Now may be the time to head to your local grocery store and buy bread and milk before they run out. Maybe grab some gin on the way back.
It’s time for Mets fans to restock their panic shelters.
The team enters this week’s series against the division-leading Washington Nationals coming off a stretch of 17 games in 17 days that culminated with a sweep at the hands of the middling Colorado Rockies. On the one hand, the 21-16 Mets are still on pace for a 92-win season. On the other, they begin the week in third place in the National League East with plenty of reasons to worry.
In the lineup, Michael Conforto and Lucas Duda have hit ruts. David Wright and Curtis Granderson are batting below .230, and Wright’s play in the field is its own cause for concern. But the most ominous clouds at Citi Field hang over the starting rotation. The unit labeled as one of the deepest and most talented in recent memory is suddenly springing leaks from every seam.
Or is it? With the biggest series of the young season starting Tuesday, we examined each starter to determine just how worried you should be.
Reason to panic: General mediocrity
For anybody else, a 3-5 record and 4.93 ERA through eight starts might be written off as a small sample size. But Harvey has been so incredible to start his career that these struggles are perplexing. Even in his first season after Tommy John surgery last year, he returned far stronger than most do with a 2.71 ERA in 29 starts.
Even stranger is that the problem is difficult to peg: His strikeout-to-walk ratio is down, but still a strong 3.2; his velocity has fluctuated, falling a touch versus last year; and when he looks as though he’s figured it out, like he did after a 10-strikeout performance in San Diego, he follows it by giving up five earned on 11 hits against the Rockies. It could be little more than a funk. Maybe he has figured it out and anybody can get nuked at Coors Field. But what’s scary is that Harvey, a self-assured bulldog with an ace’s mentality and track record, sounds more confused than anyone. After his loss in Colorado, he said, “From one start to the next, it’s not—it doesn’t feel the same at all.”
Reason to panic: Elbow injury
Matz settled down after getting shellacked in his first outing of the season, allowing just four runs over his next 33 innings (1.09 ERA) to win five straight starts. He looked like he had everything figured out. Then came the scariest words any pitcher can utter: My elbow hurts.
Matz’s start in Colorado was scrapped after he felt pain in his upper forearm, an alarming symptom—but especially for a pitcher who has already undergone Tommy John surgery. Since then, he has been put on anti-inflammatories and said he feels much better, with the skipped start a case of “rather safe than sorry.” The team didn’t seem too concerned, either, keeping him on the road instead of shuttling him home immediately for further testing. (Multiple reports Monday said Matz’s elbow exam showed no structural damage.) There’s even a chance Matz will return to start in the Nationals series instead of missing a full turn in the rotation. But until he takes the mound again, hold your breath—you have to with elbow injuries.
Reason to panic: Gets hammered by good teams
Last season, the 42-year-old righty dominated the league’s bottom-feeders and implode baseball’s best lineups. So when he began 2016 with a 2.92 ERA in six starts, you had to consider the poor caliber of the opponents. Then in his seventh start, against the Dodgers, he gave up five runs in as many innings, continuing this trend.
So it’s time to accept what Colon is: An innings-eater who dares hitters to beat him with his slow, slippery fastball. With five of the Mets’ next seven series coming against the Nationals (twice), Dodgers, White Sox and Pirates, it may be time to worry about Colon.
Reason to panic: Elbow injury?
After Syndergaard hit two home runs against Dodgers last week, manager Terry Collins let something surprising slip: Syndergaard had his elbow examined recently.
This came as a shock since Syndergaard, who has a 2.53 ERA, had never reported a problem or missed a start. But as with Matz, any mention of a pitcher’s elbow becomes an immediate DEFCON 5 situation—especially since Syndergaard throws harder than any other starter in baseball and is the only one of the Mets’ young guns who hasn’t already undergone elbow surgery. There’s an eerie inevitability that it will happen at some point. But Syndergaard and assistant general manager John Ricco both brushed off the exam as no big deal. “It was all precautionary,” Syndergaard said. He has continued to pitch, and pitch well, so unless he actually misses time, just keeping basking in his heat.
Reason to Panic: Declining velocity
Questions about deGrom’s velocity have evolved from spring-training fluke to fact after six regular-season starts. His fastball is averaging 92.5 miles per hour, down from 95 mph a year ago, and he’s striking out fewer batters (5.8 per nine innings, versus 9.7). But here’s the strange part: His overall numbers are good. He has a 2.50 ERA and has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his six starts. This is despite the fact that he’s been a touch unlucky, yielding a .308 batting average with runners in scoring position.
DeGrom says he’s making mechanical adjustments and “making progress,” while Collins has noted that with deGrom, as with the rest of the staff, it may take longer to reach peak form after pitching so much in 2015 including the postseason. Meanwhile, deGrom has pitched respectably—including against solid teams like the Giants and Dodgers. It’s also worth noting that he still struck out batters at a high clip in 2014 when his fastball averaged 93.5 mph, just a touch faster than this year, so he can still be great even if his fastball doesn’t break radar guns.
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