There is both a lot of red and a lot of new personnel to negotiate on this week’s pitching meter. And on the pitching front, there is certainly not much good news to report. Jacob deGrom had a good start squandered by the bullpen. Noah Syndergaard looked good this week, but is now on the injured list. Jason Vargas is also dealing with a minor injury. The depth options to take their starts are not exactly alluring. Steven Matz had a mediocre start and Zack Wheeler had a poor one. Edwin Diaz pitched poorly and Jeurys Familia and Robert Gsellman didn’t fare well either. The highlights of the week include Jacob deGrom continuing to look more like himself, even if he isn’t perfect, the consistency of Seth Lugo, Wilmer Font’s good performance yesterday, and hoping we have something in Brooks Pounders. That is about all I can give you.
The Mets may have dodged a bullet, with Noah Syndergaard hopefully only missing one start and Jason Vargas hoping to make his next start, but the fact remains that the depth behind them is alarmingly thin. The leading candidate to take a spot start in Syndergaard’s place is likely Wilmer Font, based on his admirable performance yesterday, in which he pitched three scoreless innings in a tie game after Vargas was forced to depart due to a calf cramp. He struck out three batters and walked one in the outing. He did not surrender a hit. He did give up a run in the first game of the doubleheader against the Yankees on Tuesday, but the game was long out of reach at that point.
The scoreless tie in yesterday’s game was broken when Chris Flexen, newly called up from Triple-A, gave up a home run to none other than Paul DeJong in the top of the eighth inning. This came after the Mets talked up Flexen as a reliever, claiming that his stuff would play up out of the pen. To be fair to Flexen, the velocity bump was there—he also struck out two batters in the inning. And the Mets did not exactly put him in the best position to succeed, throwing his feet to the fire right away when he has very limited professional experience as a reliever. But given the state of their bullpen, the Mets had very little choice at that point. We will see how Flexen takes to shorter stints out of the bullpen moving forward.
Flexen isn’t the only new face we saw in yesterday’s game. Brooks Pounders, who the Mets acquired from the Indians on Saturday, tossed a scoreless ninth to keep the Mets within a run, working around a hit. When the Mets added Pounders to the roster, they optioned Tim Peterson back to Triple-A. Peterson has been up and down quite a few times this season and this week he was called up and sent down in the same week. His one appearance this week came in Tuesday’s loss to the Yankees, in which he gave up two insurance runs in the eighth on a walk and two hits.
Vargas’ start yesterday was shortened by the aforementioned calf cramp, capping off a week in which his run of miraculous success came to an end somewhat. He still put together two decent outings, including a quality start against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the second game of the doubleheader on Tuesday, which would be a feather in any starting pitcher’s cap. He gave up three runs on seven hits, striking out three and walking two. The Mets offense came alive against James Paxton, helping Vargas even his record to 3-3 on the season. He did not stay in the game long enough yesterday to factor into the decision. He only gave up one hit, but it was a two-run homer to Paul Goldschmidt in the first inning. He gave up three runs in all over his four innings of work.
The first game of the doubleheader against the Yankees was out of reach by the time Tim Peterson came in the game because Zack Wheeler had a less than stellar performance to start the game. Wheeler’s defense certainly let him down—only five of the nine runs he gave up were earned. But he still was smacked around quite a bit by the Yankees offense, who tagged him for ten hits, including two home runs. He struck out six and walked one in the outing.
The second game of the doubleheader started by Vargas featured clean innings from both Seth Lugo and Jeurys Familia to help secure the win. Drew Gagnon pitched the ninth and gave up a solo homer to Brett Gardner, but the Mets had enough cushion that it did not hurt them. That represented Gagnon’s only work for the week.
Ultimately, Lugo has been Mickey Callaway’s only reliable relief pitcher of late. He struck out the side in the eighth inning on Tuesday against the Yankees. He followed that with a 1-2-3 eighth inning through the raindrops in relief of deGrom on Thursday before everything came tumbling down. His outing on Saturday was much more laborious, but he still got the job done, working around a hit and two walks with three strikeouts to earn his tenth hold of the season en route to the Mets’ only victory against the Cardinals.
Disaster unfolded for Edwin Diaz over the span of two days, but the same game. On Thursday, he came in with a two run lead in the pouring rain and the outing went about as poorly as one could expect. After a leadoff walk, he bounced back to retire the next two batters, but then he gave up two straight hits, which tied the game. Then, the game was suspended by rain to be resumed the next day. Mickey Callaway sent him back out for the tenth inning when the game resumed on Friday. He gave up a single, a stolen base, and another single to plate the go-ahead run. He got Paul Goldschmidt to ground into a double play to end the inning, but the damage had been done. It was his fourth loss of the season and his third blown save. His week ended on a higher note when he earned his fifteenth save of the season on Saturday. He was simultaneously very lucky and very unlucky in that outing, as two of the three hits he gave up were pretty soft contact. But the bloop hit off the bat of Kolten Wong would have meant yet another blown save if not for a perfect throw on target by Jeff McNeil to nab the pinch runner Jack Flaherty at the plate to end the game.
Diaz’s two-day long nightmare squandered a solid start from Jacob deGrom, who wasn’t his 2018 self, but he pitched plenty well enough to give the team a win. He gave up two runs on six hits over seven innings of work on Thursday, striking out eight. He didn’t walk any batters. His one real mistake was a pitch that Paul DeJong sent over the wall for a home run. The other run he gave up was the result of a Matt Carpenter hit against the shift, on which deGrom looked visibly frustrated. It’s been that kind of season for deGrom, whose stuff is nearly always there, but the results haven’t been quite as good as last season. Despite that, deGrom still holds a very respectable 3.38 ERA and is striking out over 11 batters per nine innings this season.
If Edwin Diaz’s week was a nightmare, I need an even worse descriptor for Jeurys Familia’s week. A horror movie, perhaps. It’s been that sort of season for Familia, who now holds an ERA approaching 7 for the year. As I mentioned above, he did pitch scoreless seventh inning in relief of Vargas in the nightcap on Tuesday. But he had another implosion on Friday to cap off a terrible day for the Mets that featured two games lost at the hands of the bullpen. He entered the game with a lead in the eighth and that lead quickly became a three-run deficit when he gave up four runs in the inning. He gave up two home runs in the same frame—a solo homer by Paul DeJong (of course) to lead off the inning that tied the game and a three-run shot to Dexter Fowler that put the nail in the coffin.
Hector Santiago allowed a tack-on run in the ninth in the form of a solo homer by Kolten Wong. That was his only work for the week. After the game on Friday, he was designated for assignment.
Given Familia’s ineffectiveness, Mickey Callaway had been shying away from using him in high leverage situations lately and probably would have used Robert Gsellman for two innings on Friday. But Gsellman complained of a tight back after his scoreless seventh inning of relief, leaving Callaway with little choice. With so few options out of the bullpen that can be trusted in high leverage situations, Gsellman was immediately thrown back into the fire on Saturday, tasked with protecting what was at the time a fairly sizable lead. But he nearly gave it all the way back. Gsellman came into the game after Syndergaard had to leave early due to a hamstring strain and not only allowed his inherited runner to score, but gave up three runs in total, allowing the Cardinals to claw to within two, hence the dicey ninth inning.
Familia’s meltdown came in relief of Steven Matz, who had only a so-so outing, but it was enough to keep the Mets in the game. He struck out six batters over the course of his six innings of work and walked two. He gave up just three hits to the Cardinals, but one of them was a very costly three-run homer to the pinch hitter Jose Martinez in the fifth inning. Matz’s ERA remains under 4 for the season.
Noah Syndergaard would love to say the same for his season ERA, but unfortunately, he cannot. He had been putting together a decent outing before injury forced his exit, but was ultimately charged with an extra run when Gsellman allowed his inherited runner to score. In all, Syndergaard gave up five runs, but only four of them were earned in six innings of work. He struck out five batters and walked two. Despite the injury-shortened outing, his effort earned him his fifth win of the season, pushing his record to over .500 for the season. It’s hard to pinpoint the direct cause of Syndergaard’s hamstring strain, but due to the bullpen’s collective ineffectiveness, Mickey Callaway has been pushing all of his starting pitchers deeper into games. Syndergaard entered the seventh inning right around 100 pitches for the night before he suffered the strain to his hamstring and one can’t help but wonder whether fatigue played a role in the injury.