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Zack Wheeler shows Mets what they could have had

Zack Wheeler #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers

Zack Wheeler #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch against the New York Mets during the first inning of an MLB baseball game at Citizens Bank Park on August 16, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Credit: Getty Images/Rich Schultz

According to the Mets’ market analysis, a career they viewed as “two good half-seasons” from Zack Wheeler was not worth $118 million spread out over five years.

The Phillies had a different perspective, and they were feeling pretty good about the investment Sunday. Wheeler pitched seven solid innings to beat his former pals in a 6-2 victory that completed the Phillies' three-game sweep of the Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“I thought he was great,” manager Joe Girardi said.

You could say Girardi and Wheeler share a common Flushing thread: The Mets weren’t willing to pay either one last winter.

The official version? They didn’t want Girardi because of his reputation for not playing well with the front office — or, in other words, bristling at the concept of being told what to do.

Instead, the Phillies gladly snapped up Girardi, then helped twist the knife further into their NL East rivals by throwing piles of cash at Wheeler.

It’s not as if the Phillies instantly bought themselves a division title — they  improved to only 8-9 with the sweep. But just the sight of a healthy, motivated Wheeler staying in command during Sunday’s 99-pitch effort stood in direct contrast with the fire drill going on with the Mets’ rotation, which remains in a perpetual state of disarray.

Afterward, Wheeler denied he was trying to prove general manager Brodie Van Wagenen wrong. He took the high road in discussing the team that traded Carlos Beltran for him in 2011, then ultimately let him walk.

Satisfied, sure. But Wheeler is smart enough to remain buttoned up when it comes to division foes, especially ones orbited by the New York media.

 “It's nothing personal against those guys,” Wheeler said. “I enjoyed my time over there. Made a lot of good friends. So it was just fun to compete against them.''

Think of what Wheeler, who improved to 3-0 with a 2.81 ERA, would mean to the Mes staff now. At this moment, the only Mets starter who can be counted on is Rick Porcello. He had another outing Sunday that we’ll generously describe as decent, based on the low bar for this group.

Porcello allowed 10 hits and four runs in six innings. If not for a hanging slider that Andrew McCutchen clubbed over the fence for a go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth, maybe things would have turned out differently.

But that could be as good as it gets this week for the Mets' rotation, who packed up Sunday for Miami with a list of probables that mostly contained question marks. Other than newly converted starter Robert Gsellman going Monday against the Marlins, manager Luis Rojas had nothing else definitive to say.

The assumption is that impressive rookie David Peterson will be ready for Tuesday, but he was bothered by shoulder soreness last time out and the Mets have to see how he recovers from Sunday’s bullpen session. Next up would be Jacob deGrom — scratched Friday because of a stiff neck — and Rojas refused to sign off on him yet for Wednesday as he was limited to playing catch Sunday.

Beyond those two is Steven Matz, and the manager wouldn’t even commit to the former Ward Melville star — currently sporting a 9.00 ERA — making his next start after Saturday night’s meltdown.

Where else can the Mets go? Walker Lockett is waiting. And you have to think Franklyn Kilome is now in the mix after being summoned Sunday.

“It definitely presents some challenges,” Porcello said.

A few months before Van Wagenen delivered that backhanded compliment to Wheeler, the GM also made the mistake of uttering a quote that’s going to haunt the rest of his Flushing career (for however long Steve Cohen or J-Rod decides it should last). The one about the 2020 Mets having “probably the deepest” rotation in baseball.

That was shortly after Wheeler signed the five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies and Van Wagenen countered by handing out $10 million to Porcello and an incentive-laden $3-million deal to Michael Wacha. The Mets’ rotation has steadily eroded ever since, starting with Noah Syndergaard’s Tommy John surgery in March and continuing with Marcus Stroman’s opt-out a week ago.

All of it made the timing of Wheeler’s Sunday reunion just a little more annoying for the Mets.

With their revolving-door rotation spinning like a tornado, and creating as much of a mess,  the “I told you so” moment was sitting there for Wheeler. Instead, the new Phillie traded some hellos with the former teammates he came across and showed almost zero emotion while on the mound.

“It was definitely weird,” J.D. Davis said of facing him. “He’s a little comfortable over there with what he got. I think he’s happy.”

And after sticking it to the Mets, certainly happier. 

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