The Mets are 8-2 in games started by Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard.
However, they are 7-5 in games started by Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey. Harvey, who was 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA as a starter, has since been sent to the bullpen.
And while Mickey Callaway wouldn't commit after Wednesday night's game to Matz making his next start, Callaway said on Thursday that he had a good talk with Matz -- so his spot in the rotation seems safe for now.
Harvey will be replaced in the rotation by Jason Vargas, who was signed to a two-year deal this past winter with the sole purpose of being the team's reliable third starter. However, he chose to have surgery on his non-throwing hand in March after being struck by a line drive.
Vargas started 2018 on the disabled list, though he, Callaway and several team sources have all said had he suffered this injury in September, he would have dealt with the issue and kept pitching. But, because it was March and he'd likely miss just four or five starts, better to have it taken care of now then deal with limited use of his non-pitching hand the entire season.
Finally, Vargas will be activated from the disabled list and make his 2018 debut Saturday in San Diego against the Padres. In 32 starts for Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland and the Royals last season, Vargas was 18-11 with a 4.16 ERA (4.67 FIP) and 1.33 WHIP during 179.2 innings.
He has thrown at least 150 innings in six of his previous eight seasons, during which he tossed at least six innings and allowed three or fewer runs in roughly half of his outings.
By replacing Harvey, Vargas doesn't have to be another ace, he simply needs to be good enough and reliable. If he can do that, it allows Callaway to better tolerate and manage the ups and down of Wheeler and Matz, which are clearly going to continue (at least in the short term).
Matz and Wheeler have all the potential and talent needed to be great. But, for whatever reason, be it mental, physical, or simply right place, wrong time matchups, they have never been able to get themselves on a strong footing. Instead, every start begins feeling like a craps game and every start ends in heavy analysis.
In the case of Matz, he's made five starts this season, including Wednesday night's debacle. Prior to Wednesday's disastrous, 88-pitch, four-inning, seven-run (three earned) nightmare, he had pitched OK -- and by that, I mean, he didn't pitch great, he didn't pitch poorly. In each of his first four starts he tossed 85-90 pitches, 55-60 of which were strikes, he surrendered three runs each time and lasted only four or five innings, getting in to the sixth inning just once. This is the mark of a roll-of-the-dice fifth starter.
Matz as just a fifth starter 'feels' like a disappointment because I expect more from him. I still believe he has the talent to be elite. However, he's missed so much time during his career due to injury, surgery and aches and pains, that I think he's still learning what it means to be a smart, left-handed 'big-league pitcher,' as opposed to just a thrower with a wicked curve ball.
The thing is, in terms of Callaway's rotation and having the Mets win enough games to get to the postseason, if Matz can be a consistent, roll-of-the-dice, fifth starter (even if capable of more), that's fine. Callaway can live with him in this role so long as Vargas and his change-up can be a legit No. 3, and the Mets keep winning 80 percent of games started by deGrom and Syndergaard.
Wheeler is the wild card. Given that he started this season in Triple-A, I initially viewed Harvey as the staff's pivot pitcher, i.e., the Mets have a great season if Harvey overachieves, but the team struggles if Harvey underachieves. However, that role seemingly now rests on Wheeler.
Wheeler's start Tuesday did not go well. He got mostly ripped in media the next day with lots of fans crushing him on social media. I didn't see it the same way. The stat line was not good, but I was actually encouraged by what I saw from Zack and have faith he's going to be better than expected the remainder of this season.
He looked terrific in his first outing, when he went seven innings, struck out seven and allowed one run against the Marlins. He pitched less and allowed more runs in each subsequent start. This is not good, I understand. However, unlike earlier in his career, he didn't implode. He kept pushing. He stayed focused. He talked several times with his catcher. He tried different combinations of pitches. And, he relied on his mettle to do everything possible to stay on the mound, if for no other reason than to allow his bullpen more rest and time to get in the game.
Earlier this week during his start against the Cardinals, he did his best to complete four innings, ultimately allowing four earned runs and six hits. But, he only walked two of 21 batters, which tells me he was making adjustments, trying, and just getting hit.
"My command was off," Wheeler said after the game, looking dejected, confused and shaking his head. "Mechanically, I was off just a hair,"
When not on his game (or off by a hair), the old Wheeler walked the ballpark and was forced from the game because too many runners were on base. He has yet to do that this season. Instead, he's fighting and competing, not doing himself in, which gives me confidence he'll eventually find the right approach and combination of pitches and his game and results will click for him.
In an ideal world, one of Wheeler or Matz tap into their potential, elevates their respective game and the Mets have four of five pitchers expected to win each night. Or, if they can't do it, maybe Harvey returns from exile, is righted, motivated, and rises to the occasion. And, if none of those three fill the void, Callaway, Eiland and Sandy Alderson can always turn to Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman, who I'm sure they would prefer to keep in the bullpen, where each has pitched so well to start the season. Or, if all else fails, Alderson can turn to the trade market, where MLB insiders predict several starting pitchers will be available given how many free agents were forced to sign short-term deals this past winter.
But, even if it doesn't click, even if the rotation remains status quo for the next month or so, the Mets will be fine. Callaway and Company should be able to win slightly more games than they lose as long as deGrom, Syndergaard, and Vargas are holding down the fort. And at this point, after starting 11-1, playing slightly above .500 baseball from now through the end of the season actually results in an 88-90-win season. It would be wonderful to win more and make September less stressful. However, the reality is that average play can technically be good enough, so long as the team's better players simply do their job...
By the way, in this week's State of the Mets podcast, I talk more about Harvey, as well as Callaway's struggling bullpen, putting Jay Bruce on the DL, and what to make of the surging Phillies...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!