Atlanta, apparently recovered from its World Series hangover, doesn’t lose. The once-dysfunctional Phillies seemingly have their act together after dumping manager Joe Girardi.
Both are threatening to make the NL East race a real thing.
They should enjoy the feeling while it lasts. Because the clock is ticking louder now on the returns of Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, the two elite arms capable of closing the window that has cracked open lately in the division.
And the Mets got another positive development later Tuesday night when the failing Chris Bassitt, owner of a 7.52 ERA in his previous five starts, pitched eight scoreless innings (7 Ks) in Tuesday’s 4-0 victory over the Brewers at Citi Field.
Bassitt credited the rebound to a clear-the-air conversation he had with the backup-turned-starting-catcher Tomas Nido, and with both on the same page, the Brewers only had two runners in scoring position the whole night.
“Relieved more than anything,” Bassitt said. “I think we have a lot to be happy about.”
The Mets were surely thrilled by Bassitt’s gem after seeing their lead sliced in half while spending 11 days on the West Coast, despite a 5-5 performance, but they returned to a welcome sight Tuesday at Citi Field.
Scherzer going through his long-toss progression in rightfield as preparation for Thursday’s simulated game, which will be his first time facing hitters since landing on the injured list May 19 with a left oblique strain.
For most pitchers, that’s obviously a significant step. For Scherzer, who tends to plow through territory others tread carefully on, that’s like waving a red flag in front of a snorting bull.
If Scherzer emerges from that sim game without an issue, then he’s likely to head for a rehab start next. He said Tuesday that he’s hoping for one — and if Scherzer feels fine, who’s going to tell him no?
By that timetable, and even building in an extra day for each step, that could put Scherzer on track for a June 29 return against the Astros at Citi Field — six weeks to the day he walked off the Flushing mound with his left side on fire.
For deGrom, it’s been more of laborious rehab, because of the delicate nature of a bone needing to heal in his shoulder. From what the Mets have said, deGrom hasn’t encountered any setbacks, but the extra-cautious approach has him still in the bullpen phase at the moment.
Unlike Scherzer, who signed a three-year, $130-million contract in December, deGrom intends to opt out of his current $137.5-million deal at the end of this season, a not-so-minor detail to factor into his recovery. Also, deGrom’s lengthy medical history — his last MLB pitch was July 7 — is reason enough to make sure he’s as healthy as humanly possible, between the treatment and whatever tweaks to his delivery might protect him going forward.
Either way, based on the extensive time missed, deGrom is likely going to require three rehab starts, which could leave him another two weeks behind Scherzer, judging by their current paces. Even with the Braves closing the gap recently, there’s obviously no need to rush — keeping them healthy for the remainder of this season (and playoffs) is of paramount importance. “I just got to do me,” Scherzer said of the building anticipation. “I’m cheering along, but he can only go as fast as he can. I can only go as fast as I can. So I’ll pitch when I can pitch.”
Bassitt’s best performance as a Met dialed back some of the developing urgency that he helped percolate over the past month. Before Scherzer went on the IL, the Mets rotation was tied for first in the majors in WHIP (1.09), fifth in ERA (3.23) and eighth in K/9 ratio (8.84). The three-time Cy Young winner obviously was a huge reason for that, not only because he was 5-1 with a 2.54 ERA, but the in-game coaching from the bench on his off days.
Before Tuesday, since Scherzer’s been on the shelf, the Mets’ starters were a combined 9-7 (the team is 15-8) and ranked 23rd in WHIP (1.45), 24th in ERA (5.26) and 21st in K/9 (8.59). It boggles the mind to think how much those numbers will shrink once Scherzer and deGrom rejoin the rotation in the next few weeks while the Mets get the opportunity to re-inflate their NL East lead.
“I’ve got some very loose dates on everybody,” Buck Showalter said. “And I’ve asked those questions like I’m sure you would, or even a fan would — hey, best-case scenario, worst-case scenario. Try to get a window there.”
As for those Braves, the Mets still have 15 games remaining against their closest pursuer, and the next round isn’t until July 11, followed by a five-game series the first week of August. Scherzer and deGrom should help cool them off by then.