Mets Manager Mickey Callaway knew it would be difficult for Jacob deGrom to duplicate the 1.70 earned run average he posted last season, but Callaway also believed deGrom could negotiate his way out of all trouble he saw this year.
“If he can weather the storm of run support he got last year, he can deal with anything,” Callaway said on the first day of spring training. “So it should be a cake walk.”
The last week, however, has shown how challenging it can be. After not allowing a run in either of his first two starts, deGrom gave up a combined nine runs in his last two outings, both of which resulted in losses. He has vowed to review video of his performances to pinpoint what the problem has been the last nine innings.
“It’s baseball,” deGrom said. “This game will humble you quick.”
Command has been a concern for deGrom, as well as other pitchers on staff. Jason Vargas, the fifth starter, has been hit hard in all three of his appearances, and he failed to record more than one out before departing Saturday night’s loss in Atlanta. Zack Wheeler, the third starter, threw as hard as 101 miles per hour against the Braves, but also walked seven Nationals in his previous start.
Still, the Mets have emerged from their early battles with a 9-6 record as they prepare to square off with the Philadelphia Phillies (9-5), their National League East rivals who made several big moves over the winter, including adding the All-Star right fielder Bryce Harper and catcher J.T. Realmuto.
The good news for deGrom and the rest of the pitching staff? Scoring runs has not been an issue. Whether it has been balls flying out of Citi Field or the late-inning rallies punctuated by Pete Alonso’s power displays, the lineup depth is allowing the Mets to weather their pitching storm for now.
Here is a look at where things stand for the Mets:
Vargas has started two games, was skipped in the rotation once and made a relief appearance in the ninth inning of a loss. By the time he got out of that inning, he had given up four more earned runs. His E.R.A. is currently 14.21.
Pitching was billed as the Mets’ strength heading into the season, but all five starters have had issues with their feel for the ball or efficiency thus far.
Steven Matz provided a bright spot over the weekend, as he limited the Braves to two earned runs in six innings and picked up his first win of the season. He struck out eight and allowed only one walk.
But with Vargas showing little to be optimistic about and deGrom not able to match his 2018 performance, plenty of fans are already calling for the Mets to sign Dallas Keuchel, the free agent starter who is available if the Mets are willing to write another check.
Edwin Diaz, known as Sugar, has posted a 1.59 E.R.A. and five saves in his first 15 games with the Mets despite being hit harder than usual.
The rest of the relievers have been underwhelming. Seth Lugo has surrendered six runs in eight and two-thirds innings. Jeurys Familia has two wins despite a 5.87 E.R.A. Robert Gsellman blew a save.
Corey Oswalt has already been back and forth from Class AAA Syracuse as the Mets search for a consistent way to get outs late in games.
Three Mets — Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso and Wilson Ramos — are ranked in the top 10 of the National League for batting average. While McNeil (.383) continues to make contact with almost anything thrown his way, Alonso (.345) has quickly established himself as much more than just a long-ball threat, though he does have six home runs already. The steady stroke of Ramos (.341) has kept the order moving on multiple occasions.
Brandon Nimmo received a wake-up call when he was dropped in the lineup from leadoff to eighth on Friday, and he responded by going 3-for-4 with a homer and a double.
The most concerning Met, offensively, is second baseman Robinson Cano. He is their oldest and highest-paid employee, but he has struggled since homering and driving in an insurance run on opening day. He is 3 for his last 24 and batting .183 on the year.
When Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie went down with injuries early in camp, the Mets knew they had bodies to fill in — they just didn’t know how well those bodies would perform.
Dominic Smith has adjusted to his bench role very well, both as a late-inning defensive replacement for Alonso at first base and as a pinch-hitter. In his two starts, he went 4-for-9. He is batting .444.
J.D. Davis, who has played at third, provided power with his two-homer game against the Nationals at home on April 6 and with another shot in Atlanta on Sunday night.
Keon Broxton and Juan Lagares have split time in center field with Nimmo, and Broxton showed what he can do with the bat when he drove a single into center field for a game-winning run against the Nationals on April 6.
Behind the plate, Travis d’Arnaud returned to the majors less than a year after having Tommy John surgery. His first full game as a catcher was deGrom’s debacle against the Twins last Tuesday. D’Arnaud assumed part of the blame, as deGrom was throwing to his third catcher in three starts.
The good news is that Frazier is expected back any game now.
While the team’s versatility is evident and depth concerns have been addressed, Callaway and company know it is time for the established stars — like deGrom and Cano — to perform the way they are expected to in order to compete for the N.L. East title.