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An unleashed Jacob deGrom leads Mets' hunt for playoffs

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom reacts

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom reacts after he strikes out Colorado Rockies' Matt McBride to end the top of the seventh inning in a baseball game at Citi Field on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Tired of all the Mets' talk about innings-limits? Fortunately, it was Jacob deGrom's turn to pitch Wednesday night, and we all got a reprieve from that discussion.

Instead, the conversation involved an entirely different set of numbers, a handful of eye-popping statistics that have the Mets very, very happy deGrom is not under the same restrictions as Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard.

With seven scoreless innings in Wednesday's 3-0 win over the Rockies, deGrom lowered his ERA to 2.03, second in the majors to the Dodgers' Zack Greinke (1.65). At Citi Field, it plummets to 1.48, and in two seasons, he's never allowed more than three earned runs in any outing, giving him a 1.57 ERA in 22 career starts -- the lowest home ERA in baseball during that period.

Asked about his incredibly-shrinking ERAs, deGrom just shrugged. "I haven't thought about it," he said.

But as the Mets try to nail down their first NL East title in nine years, deGrom is making a late run himself at Greinke, who had been everybody's Cy Young favorite. But deGrom is mounting a pretty good campaign, beginning with his epic All-Star inning in Cincinnati a month ago and swaying the Rockies with Wednesday's 10-strikeout performance, his fourth double-digit total this season.

"He's the best pitcher in the game," Carlos Gonzalez told "Hands down."

And there's no innings' clock on deGrom, which is bad news for any September foe who was hoping to be spared. No one is exactly sure yet how the Mets will parcel out their starts down the stretch, but it could be determined by more than just adding up innings. When we asked Sandy Alderson before Wednesday's game what else might be involved, the GM put his index finger to his mouth for a second, then held it up, as if he were checking to see which way the wind was blowing.

Alderson was kidding, but maybe not entirely. Alderson understands the mounting public pressure to get these Mets to the playoffs, and to do that, they'll need to ride one of baseball's top-five rotations as far as it will take them. Doing most of that heavy lifting, however, is likely to be deGrom, who stockpiled enough innings last season, between Triple-A Las Vegas and Flushing, to allow him to bear the brunt of a regular workload. Fortunately for the Mets, he happens to be their best starter, too.

As Harvey tells us he's trying to get more contact, in an effort to be more efficient and pitch deeper into games. DeGrom remains the opposite. Without such a leash, deGrom is as unrestrained as his shaggy locks, and spends his starts rifling 97-mph fastballs to every corner of the strike zone.

There's a freedom in simply firing away, and deGrom isn't saddled with the worry of skyrocketing innings totals. After Wednesday night's win, deGrom stands at 1462/3 innings, and if you factor in nine more starts, at an average of seven each, that pushes him to 209, which is right around where he should be. He finished with 1782/3 innings in winning the Rookie of the Year last season, and with the typical 30-40 bump, there's really no need to curtail his workload down the stretch.

So deGrom is the one pitcher they won't have to fret over, but he could be impacted by the shuffling for the others. And the Mets want him on the mound as much as possible next month in trying to nail down the NL East.

"If all of a sudden, there's a game we got to win, and Jake deGrom's had his regular rest, he might be that guy," Collins said. "We'll have to pick and choose as we get into that, what the situations are going to be, to get us into the postseason."

As great as Harvey has been, the first option for the Mets, say in a wild-card playoff or a Game 1 scenario, remains deGrom. And the Mets would have to do whatever possible to make sure he starts at Citi Field, where deGrom is practically superhuman. He's going to be extremely difficult to beat in Flushing -- or anywhere else, for that matter. And in deGrom's case, there's no fear about using too much of a good thing.


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