In the mind of Brodie Van Wagenen, the counter-intuitive trade for Marcus Stroman was supposed to signal a pedal-down, all-in push for the playoffs. Down came the white flag, with the defiant Mets ready to body-surf the emotional wave of Stroman’s New York homecoming.
It was a bold transaction, the kind Van Wagenen has been unafraid to make during his 10-month tenure as GM, and the Stroman gambit succeeded beyond Brodie’s wildest dreams.
There’s just been one hitch. The Mets have saved their season, and got the Citi turnstiles moving again, without the expected contribution from Stroman, who’s been struggling to keep up with the rest of the dominant rotation. And now they may have to do it for the immediate future as well after the former Patchogue-Medford star left Wednesday night’s game with what the team described as left hamstring tightness.
The severity of Stroman’s injury was unclear shortly after his departure, and there were no obvious signs of discomfort during his four-inning, 62-pitch outing. Stroman essentially did his job, holding the Indians to a lone run on Yasiel Puig’s RBI-groundout in the third, but he seemed to labor for most of the night as his pitch count rapidly climbed.
Stroman, facing the Indians for a third time this season, allowed plenty of hard contact, if only five hits. Many of the outs were loud, and he was picked up a few times by some excellent glovework -- from the allegedly suspect Mets’ defense. Stroman still trimmed his Mets’ ERA from 5.17 to 4.58 through four starts, but while he’s brought the advertised electricity to the Mets, the performance has been lagging.
Since Van Wagenen acquired Stroman on July 29, the Mets’ rotation ERA of 2.89 (over 20 starts) had been the best in the majors, with a 1.20 WHIP (ranked 5th) and .244 opponents batting average (8th). Heading into Wednesday night, the Mets also were 15-5 during that stretch, feeding off that revived rotation, as well as an opportunistic, yet powerful lineup.
Stroman just hadn’t been a full-fledged participant, performance-wise. He was one of the most coveted arms at the trade deadline, and pitching like it at the time of the Blue Jays’ stunning swap with the Mets. Initially, Stroman seemed to have his heart set on the Bronx, and may have been disappointed coming to a Flushing squad that appeared to be out of contention.
Once Stroman arrived, however, any remnants of that vibe soon dissipated. With him on the board, the Mets took off, propelled by Jacob deGrom again taking aim at the Cy Young in the second half (4-0, 1.00 ERA in seven starts) and Noah Syndergaard also finally dropping the hammer (2.05 ERA, 1.06 WHIP). Even Steven Matz -- Stroman’s fellow Long Islander -- had tightened up with a 2.81 ERA after the break.
As for Stroman, we’re still waiting for the brilliance, that signature moment. The Mets were 3-0 in his starts before Wednesday, so it’s not like he wasn’t keeping them competitive. Stroman brings his swagger and skills every time he steps on the mound.
Against the Indians, however, Stroman just came off as somewhat low-wattage in needing 54 pitches to make it through the first three innings. The most excitment he showed was for his teammates’ stellar defensive plays behind him, on a night when Stroman worked hard for every out.
Amed Rosario opened the game with a nifty backhand scoop in the hole on Francisco Lindor’s sharp grounder, then made the long throw, across his body, to nail the Indians’ speedster. That drew the customary applause from the hyped-up Stroman, who did the same for Pete Alonso on his sparkler in the second inning.
After Jose Ramirez’s leadoff single, Jason Kipnis pulled a hard ground ball to the right side that Alonso snared on one knee before popping up to start the 3-6-3 double play. Stroman cheered that beauty from just a few feet away.
As for what may have got Stroman into trouble, twice he had to hustle over to cover first base himself, once to end the second inning and again to finish the fourth. Those incidents alone shouldn’t have been a problem for the athletic Stroman, an excellent defender, unless he was possibly dealing with something previously.
Regardless, the Mets may now have to continue this playoff push without their key deadline acquistion. Stroman got his wish. He’s pitching for a contender. For the Mets, however, their vision for Stroman has yet to become a reality.