Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
So much has gone wrong for the Mets since their 11-1 start, some of it fixable and some of it deeply worrisome.
The front office remains hopeful that veterans like Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier will ultimately put up their usual numbers, and that Michael Conforto will remember how talented he is.
On the negative side, outside evaluators wonder if Yoenis Cespedes will ever resemble the superstar he was for a few months in 2015, now that he he can't seem to shake persistent leg injuries. Or if Amed Rosario will produce enough to be a major league regular. Or if the bullpen is deep enough. Or if Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, and Jason Vargas can ever be reliable.
With so much uncertainty -- particularly around Cespedes, who is crucial to the offense -- the diminished Mets face a revised calculus: They need Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to pitch well enough to cover the team's flaws, and they need to win the vast majority of games that those two start.
In an era of wild card mediocrity, a pair of aces can propel a team toward meaningful games in September. Problem is, deGrom and Syndergaard have not yet pitched to that description, for two different reasons.
For deGrom, a hyperextended elbow has disrupted his season. Everyone insists that he is healthy now -- but still, the question lingers as to why one of the best pitchers in baseball needed 45 pitches to get three outs in the first inning on Sunday. Despite that weird blip, deGrom has a 1.83 ERA, and is a true ace when healthy. So here's hoping, for the Mets' sake, that he is indeed healthy.
Syndergaard is a more complicated case. The good-but-not-great nature of his season has generated much discussion, with many baseball people agreeing that opposing hitters are too comfortable in the box -- odd, given Syndergaard's elite velocity and repertoire.
Here's an evaluator's take: "He doesn't walk anyone, so he is always around the plate with pitches that mostly find themselves over the plate at some point. No fear from the hitters of a larger standard deviation. Pitches are in the [strike zone] box that TV uses, for the most part.
"Noah is 91-99, all in the box. [Cleveland ace Corey] Kluber uses movement to give the hitter a false read … When Noah is right he can be unhittable, but I watch how comfortable the hitters are in their swings."
To Syndergaard's great credit, he is fully aware of this issue. Sitting in front of his locker before a recent game, he demonstrated two windups: His, and that of most other pitchers. In his motion, the hands are too far apart after he pulls the ball from his glove. In the more common motion, the hands are closer together until the pitch is thrown.
"Most people, when they break their hands they create like a blockage," Syndergaard said. "But me, I'm kind of like this, the back of my palm is facing the catcher. So what happens is hitters see the ball a little earlier."
So they're a little more comfortable than they should be, given the quality of his stuff?
"Yeah," Syndergaard said.
Pitching coach Dave Eiland told me that he wants Syndergaard to pitch inside more. Syndergaard believes that his effort to correct this flaw with his will enable that.
"If I get that mechanical adjustment done, I'll be able to have more purpose on that inside pitch, so I can throw inside all I want with more of an element of surprise," he said, while also acknowledging that he often caught too much of the strike zone.
"I throw strikes, but they get a lot of plate,'" Syndergaard said. "You watch [Max] Scherzer in his 20 strikeout game, probably 15 of his strikeouts were balls, outside the zone."
It's good news for the Mets that Syndergaard is self-aware enough to recognize his issues, and dedicated enough to work on them. But they'll need to see dominance soon, and they need he and deGrom to go on a run worthy of two aces, and carry their troubled team into a playoff race.