LOS ANGELES — Among the forces conspiring to weaken — or attempt to weaken — Jacob deGrom’s case for the NL Cy Young Award are, it seems, his teammates. Even if they don’t mean to.
DeGrom turned in another strong start in the Mets’ 4-2 win over the Dodgers on Monday night, moving his season into the record-breaking realm. He wasn’t as sharp as usual, worked around two errors by his infield, lost catcher Devin Mesoraco to neck and back stiffness in the fifth and drove in the Mets’ only run while he was in the game.
The final tallies: six strikeouts, one walk and two hits allowed — as many as he picked up at the plate.
DeGrom ended the night with a 1.68 ERA, the same one he woke up with and the best in the majors. That remains significantly better than the Phillies’ Aaron Nola (2.23) and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer (2.28), who struck out 11 in seven innings Monday.
“He’s been the best pitcher in all of baseball,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “The way he’s pitching and the way he’s kept runs from scoring — not only doing that, but pitching deep into every game he pitches in — tells the tale of what he’s done this season.”
Pinch hitter Brandon Nimmo smacked a three-run homer in the ninth to put the Mets ahead, but it was too late for deGrom to get the win.
Nine times in 2018, deGrom (8-8) has lasted at least six innings, allowed one run or fewer and not gotten the win. That’s the highest single-season total in major-league history. His 25 consecutive starts with three or fewer runs constitute the longest such stretch in the majors since at least 1913, passing Dwight Gooden (1985). His 20 quality starts in a row are a Mets record, passing Tom Seaver (1973). Gooden and Seaver won the Cy Young in those years.
What does it mean to deGrom to break those records? “I’m not really sure which two I set,” he said. “I haven’t been looking at stuff, I’ve just been trying to get ready for my next start.”
Justin Turner homered in the first inning. A 34-pitch sixth, which included Amed Rosario booting a ground ball at the end of Turner’s 12-pitch at-bat, robbed deGrom of a chance to go deeper. He retired the next two batters but needed 15 pitches to do it. “It tells you about that grit,” Callaway said. “He won’t be beaten, and he’s going to pick up his teammates.”
In competing for the Cy Young, deGrom also is fighting his career norms. In his first four years in the majors — and especially the past two seasons — his production tailed off toward the final two months. His career ERA by month through 2017: 2.67 in June, 1.99 in July, 3.77 in August, 3.38 in September. (Those numbers also underscore how good deGrom has been even in his bad — or slightly less good — stretches.)
This season, deGrom has resisted the late-summer swoon: 2.36 ERA in June, 1.74 in July, 1.24 in August. Even as the season winds down, with the Mets long having known they are going nowhere, the past few weeks have featured a better-than-ever version of deGrom, chasing the personal prize of being named the league’s best pitcher.
DeGrom said he feels strong but that it’s “hard to say” how it compares to Septembers past.
“It’s kind of a year-to-year thing,” he said. “You kind of forget. Last year I probably told you I feel good too. But everything feels good. The ball is coming out how I want for the most part, and I’ve been able to throw the ball pretty well.”
Said Mesoraco: “He has been unflappable. He has continually beared down on side [sessions], beared down on every start, every pitch. I haven’t seen anything change.”
For the season, deGrom has allowed only 139 hits and 42 walks in 188 innings, striking out 230. In his last 24 starts, he has a 1.44 ERA.
Mesoraco has become a part of deGrom’s campaign, catching all but one of deGrom’s starts since joining the team in May. Callaway arranged to have Mesoraco, who has been dealing with a muscular problem in his neck, to catch deGrom on Monday by letting Tomas Nido have consecutive starts over the weekend.
That plan went well until the fifth, when Mesoraco singled and had to leave the game.
“My neck has been an issue for some time,” he said before the game. “I want to be back there for Jake’s starts. For me going forward, that would be my main goal, to make sure I’m capable of doing whatever I can to help him out.”