By Joe Rini
The New York Mets‘ postseason prospects depend on everything and everyone. While the Mets will rely heavily on Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer to win any postseason series, winning the division and avoiding the wild card series is vital. However, if the division title is behind a locked door, picture 28 players with keys needing to unlock it. Holding keys to winning the NL East are starting pitchers, Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker.
Dueling down the stretch with the Atlanta Braves, Scherzer’s ill-timed second trip to the IL and laggard late-season hitting slowed the Mets’ race to the 2022 finish line. 147 consecutive days in first place dissipated in three days after the Mets scored four runs in three games. While a laggard offense weighed heavily recently, the effect of setbacks to the rotation cannot be ignored.
Carrasco and Walker Deliver
Question marks loomed around Carrasco and Walker entering 2022. Carrasco averaged 15 wins across four seasons with the Cleveland Indians, but he hadn’t pitched a full season since 2018. After a good start in 2021, Walker faltered in the second half under the weight of his innings workload.
However, in the absence of deGrom and Scherzer, they delivered in the Mets’ rotation. Carrasco won 13 of his 22 starts, and Walker sported a 10–3 record entering the mid-August series against the Braves. While not as celebrated as deGrom and Scherzer, they stabilized the Mets’ rotation. Unfortunately, injuries struck each pitcher on consecutive nights in Atlanta, and led to two Mets losses. Carrasco’s left oblique strain landed him on the 15-day IL. He returned on September 4, but lasted only 2 2/3 innings in a 7–1 loss to the Washington Nationals that dropped their NL East lead to one game.
While Walker’s back spasms didn’t cause a trip to the IL, his performance suffered. He allowed five runs in 10 1/3 innings in his next two starts. Subsequently, he trudged through five innings in the 8—2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates that dropped the Mets into a first-place tie with the Braves on September 6.
Mets’ Postseason Prospects
The Mets’ season-long reliable rotation suddenly looked tattered after Scherzer’s injury. Degrom and Chris Bassitt were pitching well, but support was needed. Two sub-par performances in September by David Peterson suggested he may be feeling the effects of an increased pitching load. While the Mets were in desperate need of a boost from their dormant offense, they also needed their starting pitchers to pitch well deeper into games to take pressure off the offense, and give relief to an overtaxed bullpen.
The 5 1/2 game lead in the standings the Mets held on the day of Carrasco’s injury on August 15 turned into a 1/2 game deficit after a desultory 6-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on September 9. However, they were up by 1 1/2 games by the end of the weekend. While the Mets exploded for 11 and nine runs in winning the next two games, they also received a boost from Walker and Carrasco.
Walker’s seven innings of work alleviated concern that he was wearing down in September. He allowed one run, and five hits while tying a season-high with ten strikeouts. Carrasco earned his team-high 14th win of the season with six innings of one-run ball in an 11-3 Mets win. Each pitcher had gone one month between victories.
19 Games Left
The Mets’ playoff prospects depend in large part on winning the division. However, at 1/2 game, there is less space between the Mets and Braves than on a Number 7 subway car on the way to Citi Field at rush hour. Two unexpected losses to the Chicago Cubs this week with deGrom and Bassitt on the hill make the last 19 games even more critical. The Mets need everyone to contribute and Carrasco and Walker will play important roles down the stretch.