“I’m not…going 7-9, or 8-8, or 9-7…or 10-6, for that matter!” So prophesied Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher during an episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks. Mediocre records rarely make the playoffs; this is virtually tautological: if you have fewer wins, you won’t advance to the postseason. Currently, New York Mets fans can empathize with Fisher’s plight, as the Mets have fallen to just one game above .500 for the first time since April 22. In an eminently winnable series versus the bottom-dwelling Arizona Diamondbacks, the Mets dropped the first two games and highlighted their league-leading weakness in allowing stolen bases. Unfortunately, the pitcher who has allowed the most stolen bases in all of baseball, Noah Syndergaard, took the mound on Thursday afternoon in the hopes that the Mets could salvage at least one game from this series. That outcome was not in the cards.
The best analogue to Syndergaard’s performance on Thursday has been the season of Chris Archer: more strikeouts than innings pitched, but sandwiched around more runs given up than their teams’ offense has any hope of replicating, all adding up to a loss. He began the game with a formula that should have been repeated throughout, but it only showed up sporadically. To wit, Syndergaard began with three-straight 99-mph pitches – one fastball and two sinkers – followed up by an 84-mph curveball that Jean Segura swung on and missed. A Michael Bourn single and Paul Goldschmidt double later, and the Diamondbacks had runners on second and third with just one out. But ace Syndergaard could get himself out of such a jam, and he induced a Jake Lamb pop-up and Chris Owings strikeout to end the inning. Threat eliminated, right? We’ll get back to that.
First, the most dreadful part of this Mets’ season: the offense. Facing recent call-up Braden Shipley, the Mets’ bats were looking at a prime target to get themselves back on track. Even on the “Why He’ll Succeed” section of the BP Top 50 Honorable Mentions, he was described as “not a future star,” or, in other words, he should be hittable. Over the course of seven innings, however, he struck out a career-high seven and allowed just three hits – one in the first to extend Neil Walker’s hitting streak to nine games, and one in each of the third and fifth innings. The fifth was his biggest test of the game as the hit was given up to Rene Rivera, moving Kelly Johnson from first on a walk to second with just one out. That became the proper time to remove Syndergaard from the game, and Curtis Granderson entered with a chance to tie the game at three. He struck out swinging, and the Mets weren’t in contention for the rest of the game.
The Mets weren’t in contention because of Syndergaard’s performance, yes, but mainly because of their overall pitching and defense. Syndergaard’s fastballs were capitalized upon in the fourth when the best consecutive names a baseball lineup could have, Socrates Brito and Tuffy Gosewisch, who own -0.1 career WARP between them, hit a double and triple respectively, with a Brito stolen base in between for good measure. That was the tenth stolen base of the series for the D-Backs, and they weren’t done in that category. Later in the fourth, Shipley(!) stole a base, Goldschmidt stole two in the fifth, and a Jon Niese wild pitch would advance two runners who would then score in the six-run on only three-hit sixth.
This had to be a fun game if you’re a Diamondbacks fan, watching a young pitcher and explosive offensive threats live up to their potential. But potential has been a dangerous word for the Mets this season, a team with so much of it that for varying reasons has simply not lived up to its billing. Jeff Fisher would be unhappy with a 9-7 season, but a .562 winning percentage for the rest of the season would be exactly what the Mets need to get into the playoffs (and another Washington Nationals collapse wouldn’t hurt). They’re now .500, but after this game, just three back for the second Wild Card spot. After a game like this you’d be justified in thinking that the rest of the season is hopeless, but if they remember how close they are to securing another playoff spot, the Mets are still in contention.
Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso – USA Today Sports