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Max Scherzer was everything the Mets hoped he would be, until he wasn’t

He was the ace of the team for much of the season, but he faltered in his two biggest starts.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

When the Mets signed Max Scherzer to a three year, $130 million contract last winter—the largest single-season AAV for any player in MLB history—the expectations surrounding the team shifted from simply being a postseason contender to a certified World Series favorite seemingly overnight.

The Mets had already had a busy offseason, inking Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha, and Starling Marte to contracts, but the Scherzer signing was a step above those, a move that forced the rest of the league to take notice and put the Mets on the map. It was the equivalent of the Francisco Lindor trade from the previous offseason, a move that sent shockwaves throughout the league, and one that decidedly would not have been possible under the team’s previous ownership.

And, for the most part, he delivered. Mets fans had become accustomed to having Scherzer rip their hearts out, those terrifying, unblinking multi-colored eyes staring deeply towards the mound as he plans to attack his next victim. As a member of the Nationals, he has won many a battle against the Mets, and it was a much more enjoyable experience watching him perform his magic in a Mets uniform. In Jacob deGrom’s absence, Schezer stepped in seamlessly to lead the way, and with his contributions, the Mets sported one of the best rotations in baseball, even without the best pitcher in baseball for half the season.

Scherzer wasted no time ingratiating himself to the Flushing Faithful, earning victories in each of his first three starts, and four of his first five. His Citi Field debut against the Giants was a smashing success, as he struck out 10 while limiting the damage to one earned run on one hit over seven innings. Over his first eight starts, he pitched to a 2.54 ERA, a 2.95 FIP, and a 0.95 WHIP with 59 strikeouts in 49 23 innings. In his eighth start of the year against the Cardinals at Citi Field, however, he removed himself from the start with what was, at the time, and unknown injury. The reaction was immediate as soon as he threw his final pitch, signaling towards the home dugout that he was done.

Scherzer, who had been the picture of good health for much of his career, was forced to sit on the sidelines for about seven weeks with a “moderate to high grade” oblique strain. The right-hander had made at least 30 starts in all but one season dating back to his sophomore campaign in 2009—this does not count the truncated 2020 season, in which he made 12 starts in a 60-game season—and the team was forced to navigate much of May and all of June without Mad Max. To their credit, despite a modest June swoon, the team stayed in first and kept the surging Braves at bay.

Scherzer returned against the Reds with a scintillating effort in a 1-0 loss, striking out 11 and scattering two hits over six shutout frames. In a critical series against the Braves in his second start back, he shoved, tossing seven innings and allowing one earned run while striking out nine in the win. In five July starts, he posted a 1.39 ERA, a 1.78 FIP, and a 0.84 WHIP, with 45 strikeouts in 32 13 innings. Over 11 starts spanning July and August, he owned a 2.10 ERA, a 2.13 FIP, and a 0.92 WHIP, with 89 strikeouts in 73 innings. During that stretch, he earned three victories against Atlanta as the team fought to maintain their division lead. Along the way, he kept climbing up the all-time strikeout list—he would finish the year 13th in strikeouts all time with 3,193, five behind the still-active Justin Verlander. Despite that dominance, he lost his last two starts in August as he attempted to lock down his 200th career victory.

He failed to earn a victory in his third straight start on September 3 against the Nationals, and he ended up back on the IL for the second time, this time with left oblique irritation. When he returned, he put forth his best effort of the year, hurling six perfect frames against the Brewers to earn win number 200 for his career and clinch the team’s first postseason berth since 2016. Had it not been for a pitch limit, he could have attempted baseball immortality, but all parties understood clearly that the bigger picture was more important than personal glory. He was great against the Athletics as well, pitching six innings of one-run ball. That set the scene for a start against the Braves in Atlanta in the team’s biggest series in a half-decade.

If the overall story of Scherzer’s first season were to be told, it would be that it was largely successful, and the pitcher provided exactly the numbers you would expect from him, even at his advanced age. But it’s hard to ignore his final two starts, in which he put up two clunkers at the worst possible time. In his start against the Braves in Truist Park, he lasted 5 23 innings and was tagged for four earned runs on nine hits. The final line honestly doesn’t even tell the full story, as he was hit hard in pretty much every inning and never really seemed comfortable on the mound. Despite Scherzer’s assurance that he was fine, questions about his health persisted. Of course, the performance was part of a weekend no-show that dropped the Mets out of first en route to a Wild Card berth.

On the back of his terrific regular season, he was entrusted to start Game 1 of the Wild Card round against the Padres. Scherzer had entered the game having allowed no more than four earned runs in any given start during the regular season, so confidence was high despite the team’s September struggles. The confidence proved unwarranted, as Scherzer tossed an absolute dud. He was tattooed for seven earned runs, the most he has given up in a postseason start since yielding six runs in Game 6 of the 2011 ALCS as a member of the Tigers. He surrendered four home runs over 4 23 innings and was out of sync basically from his first pitch until his final pitch. He took the Mets out of the game right away and set a negative tone that would end with the team dropping the series in three games.

It’s easy to sour on Scherzer’s 2022 season when considering its conclusion, but what he did in first season in Queens was still pretty remarkable. He ended up making 23 starts and finished with a 2.29 ERA, a 2.62 FIP, and a 0.91 WHIP in 145 13 innings. His 5.3 bWAR was fifth among all NL starters and ninth among all starters in baseball. His ERA was third-best among NL starters with at least 140 innings pitched, while his 10.71 K/9 was fifth-best among starters who tossed that many innings. He was the ace of the staff from Day One.

It will be impossible to re-tell the story of Scherzer’s 2022 season without talking about his final two outings, but the signing was a success in its first year. Scherzer has two more years with the club, and if they get the same kind of results from him (hopefully without the oblique injury weighing him down) the club will be in an enviable position.