So now there’s at least one thing we know for certain about the 2020 season.
Noah Syndergaard won’t pitch in it.
Of all the baseball scenarios we imagined for the coming weeks and months, a volatile mixture of hope and dread, a Mets pitcher needing Tommy John surgery — almost two weeks after the sport was shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak — was not anywhere on that list.
But to find out Tuesday that it was Syndergaard, well, maybe that isn’t so shocking after all. Not for a Met who goes by Thor, only to have his superhuman efforts trying to live up to that nickname repeatedly result in his downfall.
The strain is just too much. Syndergaard’s body — and specifically the right side — can’t seem to handle what he keeps pushing to extract from it.
Three years ago, it was an awe-inspiring winter workout that included his infamous “Bowl of Doom” lunch. But in packing on all that Marvel-quality muscle, Syndergaard soon broke down with a debilitating lat tear that cost him most of the season.
He did learn from that, however, and spent this past offseason relying on a more pitching-tailored regimen, updated with razor’s-edge analytical input. That seemed to indicate that Syndergaard, 27, was continuing to mature, both mentally and physically. His performance in spring training this year was a reflection of that, too.
Syndergaard looked as hungry for data as he once was digging into those doom bowls. During one Grapefruit League game at Clover Park, he was on a back field, stripped down to nothing but his Lycra short-shorts, throwing for the Mets’ new motion-capture tech system, surrounded by more than a dozen sensors and cameras.
There was a lot to like about this evolved Syndergaard. And we thought, for that reason, he was in a safer, better place, because he wasn’t just trying to throw 100-mph fastballs through the backstop anymore. Turns out, danger was still lurking in that right elbow, just as it is for every pitcher, and more specifically those who ramp it up in the high 90s.
The Mets said Tuesday that Syndergaard was experiencing discomfort in the elbow before camp was effectively disbanded on March 13, and after staying in “constant contact,” a subsequent exam led to discovering the UCL tear. He also received a second opinion from LA-based orthopedist Neal ElAttrache that confirmed the diagnosis.
“Noah is an incredibly hard worker and a tremendous talent,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said in Tuesday’s statement. “While this is unfortunate, we have no doubt that Noah will be able to return to full strength and continue to be an integral part of our championship pursuits in the future.”
But now that future won’t resume until 2021, which also happens to be Syndergaard’s last season before free agency. And what can the Mets expect from him by then? We’re not sure how to even factor in this year, which is shaping up to be a lost campaign for nearly every player, not just Syndergaard. In some ways — and we’re only talking baseball perspective here — this is the season to miss, because we’re not convinced MLB is going to have one.
That’s a tough pill to swallow, and — fingers crossed — maybe that won’t be the case. But the real shock of losing Syndergaard won’t be felt until we get an idea of when a season might begin. Right now, in this indefinite period of limbo, Syndergaard is just a name taken off the Mets’ board, a No. 2 starter written on a piece of paper.
It’s a stunner, of course. And if you can think back to a pre-COVID-19 world, the Mets announced this just 48 hours before what was supposed to be Opening Day at Citi Field, where they were set to host the defending world champion Nationals.
Under normal circumstances, that would have been mind-blowing, another episode in the endless saga of Mets gonna Met.
But not now. Without a new Opening Day on the horizon, and baseball returning to what feels like an endless winter hibernation, the chances of seeing anyone on a mound this season could be remote. Instead, Syndergaard has the opportunity to fix a serious injury for when baseball actually does come back, and then maybe pitch like the Cy Young candidate we always predict him to be.
Van Wagenen is right. Syndergaard is an incredibly hard worker. His fitness level every year is off the charts and he has few peers in that department. What we haven’t gotten to witness long enough is the tremendous talent. That part keeps being interrupted — through injuries and the inconsistency that plagued him last season.
I know we’ve said it plenty of times in the past, but this truly felt like Syndergaard’s year — and now it’s already over. Before anyone even knows when the season is going to begin. We’re having trouble wrapping our minds around all of that.