Your turn, Max.
And the Mets’ original $43 million ace has a pair of tough acts to follow when the three-time Cy Young winner climbs the mound for Thursday’s series finale against the Phillies.
Thanks to Kodai Senga’s brilliance in Tuesday’s opening 2-0 victory and Carlos Carrasco delivering Wednesday’s 4-1 win with a second straight gem since coming off the IL, the Mets are poised to sweep the defending NL champs.
All they need is Scherzer to do the same. Ideally, that wouldn’t be too much to ask. But we’ll know that the Mets’ rotation is truly back when Scherzer and then Justin Verlander start holding up their end of the bargain, something that the whole starting staff hasn’t been able to do since Opening Day.
There are encouraging signs, however, and none more so than what Senga and Carrasco were able to do on back-to-back nights at Citi Field. The pair held the Phillies to a total of one run over 13 innings, combining for 13 strikeouts and only one walk over that span. Those types of performances are going to win a ton of games, and the Mets improved to 15-0 when a starter goes at least six innings, the only undefeated team in baseball under those circumstances (the Rays had the next best winning percentage at 19-1 before Wednesday).
“It’s awesome,” said Mark Canha, who backed Carrasco with all four RBIs, including a two-run homer off Aaron Nola in the third inning. “That’s a good formula to win baseball games. You've got to win games all kinds of ways, but it makes it that much easier. I’m proud of our staff for how we’ve handled the adversity early on in the season.”
The Mets could use more easy. You know manager Buck Showalter appreciates only picking up the bullpen phone twice a night, and calling for the most reliable names out there. Think about it. For these past two nights, all Showalter has needed is Adam Ottavino, Brooks Raley and closer David Robertson (two saves).
Like Canha mentioned, that’s the magic formula right there. No offense to the rest of the relief corps, but let’s be honest: the less those other guys get talked about, the better. And the only path to making that happen is stretching the starters to the lengths we’ve seen lately — something that occurred far too infrequently the first two months.
“When you can make leads hold up, and the hitters give the pitchers some margin for error, there’s a lot better tempo to the games,” Showalter said. “I think the guys aren’t looking for the perfect pitch to throw or the perfect sequence. They’re just trusting themselves and getting after it.”
That’s a great description of what Carrasco was doing Wednesday night. After getting knocked around in his first three starts of this season, to the tune of an 8.56 ERA, Carrasco’s month on the IL to treat a bone spur in his elbow seems to have worked wonders. He’s returned like the pitcher from a year ago, the one who convinced the Mets it was a no-brainer to bring him back on the one-year, $14 million option.
If this continues, Carrasco is a bargain at the back end of the rotation. His only mistake Wednesday was a 2-and-1 slider he left up to the Phillies’ No. 9 hitter Edmundo Sosa, who barely got his solo homer over the leftfield wall (it rattled off the metal fence just above the orange line). Otherwise, Carrasco used his five-pitch mix to outduel Nola, and believed that his four-seam fastball — up 1.8 mph from his yearly average to 93.5 — was the best it’s been all season.
“I’m continuing to work on myself every day to get better,” Carrasco said. “That’s why I have those two results from the last two games.”
Big picture, this version of Carrasco being re-inserted into the rotation should start the Mets dreaming on their vision for what this staff should be. Stringing together these superb outings builds momentum, passing the baton from one pitcher to the next. And Carrasco wanted to go longer, even ducking into the bathroom near the clubouse runway to avoid Showalter giving him the hook.
“I just tried to hide myself,” said Carrasco, who had only 82 pitches. “I went down there in the sixth inning because I wanted to come out for the seventh. But I respect his decision. I just do whatever I can to get the win and put the team in a good position.”
Carrasco found the whole bathroom episode funny. But the Mets’ rotation, which had been among the very worst in baseball, isn’t looking like a joke anymore. And now Scherzer has the chance Thursday to really put the hammer down on the Phillies, to be the ace Showalter & Co. need him to be.
Scherzer’s last time out, he threw a season-high seven innings at hitter-friendly Coors Field, allowing only one earned run with eight strikeouts, trimming his ERA to 3.54. He’ll need to follow that with a similar performance against the Phillies to really make this rotation revival feel legit. And if that’s the case, this becomes a much different season in the months ahead.