It’s been dark times for the Dark Knight in 2016. With his first 10 starts in the books, the right-hander is 3-7 with a 6.08 ERA. His velocity is down, his patience with the media is gone, and even the Flushing faithful have turned on him in his most trying hour. Yet the New York Mets have chugged along quite nicely without his contribution. As the club sits atop the East with its other starters flourishing, the Mets might not need Matt Harvey to make a title run this year.
This would have been unthinkable when the Mets made a World Series bid in 2015. Harvey, given the ball as the Game One starter in the postseason, was every bit the ace for New York as the club tried to stave off elimination in the season’s final game. The 2016 season has taken a turn with Noah Syndergaard (5-2, 1.94 ERA) emerging as the team’s No. 1 option and Steven Matz (7-1, 2.36 ERA) right behind him.
As for Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ most effective starter last season, paternity leave and minor injury concerns kept him out of the rotation early on, but he is nearly back to being his dominant self. DeGrom struck out 14 in his last two starts (12.0 IP) and now has an ERA of 2.81 after eight turns. These three pitchers would be enough to power the rotation on any other team in the game, but New York has even gotten a big contribution from Bartolo Colon (4-3, 3.52 ERA), the 43-year-old wonder man.
More reinforcements are expected by the All Star break.
Zack Wheeler, out since early 2015 following Tommy John surgery, is rehabbing and plans to make his return by the start of July. Though Wheeler may be inconsistent, something common with starters following surgery to repair a UCL, he can give the Mets another option if Colon begins to tire late in the season. Regardless, Mets starters are third in the game with a 3.58 ERA and second with a 6.5 WAR through 47 games. Harvey has become that fifth starter from whom the club expects little.
Syndergaard’s career has gone in the opposite direction since making his debut in May 2015. The 23-year-old has become that swaggering presence opposing teams fear with the game’s fastest pitch, a sinker averaging 98.0 miles per hour. His four-seam fastball, which regularly tops 100 miles per hour, also leads the pack at 97.9. He may not have the overwhelming polish or ability to go deep into every game (as only Clayton Kershaw and a handful of others can), but Syndergaard is close enough as the Mets push forward.
The reemergence of deGrom is better news. While Harvey has been regarded as something of a diva by the New York media — and been called out by David Wright for causing distractions in the clubhouse — deGrom is the drama-free version of a Mets ace. His 3-1 record and 2.88 ERA were superior to Harvey’s in 2015, so he’s proven he can deliver in the clutch as well. As Terry Collins ponders what to do with the Dark Knight in the coming weeks, he can at least feel comfortable with the long game.
Collins has a better all-around offensive attack in 2016 with a full season of Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto helping the Mets skipper fill out his lineup card. As many predicted, the NL East is shaping up into a two-team race, despite the impressive starts of the Marlins and Phillies. Atlanta faded almost immediately out of the gate, and the Mets and Nationals will have at least one punching bag (probably two, counting Philly) for the rest of 2016.
The Mets remain in an excellent position, and if the status quo holds the club won’t need Matt Harvey anytime soon. Would there be any rotation capable of matching a team with Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz, and Harvey dealing? No such club exists, and though the Mets have their weaknesses they could guarantee themselves a solid shot in any postseason series with that four.
But three out of four isn’t far off, especially when you have extra off days in the postseason and Colon or Wheeler in the mix for October. In many ways, the Dark Knight has become dispensable for New York in 2016. Of all the fates you might have predicted for the club’s ace, irrelevance was the last one we’d have guessed.
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Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com.