Before we jump to any conclusions about the Mets completing a three-game sweep of the Phillies with Thursday’s 4-2 victory at Citi Field, it’s important to keep one thing in mind.
For whatever reason, they always beat the Phillies — or at least a large majority of the time, as Buck Showalter & Co. improved to 17-5 against their closest, geographically speaking, neighbor in the NL East.
That said, the Mets provided plenty to feel good about during these past three days, and let’s face it — how often has that really happened this season?
A rhetorical question, of course. The first two months, for the most part, weren’t all that great, which is why being three games over .500 (30-27) for the first time since May 1 (16-13) should be an occasion to rejoice in Flushing.
The Mets got there this time on the backs of the rotation, as Max Scherzer finished the sweep Thursday just as you’d expect a $43-million ace to do: seven innings, one earned run, nine Ks. If not for Francisco Alvarez airmailing a throw into leftfield on a Phillies’ double-steal in the first inning — they turned that into a fast 2-0 lead — the damage would have been almost negligible, as Scherzer allowed only five singles (one was a bunt) and a walk.
Combine that with the efforts from Kodai Senga and Carlos Carrasco, and here’s the three-game tally for the Mets’ rotation: 20 innings, two earned runs, 22 strikeouts and a pair of walks. That didn’t leave much for the bullpen to do, and after Showalter leaned on his highest-leverage guys for the first two Ws, the manager relied on Jeff Brigham, Brooks Raley and Drew Smith to nail down the sweep.
That’s a winning formula. Mix in another two-run homer by Mark Canha, his second in as many days to go with six RBIs over that span, then sprinkle in a Mark Vientos pinch-hit sacrifice fly, and the Mets had to be thrilled by the roster-wide contributions.
“If you keep working quick, have quick innings, and keep our hitters at the bat rack, typically good things happen,’ Scherzer said. “To see [Canha] come alive and start catching fire here, that’s what we need. You need a total team effort offensively in order to beat teams. It can’t just be Pete [Alonso] in the middle of the lineup hitting homers. It’s got to be everybody.”
That’s what Showalter had in mind recently when the manager took aside some of his rotating group of less-regular players and told them not to take the lineup decisions personally. It’s a message that apparently resonated with Canha, while Vientos is probably still considered very much in the adjustment phase of being a part-timer.
Why Vientos is stuck in that DH limbo while Daniel Vogelbach continues to get the lion’s share of starts there remains a mystery (it’s also stunning that pitchers are so reluctant to throw him strikes). And yet, Showalter keeps using Vogelbach, a DH with six extra-base hits in 44 games whose last RBI came on May 7.
Consider that an ongoing debate, one Showalter does not enjoy participating in. But Vientos helped his case Thursday with that 112.8-mph bullet of a sacrifice fly to centerfield — the hardest-hit ball of his career.
“I was talking to the ball, saying, 'hey, go over his head, go over his head,'” Vientos said. “But I got the job done, so...”
That was the bottom line for the Mets in this series, and if Justin Verlander can double-down Friday on what the rotation has been doing all week, we’ll be forgetting about the team’s miserable May, which was supposedly against MLB’s softest competition.
Scherzer definitely answered the call, and his last four starts (1.08 ERA) have changed the early narrative suggesting that the three-time Cy Young was approaching empty on the career tank. But he’s silenced that noise for the time being, the chatter of his advancing age — 39 next month — and the 10-game sticky-stuff suspension.
One subject that Scherzer won’t let go, however, is his ongoing feud with the pitch clock, which he gladly fit into his postgame media session. The good news is that it doesn’t seem to bother him. Unlike the suggestion that he should be satisfied by regaining his form as a future Hall of Famer.
“No, because I’m just pitching like myself,” Scherzer said. “I know what I can do.”
The Mets were hoping to witness that again. Fingers crossed. And for now, it’s best not to think too far ahead. After patching together the starters' schedule for most of this bumpy season, this week was like being on cruise control, without any potholes to worry about. That’s what a $128-million rotation is designed to do, and sweeping the Phillies wasn’t just about seeing those red uniforms.
“We got to keep it going,” Canha said. "I think we haven’t been as great as we should’ve been in the first couple of months. We’re making up a little bit of ground, but I think we just got to keep going. Just keep your head down and keep pushing.”
Next up is Verlander, another three-time Cy Young winner with something to prove. As Scherzer has shown, maybe it’s just a matter of time.