2015 has been a smashing success for the New York Mets.
Currently sitting atop the NL East by 2.5 games, this unexpected position at the top of the standings can be greatly attributed to the rise of a seemingly endless amount of excellent young starting pitching.
With a combined record of 26-19, 379 strikeouts, and an ERA of 2.59, the homegrown trio of Matt Harvey, 26, Jacob deGrom, 27, and Noah Syndergaard, 22, has dominated all season. With those three at the top of the rotation (and talented youngsters Zach Wheeler, Rafael Montero, and Steven Matz in the wings), Mets fans can expect their pitching to lead their team for the foreseeable future. However, it begs the question, how badly do they want to win now?
The Mets entered this season with the intention of keeping their trio of young pitchers on an innings limit; a common practice in today’s game to avoid injury. Yet with the success of Harvey, deGrom, and Syndergaard and their innings starting to pile up, the Mets’ brass is now put in the uncomfortable position of what to do with their three young arms down the stretch. If the Mets expect to contend from here until game 162, success will ultimately fall on their shoulders.
Herein lies the problem. As they currently stand, Harvey has pitched 140 innings towards a limit of about 195; deGrom 139.2 towards a limit of 215; and Syndergaard has thrown 130.1 on his way to a limit of about 175 innings. If they were to pitch every 5th day from here to the end of the year, that would add 10 or 11 starts to their totals. With each pitcher averaging over six innings per start, we can conservatively project that each pitcher would add about 60-70 more innings to their arms before the season’s end, pushing them close to or surpassing their ‘limit’.
Mets Manager Terry Collins has so far played the “we’ll worry about that down the road” card, but for this Mets team to make the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade, a ‘wait and see’ approach isn’t going to cut it.
Simply put, if New York wants to play in October , then those three arms cannot be missing games in September.
While a six-man rotation or spot starter could keep the trio under their limits, it is hard to imagine the Mets being able to hold off Washington in the East, or battle for one of the two wild card spots with Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Chicago, without all three aces pitching every five days.
It would be shocking if the Mets followed through with this course of action. After all, this is a team whose loyal fan base is sick and tired of waiting for their franchise to finally go for it. After so many years of being overshadowed by their cross-town rivals and being ridiculed for their reluctance to pay out big money for free agents, the time to start changing that is now.
While the Mets’ organization has done an admirable job of developing minor league talent, it’s high time to shift focus from rebuilding to contending. The moves made at the trade deadline this year indicate the organization is ready to compete right now. However, skipping starts or lessening the innings of their top three arms contradicts those moves.
Newly acquired outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, is nothing more than a two month rental, a flashy Band-Aid on what will continue to be a sub-par offense moving forward if the Mets fail to resign him. For the money he will likely demand, it would be uncharacteristic of the Mets to retain his services. Newcomers Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson will also be free agents at the end of the season, so unless resigned, none will act as building blocks moving forward.
Let’s also not forget that the NL East is still wide open. The Mets hold a slight lead now, but it’s not hard to imagine New York being overtaken by the Nationals and ending up second. With the injured Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jayson Werth back in the National’s lineup as well as their ace Stephen Strausberg who was excellent in his first start back from the DL, Washington is still a very scary team with another win streak or two a strong possibility down the stretch.
For those who still think I’m overreacting, consider this. Harvey and Syndergaard both miss two starts and deGrom misses one, five games in total. Since the spot starters aren’t nearly as good as the trio they are replacing, it’s not unfair to assume the Mets lose 2 or 3 of those games. In what will be a hotly contested final two months of the season where Washington and New York play six more times, it is extremely believable that the Mets end up losing the division and miss the playoffs by 1 or 2 games.
What then? How do the Mets sell to their fan base that they really wanted to make the playoffs this year with all those offensive acquisitions, but didn’t want to pay the full price to actually get there? That shaving off 15 or so innings was more important than making the playoffs for the first time since 2006?
I just don’t see that being accepted by the Mets faithful. Possibly worse is that those decisions to sit their starters, and the subsequent criticism by the fans and media, would turn what should be viewed as a spectacular season into one that is remembered for what could have been, not what was.
So if the Mets want to earn the praise that has been directed at them since the deadline, then Harvey, deGrom, and Syndergaard better be out there every 5 days. If not, and the Mets miss the playoffs yet again, the resounding applause for their ‘bold’ moves will, and should, quickly turn to jeers, something Mets fans have become all too familiar hearing.