Keidel: Mets' Playoff Hunt Features DeGrom-Vs.-Scherzer Doozy

Aces Square Off Tuesday Night In Washington

Jason Keidel
September 03, 2019 - 12:38 pm
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The problem with six-game losing streaks is the time it takes to recover from them. Just ask the Mets, who are crawling out of the hole they dug during back-to-back sweeps from the Cubs and Braves.  

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On Aug. 22, the Mets were 67-60. They had just swept the potent Cleveland Indians and were one game short of a wild-card spot. On Aug. 29, the Mets plunged to 67-66. And instead of being third in the wild-card race, they were behind the Cubs, Nationals, Phillies, Brewers and Diamondbacks. And even though they have gone 3-1 since their six-game dive, they are tied with the Brewers for fourth place in the playoff chase, four games behind the Cubs. 

The Mets still have some pop on offense, behind Pete Alonso, Wilson Ramos, and J.D. Davis. And even Jeff McNeil broke out of his funk with a homer Sunday. Alonso's breakout season has cast a shadow over Michael Conforto, who has 28 homers and 80 RBIs. So for all the talk of their rotation, the Mets haven't been brutal on offense. Out of 30 MLB clubs, they are 11th in batting average, 12th in on-base percentage and 13th in OPS. Even their batting average (.257) is 16th, not so bad when juxtaposed with all those AL teams using a DH. 

Folks are waxing romantically about a season-ending surge, during which the Mets play the Rockies, Reds and Marlins in 10 of their final 13 games. But they have to get there first, and their next 12 games are against teams -- Nats, Phillies, Diamondbacks and Dodgers -- sporting better records than the Mets have. At worst, they have to split those 12 games, enter the final stretch at 76-73, then go 11-2 the rest of the way and still pray for help. 

And perhaps no game in their pursuit means more than the one they play Tuesday night. It's always helpful to defeat the Nats, but especially when the Mets are starting Jacob deGrom against Max Scherzer. Both pitchers have had similarly sublime seasons, with win-loss records that don't reflect their dominance. Despite missing a month with an injury, Scherzer is 9-5 with a 2.46 ERA, with a remarkable 200 strikeouts in 142 2/3 innings pitched. With all due respect to Clayton Kershaw and other high-grade pitchers around the NL, DeGrom and Scherzer are the best two pitchers in the league. 

Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer
Getty Images

The Nationals (77-59) can lose this game and still cruise into October. The Mets (70-67) need every win they can grab and still need three straight just to get back to their high-water mark on Aug 22. Conversely, every loss is like a game of Jenga, inching them closer to collapse. 

You can't pin the season on one game, but it's hard to think of one more crucial than this. The Mets morph into whiffle0ball batters when deGrom pitches, wasting so many of his best starts. Go back to the Aug. 13 loss to the Braves, in which deGrom allowed one run over seven innings, fanning 13 batters. DeGrom also provided the only run over 14 innings, with a solo homer. If you discard his last start, deGrom had gone 17 outings without allowing more than three runs, and in 16 of them, he had allowed two or fewer runs. Yet he is only 8-8 while going just 5-3 over that sparkling stretch. 

This game means so much, not only in the standings but also symbolically. It would show deGrom, the club and the fans that they have their ace's back. Despite his low-key regularity, deGrom has to be chafed by all the times he shuts down the enemy only to find his team shut out. It's almost like he's playing one game, while the rest of the Mets are playing another. That has to change tonight. 

The Mets have 24 games left, leaving them no room for losing streaks. They whipped Washington on Monday 7-0 behind Noah Syndergaard's sterling start. No better way to regain their mojo than to spot their ace a few runs while moving a few rungs up the playoff picture. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.

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