Over the past few months, we’ve watched Zack Wheeler evolve from an unstable, bottom-of-the-rotation pitcher into a reliable, top-end starter before our eyes, and it only seems like he’s still getting better with every outing. Last night was another big step forward for Wheeler, who delivered possibly his best performance since his Tommy John Surgery in 2014 en route to a 3-0 Mets victory over the Braves.
Wheeler was dominant from right from the word “go” last night. He struck out the side in the first inning and basically never slowed down from there. He didn’t even allow a hit until a Freddie Freeman single in the fourth inning. No runner even reached second base against him until Freeman doubled in the seventh. Wheeler was simply dominant—the best version of him we’ve seen in a long time. He finished the night with seven shutout innings, only allowing three hits in total while striking out nine.
Coming into this game, Wheeler had posted a 3.28 ERA and a 3.09 FIP over his previous 13 starts and 82.1 innings, dating back to late May. So he’s basically pitched like a true top-of-the-rotation starter for nearly three months now, and it’s come with a notable change in approach and improved velocity. And particularly in his last three starts, Wheeler has looked like a truly elite pitcher, as he hasn’t allowed a run in his last 17 innings.
And while the offense might not do enough to get Jacob deGrom any wins, they’ve done enough for Wheeler lately, helping him two his fourth-straight victory last night. That said, the bats were still far from sizzling in this one. After stranding two runners on in the second inning, they were able push across a run in the third on an Amed Rosario groundout, in which Todd Frazier displayed some excellent baserunning to score the run. But they couldn’t muster anything else in the inning.
They got two more on in the third, but stranded them once again, and failed to make much noise again until the sixth inning, when singles by Michael Conforto, Frazier, and Jeff McNeil loaded the bases with nobody out. Austin Jackson then laced a single that clanked off the pitcher, Shane Carle, and deflected into no-mans-land to score a run and keep the bases loaded. Rosario subsequently struck out, but then Kevin Plawecki hit a sacrifice fly to push a second run across and extend the Mets lead out to 3-0. Wheeler would then strike out, though, to strand the other two runners.
In the eighth inning, Jeff McNeil came up with one out and swatted a first-pitch fastball into center for a single, his fourth hit of the game, and his eighth in 32 at bats so far at the MLB level. McNeil was the offensive star of the night for the Mets, and his hot hitting so far is a great sign for the team going forward. If he can put up the kind of offensive numbers that he did in the minor leagues, then the Mets have a very fine player on their hands.
Austin Jackson also singled in the inning and McNeil took third on the hit, but the Mets once again stranded the two runners on. They stranded eight total runners all night.
The bullpen behind Wheeler was solid. Bobby Wahl came in for the eighth and recorded the first two outs of the inning, but also surrendered two hits. Robert Gsellman came on to record the final out of the inning on just one pitch, and stayed on for the ninth and retired the Braves in order to record his sixth save of the season.
The wins and losses don’t matter much for the Mets at this point, but it’s games like these that highlight what’s important for the franchise going forward. If they’re going to compete next year, they’re going to need guys like Wheeler, McNeil, and Gsellman to step up, and their positive showings tonight are an encouraging sign.
SB Nation GameThreads
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Zack Wheeler +40.2% WPA. Jeff McNeil, +20.2% WPA
Big losers: Austin Jackson -6.2% WPA,
Teh aw3s0mest play: Jeff McNeil doubled in the second inning (+11.0% WPA)
Teh sux0rest play: Freddie Freeman doubled in the seventh inning (-5.7% WPA)
Total pitcher WPA: +47.1% WPA
Total batter WPA: +2.9% WPA
GWRBI!: Amed Rosario