With the slim bit of hope remaining for the 2017 season hanging in the balance, Steven Matz faced off against Max Scherzer in the second game of the Mets’ four-game set with the Nationals. Matz made his season debut in Atlanta last week, tossing seven innings of one-run ball and showing no signs of rust after his lengthy DL stint. Scherzer, meanwhile, has arguably been better than his Cy Young winning performance last year, striking out 12 batters per nine innings, running a 2.36 ERA, and holding right handed batters to a .124 batting average.
The Nationals got on the board first in the top of the third, when Matt Wieters turned on an inside fastball and deposited it in the left field seats for a solo home run. Michael Taylor followed that with his own solo shot, this one a line drive to the opposite field that snuck out just to the right of what used to be the Modell’s zone. Those two mistakes aside, Matz was very good for the first five innings, working out of a couple jams, showing good velocity, and striking out three.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Mets managed close to nothing against Scherzer. Lucas Duda walked and T.J. Rivera was hit by a pitch to create something of a threat in the bottom of the second, but Travis d’Arnaud grounded into a double play to squander the scoring chance. Matz managed to single in the bottom of the third for the Mets’ first hit, but was himself quickly erased on a double play grounder off the bat of Michael Conforto.
The deficit grew for the Mets in the sixth. Daniel Murphy doubled to left center with one out, and Anthony Rendon followed with a two-run home run to right center to double the Nats lead to 4-0. The Mets threatened to make up some of that deficit in the bottom of the sixth, but another double play ball (this time off the bat of Wilmer Flores) fizzled out yet another scoring chance.
Matz kept the Nationals lead at four, exiting after the seventh. He finished with four strikeouts, no walks, and eight hits allowed, three of which were home runs. The strikeouts haven’t really been there in his first two starts, but his velocity and control have been sharp. He was relieved by Paul Sewald, who worked around a leadoff double by Bryce Harper to keep the Mets within reach.
In the bottom of the eighth, Jose Reyes finally broke through for the Met offense, launching a solo home run into the Coca Cola Corner to cut the lead to 4-1. Curtis Granderson made a bid for his own home run, but the ball died on the warning track. Conforto struck out, as did Yoenis Cespedes after a marathon at-bat, getting Scherzer through eight innings and keeping any National reliever out of harm’s way. Scherzer finished with 10 strikeouts, two walks, and only four hits allowed, continuing his fantastic 2017.
With Scherzer out of the game and the Washington lead at only three runs, the game was very much winnable for the Mets. Instead, Fernando Salas, sabotaged by a weak throw from T.J. Rivera that prevented an inning-ending double play, gave up two runs, stretching the Nationals’ lead to 6-1. Salas left with the bases loaded, and Neil Ramirez promptly walked in another run before inducing a groundout to first to end the inning.
Jay Bruce hit a solo home run off of Shawn Kelley in the ninth to cut the lead to 7-2 ($100 says you’ll hear nothing from Met fans on Twitter pointing out that it was meaningless, like they love to do with Duda). The next three batters went down quietly however, and the Mets lost 7-2. The loss drops the Mets to 30-36, 10.5 games back of the Nationals.
Thoughts from the Game
While I usually use this section to rant about either the Mets’ poor roster management, Terry Collins’ blatant incompetence, or both, tonight’s game didn’t really provide much reason to touch on either of those issues (aside from the fact that yes, the Met bullpen sucks and was left unimproved this offseason). Max Scherzer is one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball, and sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders when those guys shut you down. There’s a reason he won the Cy Young last year and a reason that he is running a K/9 over 12.
I do think some of the vitriol directed at Travis d’Arnaud on Twitter and elsewhere is misguided, particularly after his rough game tonight (0-for-3, two strikeouts, GIDP). His .251 tAV is certainly underwhelming, and his constant swing tinkering is maddening to watch (and prompts questions about why the Mets hitting staff can’t get him sorted out). However, his framing is excellent, ranking him 12th in adjusted FRAA. Moreover, the position as a whole is a tire fire across baseball – the Nationals paid Matt Wieters $21 million over two years and d’Arnaud has almost eight times the bWARP in 80 fewer plate appearances. An upgrade will be a lot harder to find and a lot less impactful than many Met fans expect in my estimation.
Other Met News
With Juan Lagares heading to the disabled list with a fractured IC joint in his left thumb, Brandon Nimmo was called up from Triple-A Las Vegas. Nimmo, after missing time with his own injury issues at the start of the season, has been mediocre in the hitter friendly PCL, batting .223 with a .739 OPS through 180 PA. He’s been his typically patient self, walking 16.7% of the time, but has also struggled to make contact and generate any sort of meaningful pop. Hopefully that weak performance prevents Terry Collins from finding another way to keep Michael Conforto off the field.
Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso – USA Today Sports