year” Jacob deGrom mentioned that he and his Dad still play catch together in the offseason.

Newly inducted Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera was celebrated for being the first player voted unanimously, and the all-time saves leader told the honorees on the dais, “Keep playing the hard way. Love the game. Respect the game. You are tremendous ambassadors” for the game. In a similar vein, 1969 World Series hero Ron Swoboda said, “It isn’t easier to be a baseball player today. These guys are good. It’s a tough game with better players playing it. Bigger…stronger…these guys can do it.”

Swoboda was joined by former teammates Cleon Jones, Ed Kranepool, and Art Shamsky in accepting the award for the 1969 Mets. After joking that he was usually asleep at this hour, Jones was effusive in his praise for Gil Hodges, saying he “molded this group into a team…if not for Gil Hodges, we would not be talking about the 1969 Mets.”

Jacob deGrom was modest in his moment of triumph, grateful to everyone from the writers who voted for him to the clubhouse staff that gets him ready to play. He thanked the Mets for “taking a chance on a shortstop slash pitcher who didn’t want to be a pitcher.”

The recently retired David Wright capped off the evening and was alternatively humorous and thoughtful in his remarks. He joked about fatherhood and playing with John Franco as a rookie, but in recalling the 2015 postseason, he said, “2015 was extremely special, waiting that long to get to the playoffs with a group of guys that were grinders, blue collar type players…I tried to soak it in as much as I could.” His homerun in Game 3 of the World Series was his most memorable moment; recalling the “chaos in the stands” as he rounded third base still “sends chills down my spine.”

Speaking of the bond he had with the fans, Wright said, “A lot of times when I did wrong, they treated me like I could do no wrong and for that, I will forever be grateful.”

October 4, 2018 – RCT: 2018 Leaves Mets Wishing for 2019 … Wright’s Farewell and deGrom’s Dominance

By Joe Rini

If the 2018 Mets season was a sandwich, it would be the infamous “wish” sandwich famously sung by Dan Aykroyd’s alter-ego, Elwood Blues, in the song, “Rubber Biscuit.” The sandwich is two slices of bread that leaves you wishing for meat just as this season left fans wishing for a few more wins.

How do you explain a season where the Mets played a combined 35-19 during the first and last months of the season yet somehow finished in fourth place at 77-85 and 13 games behind the first place Atlanta Braves? Giddy dreams of October baseball flourished during April’s 17-9 start while a surprising 18-10 September gave fans reason to be hopeful for 2019.

Unfortunately the months in the middle weren’t so kind. As spring turned to summer, injuries mounted, the bullpen gave up too many runs and the offense scored too few as May and June’s swoon of 15-39 had fans longing for football before the Fourth of July fireworks…well, at least until the Jets and Giants actually started playing real games.

Yet, despite the team’s disappointing finish, three players in particular gave fans reasons to remember 2018.

Recalling the glory days of Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, Mets ace Jacob deGrom was Cy Young Award worthy on the hill every fifth game. Because of a lack of run support, deGrom was seemingly pressurized with each pitch to keep putting zeroes on the scoreboard. His barely visible 1.70 ERA attests to the zeroes deGrom filled the scoreboard with yet the Mets inexplicably managed to lose 18 of his 32 starts.

If deGrom gave fans reason to enjoy 2018, Mets rookie Jeff McNeil provided hope for 2019 and beyond. An unheralded former 13th round draft pick, McNeil took over at second base after Asdrubal Cabrera departed for the City of Brotherly Love Phillies at the trade deadline and delivered. Choking up on the bat and spraying the balls to all fields, the 26-year old became a fan favorite with his .329 batting average and steady play at second, giving fans reason to hope the Mets had solidified the infield for years to come with McNeil at second and Amed Rosario at shortstop.

If Jeff McNeil gave fans reason to look forward to the future, the Mets and their fans took a look back to say thank you and good-bye to their captain, David Wright, on the final weekend of the season. A series of debilitating injuries had kept Wright off the field since May 2016 and had limited him to a mere 75 games in the last four seasons. In the penultimate game of the season (a 1-0 Mets victory over the Marlins in 13 innings), Wright walked and popped out in two plate appearances before manager Mickey Callaway removed Wright during infield warm-ups before the top of the fifth inning amidst cheers (and some tears) from the sell-out crowd of 43,928 at Citi Field.

As the offseason beckons, the front office will need to bolster the roster for 2019…of course, who will make those decisions is presently unknown because ownership needs to replace Sandy Alderson in the General Manager’s role. Whether the Mets go with a GM who favors analytics over traditional scouting and player development, among the priorities facing the new GM will be finding a closer for the bullpen, a right-handed bat to alleviate the absence of Yoenis Cespedes, and deciding whether to keep Callaway as manager.

So another Mets season is in the books. As always, win or lose, it’s been my privilege to cover the Mets and write about them for you. Thank you for reading and pitchers and catchers report in only 4 ½ months.

https://www.rocklandtimes.com/2018/10/04/2018-leaves-mets-wishing-for-2019/


September 6, 2018 – RCT: Mets & Yankees in Need of Suspense … Late Bloomers McNeil & Voit Shine for Locals

By Joe Rini

September has finally arrived for New York’s local baseball teams. The arrival of Suspense is yet to be announced.

The fortunes of the 2018 Mets and Yankees have split like a fork in the road with the Yankees soaring and the Mets sinking, yet in some ways the last two months for each team have been as suspenseful as watching the Yule Long burn on Christmas Eve on channel 11. 

It’s been clear since school ended in June that the Mets season would end with the final out of the regular season on September 30 and that the Yankees would be in the playoffs. However, while the Mets play out the string to Game 162, the Yankees will need to thread the needle to play deep into October as they will in all likelihood host the crapshoot otherwise known as the one game Wildcard playoff round.

Looking at the half full glass, the Yankees are still firmly ensconced in the first wildcard spot and 35 games over .500 entering play on Wednesday. Yet the starting staff lacks a big time stopper at the top of the rotation with Luis Severino battling fatigue and CC Sabathia dealing with knee pain and Father Time. The return of the injured Aaron Judge and closer Aroldis Chapman is still unknown but hope is the return of Gary Sanchez and acquisition of Andrew McCutchen will boost the offense.

Masahiro Tanaka has mostly pitched like an ace but if the Yankees get past the Wildcard game, manager Aaron Boone will most likely have to navigate pitching match-ups with his deep bullpen (though possibly without Chapman) if his mostly middle rotation staff only gets midway through each playoff game.

In contrast, the Mets starting staff has pitched well although Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, and Noah Syndergaard will be watching the playoffs again, thus upending the preseason prognostications that the Mets would go as far as their starting pitching would take them.

One area (besides geography) the two local teams have in common is the emergence of two late season/late blooming prospects. Since debuting with the Mets on July 24 after the trade of Asdrubal Cabrera, 26-year old second baseman Jeff McNeil is batting .318, has had two four hit games, and impressed the fans with his solid fundamental play (eg. advancing runners, choking up on the bat). 

Meanwhile, the Yankees acquired 27-year old first baseman Luke Voit prior to the July 31 trade deadline from the Cardinals, and in his first 19 games as a Bomber has hit seven homeruns, producing a slash line of .327/. 385/.678 in pinstripes, and made up for the offensive shortfall by the often injured Greg Bird. 

It remains to be seen whether McNeil and Voit will become fixtures in the lineup for years to come or this generation’s versions of flashes like Mike (23 game hitting streak in 1975) Vail and Shane (10 homers in September 2000) Spencer, but they’re contributing in a big way at the moment.

The Mets know their season will end on September 30 while the only guarantee for the Yankees (barring a late season “miracle” and passing the Red Sox) for finishing in second place with 100 wins will be the one game playoff. If they win it, they could go to the World Series. If not, the dreams of seeing Manny Machado and Bryce Harper in pinstripes start a month earlier than expected.

August 23, 2018 – RCT: And Cy Young Award Goes to…deGrom? Wins Scarce Despite Ace’s Dominance

By Joe Rini

One team stands in between Jacob deGrom and the 2018 Cy Young Award. Unfortunately, it’s his own team.

Calling to mind the Cy Young Award winning seasons of Doc Gooden in 1985 and Tom Seaver in 1971, deGrom has pitched to a major league leading 1.71 ERA and allowed only 23 earned runs in his last 21 starts. Yet, whereas the earlier Mets aces were 20 game winners in their glory seasons, and despite deGrom’s statistical dominance, his won-loss record stands at modest 8-7 with five weeks to go in the season. If deGrom pitches at this pace for the rest of the season, will it be enough for the Cy Young voters to overlook a modest win total when his main competitor Max Scherzer already has 16 wins?

DeGrom’s season has been mind-boggling good and head shakingly strange. Besides lowering his ERA to 1.71 with Saturday’s complete game 3-1 victory over the Phillies in Philadelphia, deGrom struck out nine and surpassed 200 punch-outs for the third time. Yet somehow, through a combination of poor run support and shoddy late inning relief pitching, the Mets have managed to lose 14 of his 25 starts this season.

During a stretch that would elicit sympathy from Job, deGrom didn’t get credit for a victory in seven starts between April 21 and July 11 despite pitching seven innings or more and allowing one or fewer runs, which seems like a typographical error. On August 3, he allowed only two runs in eight innings against the Braves and drove in a run; unfortunately it was the only run the Mets scored and he lost 2-1. Forty ones years after the trade of Tom Seaver outraged Mets fans, there was a segment of fans mercifully rooting for a trade of their ace, if only to spare deGrom the further frustration of pitching so well and not being rewarded for it.

While deGrom’s dominance has made this season memorable, it’s also the classy way the righthander has held himself accountable and not pointed fingers at his teammates that has impressed people. His postgame comments after Saturday’s game were typical deGrom as he said, “I definitely wanted to go out there and pitch well. But every time I take the mound, I want to put up zeros. What other guys do is out of my control.”

With deGrom having about seven starts remaining this season, he’ll need his teammates to step up and help him earn as many wins as possible to bolster his case for the Cy Young Award, especially if Max Scherzer closes in on 20 wins. Since his record fell to 5-7 on August 3, deGrom has won his last three starts and his teammates have even given him some run support by scoring eight runs in two of the games.

People supporting deGrom winning the Cy Young point to 2010 when the statistically dominant Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners overcame a modest 13-12 to take home the prize in the American League that season. While there may not be a pennant race at Citi Field, deGrom is giving fans a reason to pay attention when he’s on the mound.