Jacob deGrom’s blister, Max Scherzer’s out-of-whack mechanics and Chris Bassitt’s ... well ... whatever it was that happened to him during last weekend’s devastating sweep in Atlanta.
Ultimately, how these names were arranged didn’t matter all that much with the NL East on the line at Truist Park. Each delivered performances incrementally worse than the starter who preceded them. And the combined 6.91 ERA was shamefully inadequate for a Mets’ team that had designs on clinching the division during that visit rather than conceding the top spot they held for 175 days.
But here’s the good news: the Mets’ Big Three are about to get another try, a second chance, a do-over, to help everyone forget about that Atlanta debacle, courtesy of the best-of-three, wild-card series against the Padres their implosion made possible.
Put it this way: they owe the Mets that much.
Scherzer is up first, as manager Buck Showalter named him the Game 1 starter following the Mets’ 9-2 victory over the Nationals in Wednesday’s regular-season finale. Beyond that, however, the Mets are keeping their options open, with the possibility they could hold back deGrom to make two NLDS starts against the Dodgers. A win Friday night would set them up to use Bassitt in Game 2, with deGrom ready for either a do-or-die Game 3 or the NLDS.
While it’s true the Mets’ pop-gun, single-manufacturing, station-to-station offense got outgunned by the defending world champs, their trio of aces didn’t do anywhere near enough to keep them competitive on enemy turf. And for the supposed strength of this team, at a cost of $76.8 million this season for Scherzer and deGrom alone, the Mets can’t afford to have their playoff rotation pitch below its resume or reputation.
You could make the argument that deGrom gave them a decent chance, striking out 11 over six innings, but Atlanta smacked his three most glaring mistakes over the fence in the 5-2 loss. Posting a quality start doesn’t cut it for someone like deGrom, who owns a pair of Cy Youngs and repeatedly has reminded us that he’s opting out of the final two seasons ($64M) left on his five-year, $137.5-million deal.
How much will that ordinary start at playoff-atmosphere Truist Park detract from this upcoming round of contract negotiations? Probably not a heck of a lot. But blowing away whoever he gets in his next start -- be it the Padres in this round or maybe the Dodgers in the next -- that would certainly help his case for the Scherzer-level cash he’ll be seeking.
With deGrom’s blister being somewhat of a factor in his past two starts, including a very un-deGoat-like clunker in Oakland, some extra rest certainly wouldn’t hurt -- and could potentially get deGrom back closer to his Cy-caliber self (he’s allowed six homers over his last 21 innings).
“I feel good, that’s the most frustrating part about it,” deGrom said then. “Everything feels good. It’s just when I do make a mistake over the middle of the plate, it gets hit hard.”
The Padres don’t pack the firepower of Atlanta. San Diego ranks 16th in the majors with a .702 OPS and 21st in home runs with 153. But it wasn’t necessarily the longball that doomed Scherzer and Bassitt, as the duo simply didn’t have their usual elite command. Scherzer was tagged for two homers, but also matched a season-high in surrendering nine hits and the 5 2/3-inning sting was his shortest since May 12.
Afterward, Scherzer blamed working more “east-west” with his mechanics than “north-south,” which hurt his ability to put away hitters in two-strike counts. Scherzer was confident those issues could be fixed by digging into video before his next start, but we’re talking about a 38-year-old pitcher who needed a pair of IL trips this season due to problems with his left side. If anyone can self-correct at this late date, it’s a three-time Cy winner like Scherzer. But this isn’t the regular season anymore. Mistakes now have the potential to send the Mets home quickly.
Second-year owner Steve Cohen handed Scherzer a record contract (3 yrs./$130M) so he could help bring this franchise back to respectability -- and transform the Mets into a potential World Series threat. Scherzer has fulfilled the first part, but he was a notable accomplice to the team’s failure to close out the NL East crown, a setback that has complicated their October mission with an extra round of playoff games.
Of the top three, Bassitt’s mystifying meltdown in Atlanta probably designates him as the worst offender, with the most to atone for, whenever he gets the ball again. Bassitt was the Mets’ most consistent member of the rotation during the regular season, with a 3.42 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while leading the team in starts (30) and innings (181 2/3), only to be pulled after an erratic 2 2/3 innings Sunday night.
It was Bassitt’s shortest outing since June 8, when he was raked for seven earned runs over 3 1/3 innings -- by the Padres, at PETCO Park. Survive and advance may be the mission for this wild-card weekend, but the Mets’ rotation will be pitching for redemption, too.