Other than Zack Wheeler, who did not pitch this week because he was shut down, the entire Mets’ rotation pitched very well the final week of the season. While the bullpen did have a couple of implosions—looking at you, Tuesday’s and Friday’s box scores—they held firm in the Mets’ victories this week, all of which had a pretty slim margin of error. Especially notable was Saturday’s extra-inning affair, in which the bullpen collectively contributed seven scoreless innings of work.
The bullpen was not needed on Sunday, when Noah Syndergaard finished out his season with a bang, tossing a complete game shutout for his thirteenth win of the season. He scattered five hits and struck out six in the win. He threw 101 pitches over his full nine innings of work, which was all despite suffering with the remnants of a sinus infection. That is now 15 straight scoreless innings Syndergaard has pitched with the illness to close out his season, which is certainly impressive. He was feeling the effects of the infection much more in his start on Tuesday, in which he was only able to go six innings and 89 pitches and was sent home after he was taken out of the game. Nonetheless, he did not allow a run over those six innings, allowing just three hits and two walks and striking out five Braves. In what has been somewhat of an up-and-down season for Syndergaard, it was certainly an encouraging final week to say the least and perhaps the most important thing he may have to work on in the offseason is finding a better immune system.
If Saturday took the cake for the most emotional day at Citi Field in 2018, Wednesday night certainly has a case to be runner-up. Jacob deGrom’s final start of the year was something special to behold. With one final shot to make his case for the Cy Young award, deGrom certainly deLivered. He twirled an absolute gem—eight scoreless innings, surrendering just two hits. He struck out ten and walked none against a playoff-bound lineup. His season ended with him notching his 1,000th career strikeout and walking off the mound with a big smile on his face. He earned the win to push him over the .500 bump and get to double digit wins on the season, with a 10-9 final record. If the voters that have already spoken up are any indication, deGrom is all but a lock for the NL Cy Young award and may very well get some MVP votes as well.
Somewhat lost amongst all of the deGrom fanfare on Wednesday was that Seth Lugo also finished out his fantastic 2018 season on a high note. Lugo pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to protect the Mets’ 3-0 lead and help deGrom on the way to his tenth win. Lugo earned his third save of the season. Over 101 1⁄3 innings this season between late-inning relief and spot starts, Lugo holds a 2.66 ERA for the season, making him one of the only sure things about the bullpen heading into next season. He and Robert Gsellman were both shut down for the final series of the season due to concerns about workload.
Speaking of Gsellman, his final week did not go quite as well as Lugo’s. Syndergaard left the game with a lead on Tuesday, but the bullpen squandered that lead and then some en route to a 7-3 loss at the hands of the Braves. Gsellman was a the center of that—part of four-run seventh inning for the Braves. All four of the runs were charged to his ledger, although he avoids the dreaded poop emoji to close out his season only because he—like so many of the Mets’ relievers this week—was not assisted by his defense. Only three of the four runs were earned. The Braves got on him right away, starting things off with a double and a single to plate one run before Gsellman was finally able to retire a batter, striking out Ozzie Albies for the first out. He then walked Charlie Culberson to put two men on. The inning was then prolonged when the pinch hitter Rio Ruiz reached on a fielding error by Austin Jackson. Gsellman was then removed from the game, but both Culberson and Ruiz would come around to score. Gsellman did redeem himself in his final appearance of the season on Thursday night when he tossed a scoreless ninth inning in relief of Jason Vargas to earn his thirteenth save of the season.
Drew Smith came into the seventh inning on Tuesday in an effort to clean up Gsellman’s mess and was handed the nearly impossible task of facing Ronald Acuna Jr. with the bases loaded. That went about as predicted. Smith threw a wild pitch, scoring a run and advancing the other two runners. Then Acuna Jr. singled to plate the other two runs. Smith did bounce back to then strike out both Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman to end the inning, but the damage had been done. Like Gsellman, Smith was able to redeem himself later in the week. He earned a hold on Thursday, his fourth of the year, for recording two of the three outs in the eighth inning. He did allow a single that scored one of his inherited runners, though; that run was charged to Anthony Swarzak. He was also one of the many relievers on Saturday to contribute a scoreless inning en route to the Mets’ walk-off win, ending his season on a high note.
The suffering was not over for the Mets’ bullpen on Tuesday after the seventh inning ended. The bullpen surrendered three more runs in the eighth. This time the culprit was Jerry Blevins, whose season certainly didn’t end how he had hoped. Blevins struggled mightily in the first half of the season, but had been putting together a nice rebound in the second half before the final few weeks of the season in which he was once again lit up seemingly every time he took the mound. The eighth played out much like the seventh inning—another multi-run inning with another Mets error thrown in. With one out, Todd Frazier misplayed a ball that allowed Johan Camargo to reach base safely. Things unraveled fairly quickly for Blevins after that. He allowed a double and a home run to make the score 7-3. However, Blevins too contributed a scoreless inning on Saturday, working around a walk in the tenth. If it were not for Saturday’s game, I would have a fair few more poop emojis to dole out this final week.
Nonetheless, the Mets did manage to shut out the Marlins for thirteen innings on Saturday. Sure, it was the Marlins, but it was still a rather impressive feat from the Mets’ pitching staff. Steven Matz started things off and lost in all of the David Wright fanfare was how well Matz truly pitched in his final start of the season. He tossed six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and a walk and striking out eight. He also got his ERA under 4 for the season, finishing out with a 3.97. He may not have pitched as well as he probably expected of himself during parts of the season, but Matz made 30 starts this season, something that many probably never thought he would do and something that he can be proud of and build on in 2019.
After Matz’s exit, the bullpens matched zeros the rest of the way until the Mets walked it off in the thirteenth. Tyler Bashlor was the first reliever to make an appearance, tossing a scoreless seventh with one walk and one strikeout. Bashlor also bailed out Blevins in the eighth inning on Tuesday, recording the final two outs of that inning without allowing any more runs, despite allowing a single and hitting a batter with a pitch in the process. Bashlor is another reliever who has a pretty good case to make next year’s bullpen with the body of work he put together since being called up this season.
One reliever who will definitely be in next year’s bullpen is Anthony Swarzak, who is under contract next season. He also pitched a scoreless inning on Saturday, giving up one hit and striking out a batter in the ninth inning. However, he was responsible for the Braves’ only run in Thursday’s win. He failed to retire a batter, allowing a single and a walk before being pulled from the game in favor of Daniel Zamora in the eighth inning.
Zamora has put together an impressive campaign to be perhaps the second lefty in next year’s bullpen. He came on to relieve Swarzak in the eighth inning on Thursday, striking out Tyler Flowers for the first out—the only batter he was tasked with facing before Smith got the final two outs of the inning. Zamora also pitched the top of the thirteenth inning on Saturday and therefore earned his first major league win when the Mets walked it off in the bottom of the frame—quite a nice note on which to end one’s season.
The reliever that arguably contributed the most to Saturday’s win, however, was Jacob Rhame, who was the only member of the bullpen to go multiple innings. He pitched both the eleventh and twelfth innings, allowing one hit and striking out a batter. Rhame also threw a scoreless ninth inning on Tuesday after the aforementioned poor seventh and eighth innings put the Mets behind four runs. Rhame did have one hiccup this week in that he played a small role in Friday’s 8-1 loss, allowing one of his inherited runners to score for the Marlins’ eighth run before striking out Peter O’Brien to mercifully end that inning.
However, that was simply the cherry on top of Friday’s bullpen disaster. Corey Oswalt started on Friday, continuing to occupy Zack Wheeler’s rotation spot, and pitched well. He allowed one run over four innings of work on four hits. He did walk three batters, though. Nonetheless, Oswalt has proven this season that he can be a solid spot starter when called upon.
The other seven runs the Marlins scored on Friday all came at the hands of the bullpen. However, like Tuesday, multiple fielding errors were mixed in. Paul Sewald was not the victim of any fielding errors, however. He was tasked with the fifth inning and gave up two runs on three hits, striking out one and walking one. The prolonged fifth inning drew all the more ire from the fans in attendance and watching at home due to the fact that David Wright was due to lead off the bottom of the inning for his first plate appearance in over two years and Sewald was presenting a significant delay. Sewald took the loss, putting his record at an unsightly 0-7 on the season with an ERA over 6.
The chief victim of the Mets’ poor defense was Drew Gagnon, who pitched 1 2⁄3 innings and gave up five runs, but only one of those runs was earned. With one out in the sixth, Gagnon walked the light-hitting pitcher Urena, who came around to score on a single and an error by Todd Frazier. Gagnon got the final two outs after that, but his second inning of work was even messier. He gave up a leadoff single in the seventh and then a potential double play grounder went under Amed Rosario’s glove for a second error. Four runs followed, one of which came after Gagnon was finally removed from the game. Despite not being helped out by his defense, it was still a very rough final outing of the season for Gagnon.
Tim Peterson got to end his season on the right foot, coming in the lopsided game on Friday after disaster unfolded in the middle innings, notching two scoreless innings to close things out. He retired all six batters he faced in order.
Importantly, another Mets pitcher that went out on a high note in 2018 was Jason Vargas, who started Thursday’s game and earned the victory for seven very strong innings of work. He allowed just three hits and struck out six, shutting out the powerful Braves’ offense for seven frames. It was definitely one of his best starts as a Met, if not his best of the season. He finishes the season with a 5.77 ERA, which is still obviously not good, but very impressive considering where he started. Vargas is under contract for next year, so hopefully what we’ve seen from Vargas in the second half is closer to what he will produce next year.