The New York Mets (50-55) kick off a six-game road trip in Chicago against the third place White Sox (46-57). In many ways, it’s a series played between two kindred spirits—fanbases with chips on their shoulder from always playing second fiddle to the more popular team in their own city. The two teams have not played each other since 2016, when the Mets dropped two out of three to the Sox at Citi Field. The winning pitcher in their one victory? A certain Dark Knight who twirled seven scoreless innings, giving up just two hits and a walk. Addison Reed pitched the eighth and Familia got the save in the ninth, just as many such games went not too long ago. But that was then and this is now. Matt Harvey currently does not have a job and it would be a miracle of Jeruys Familia got a save in any of these games.
But I digress. The Mets build on their momentum from the Padres series and swept the weekend series from the Pirates, who after losing again last night have lost nine straight games. Zack Wheeler took the mound for the opening game for the first time since hitting the injured list with shoulder fatigue and was solid, tossing 5 1⁄3 innings and giving up three runs. The Mets backed his effort with four home runs en route to a 6-3 victory. Wheeler is currently penciled in as Thursday’s starter, but the baseball gods only know if he will be a Met by the time the calendar turns to August.
The highlight of the Pirates series was of course Saturday’s game, in which Steven Matz pitched the first complete game of his career and shut the Pirates down for nine innings. In what was arguably his best start in a Mets uniform, Matz needed just 99 pitches to go the distance. He matched zeros with Trevor Williams until Michael Conforto broke through with a home run in the bottom of the sixth to finally snap the scoreless tie. The Mets added some insurance thanks to another home run by the red hot J.D. Davis, but Matz turned out not to need the cushion as the Mets blanked the Pirates 3-0.
Finally, the Mets made things interesting on Sunday when they mounted an early lead thanks to a six-run first inning, but nearly gave it all back. In what turned out to be his final start as a Met, Jason Vargas gave up three runs in 5 2⁄3 innings, striking out five batters and walking three. Luckily, the Mets added two insurance runs in the sixth inning and it turned out they would need every bit of that. The Pirates scored four runs in the ninth, three of them charged to Tyler Bashlor. Edwin Diaz came in the game and immediately gave up a home run that brought the Pirates within one. But he escaped by the narrowest of margins to complete the sweep for the Mets.
Of course, it may be the last time we ever see Diaz in a Mets uniform too. His name is still being mentioned frequently in trade talks. And while Syndergaard is penciled in to be tonight’s starter, we’ll see if it’s actually Syndergaard that emerges from the dugout tonight on the eve of the trading deadline. The Mets find themselves in an odd position, having now dealt away Vargas, which clears a rotation spot for the newly acquired Marcus Stroman. With this latest run of success, the Mets have clawed themselves back to the very periphery of contention. They are six games back of a wild card spot going into this series. Given the Mets’ proclivity for not having any real plan, it could very well be that tonight’s game decides whether they sell off pieces or not by 4:00pm tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the White Sox head into the deadline with the position to be sellers as well and closer Alex Colome is drawing interest from the Phillies as they look to continue to add pitching. Despite being eleven games under .500, the White Sox are in third place, thanks to the fact that two of the worst teams in the American League—the Royals and the Tigers—are both in the American League Central. There is a large gulf from the bottom tier and top tier of teams, though. The White Sox go into to this series 17 games back in the division and 12 games back in the wild card race.
While their record is not very impressive, the White Sox have performed well at Guaranteed Rate Field; they are two games over .500 at home this season. Just a couple of weeks ago, the White Sox were close to a .500 team, but they are 4-13 since July 12th—a span that included a seven game losing streak when they were swept by the A’s and the Royals. In their most recent two series, they lost two out of three to the basement-dwelling Marlins and dropped three out of four to the Twins.
However, that’s not to say there are no reasons for the White Sox to feel optimistic about their rebuild. Yoan Moncada (135 wRC+) as taken large strides in the right direction this season and is starting to become the dynamic player he was heralded as a prospect. Lucas Giolito (3.52 ERA)—remember him from his Nationals days, Mets fans?—has been a very good young starter for the Sox. Eloy Jimenez has returned from a stint on the injured list and looks to continue his impressive rookie campaign. Prospects Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal are waiting in the wings. Much like the Mets, it’s certainly a young core that is nothing to sneeze at.
Tuesday, July 30: Reynaldo Lopez vs. Noah Syndergaard, 8:10 p.m. on SNY
Lopez (2019): 119.0 IP, 111 K, 42 BB, 24 HR, 5.52 ERA, 5.17 FIP, 1.45 WHIP
Lopez’s overall numbers mask the fact that he has been nearly untouchable since the All-Star break, with a 1.71 ERA in 21 innings in the second half after struggling the entire first half of the season. “I’m in a much better place right now mentally. I’m trusting my mechanics, my pitches. I’m not having second thoughts,” he said to James Fegan of The Athletic. He has made some small mechanical tweaks he believe have made him much more effective in his most recent starts. He has been able to increase the arm-side fade on his fastball to make it look a lot more like his changeup and the 11mph difference in speed between the two pitches make that almost impossible for hitters to figure out if he’s going right.
Syndergaard (2019): 126 2⁄3 IP, 126 K, 36 BB, 14 HR, 4.33 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.26 WHIP
Mets fans wait with collective baited breath to see if Noah Syndergaard will be traded before tomorrow’s trading deadline. If he is not traded before tonight’s game, this may very well be his last start in a Mets uniform. It’s no secret that Syndergaard has struggled this season and hasn’t quite been the dominant pitcher we know he can be based on both his talent and his 2016 and 2018 seasons. His ERA is 0.68 runs higher than his FIP and he’s been plagued by some bad luck this season, not missing quite enough bats and generating a ton of ground balls to a poor defensive infield behind him. The poor defense behind him was evident in his most recent start, where the Mets committed two errors. But if he can show us flashes of the old Thor tonight and the Mets continue to roll, who knows how the front office will reevaluate their deadline strategy?
Wednesday, July 31: Lucas Giolito vs. Jacob deGrom, 8:10 p.m. on SNY
Giolito (2019): 117 2⁄3 IP, 141 K, 42 BB, 14 HR, 3.52 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 1.12 WHIP
Lucas Giolito has also completely overhauled his delivery since the Mets last saw him as a Nationals prospect and the results have been impressive. He has been the White Sox’s best pitcher this season, thanks in part to a 30% strikeout rate in the first half. But unlike Lopez, he put together a stellar first half, but has struggled since the break. He has a 5.6 ERA in three starts in the second half so far. He completely remade himself as a pitcher from 2018 to 2019 and it’s hard to say whether this rough second half is just a fluke and he will go back to what he’s been doing in the first half or if the Mets can capitalize on a downturn from the White Sox struggling ace.
deGrom (2019): 129.0 IP, 163 K, 32 BB, 14 HR, 2.86 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 1.09 WHIP
If Giolito manages to be anything approaching his first half self, this matchup should be fun to watch, as he pulls deGrom from the deck of cards. deGrom has been—well, very Jacob deGrom—since his surprising early struggles in April. But he has settled down to be pretty much the pitcher he was last year and holds a 2.05 ERA since June 1. In his most recent start, he shut out the Padres for seven innings, holding them to just four hits and striking out nine.
Thursday, August 1: Dylan Cease vs. Zack Wheeler, 2:10 p.m. on SNY
Cease (2019): 21.0 IP, 21 K, 12 BB, 4 HR, 6.86 ERA, 5.56 FIP, 1.62 WHIP
Lopez has also been encouraging Dylan Cease—the White Sox’s top pitching prospect—to take a look at his mechanics for answers in order to unlock his potential as “a high-carry monster who lives at the top of the zone and tunnels everything off of high fastball.” The White Sox acquired Cease in the 2017 trade that sent Jose Quintana to the Cubs. The rookie has struggled since coming up from the minors after the All-Star break. He gave up five runs in one inning to the Twins in his most recent start. “Listen, if anybody’s worried about Dylan Cease, I wouldn’t be,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said after his most recent outing. “He’s going to be OK. He’ll get through these little hiccups.”
Wheeler (2019): 124 1⁄3 IP, 137 K, 34 BB, 17 HR, 4.71 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.27 WHIP
There’s a chance Wheeler may be shipped off before he even makes this start, due to his looming free agency. He spent a couple of weeks on the injured list with shoulder fatigue—no surprise to anyone who has watched him be pushed to over 100 pitches per start on average this year. But his most recent start where he gave up three runs on six hits over 5 1⁄3 innings, earning the win, showed contending teams interested in his services that he is healthy. But, as with Syndergaard, the Mets will only move him for the right return, especially if they believe they are still in the race.
How will the Mets fare in their three-game series against the White Sox?
This poll is closed
Mets knock our socks off, sweep
Two out of three ain’t bad enough to dash those Wild Card hopes
Just one win brings those playoff hopes back to Earth
Mets get blown out of the windy city as the White Sox sweep