Heading into Friday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field, Mets fans were feeling good. The team had just acquired an all-star infielder in Javier Baez from the Chicago Cubs before the trade deadline expired, and Carlos Carrasco was about to make his long-anticipated season debut on the mound.
Some three hours and nine innings later, however, the mood changed considerably among the Flushing faithful after learning that ace Jacob deGrom suffered yet another setback in this perplexing 2021 campaign.
The Mets announced that deGrom would be shut down two more weeks after another MRI revealed elbow inflammation. The two-time Cy Young Award winner, who looked to be on his way to a third award before he was put on the injured list this month with forearm tightness, won’t likely return to the Mets until September, at best.
“We thought everything was progressing okay, day-to-day, how we were approaching it, even though we didn’t have a target for him to pitch a certain day or anything,” Mets manager Luis Rojas told SNY. “Now the focus goes to the two weeks that he’s going to have of no-throw, and let’s see how he responds. The importance of Jake here, you guys can say it’s immeasurable to be contributing for us, but we want Jake healthy. So this is the best thing, and we’ve got to do it, and he’s got to do it, and nobody’s as frustrated as he is right now, because he’s a guy who loves pitching for his team.”
The latest deGrom injury puts a serious wrinkle in the Mets pitching staff heading into a pivotal August. Though the Mets picked up starters Rich Hill and Trevor Williams before the trade deadline hit on July 30, many fans were left wondering why the Amazin’s didn’t acquire a higher-caliber pitcher.
During a post-trade deadline press conference on Friday, club president Sandy Alderson and acting general manager Zack Scott seemed to indicate the asking prices for quality starters was too high in terms of prospects. Alderson also acknowledged that some pitchers the Mets had interest in were veterans with no-trade clauses who did not want to come to New York — a reference to Max Scherzer, the former Washington Nationals ace who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Instead, the Mets chose to bolster their offense by acquiring Baez, the all-star former Cubs shortstop and friend of Francisco Lindor. Baez, who’s a free agent after this season, has said he’s wanted to play with his buddy. He will likely move to second base once Lindor recovers and returns from the oblique strain that put him on the injured list.
To get Baez and pitcher Trevor Williams, the Mets gave the Cubs outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, who had been the fifth-best prospect in the Mets organization, according to MLB Pipeline.
Baez is set to debut with the Mets Saturday night against the Reds, and the offense certainly could use the powerful shot in the arm he has the potential to provide. In Friday night’s 6-2 loss to Cincinnati, the Mets blew one scoring opportunity after another — including scoring just one run in the first inning, when they had loaded the bases with no one out.
Struggling outfielder Michael Conforto continued to incur the wrath of Mets fans. His batting average is now below the Mendoza line (.200) after going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
Carrasco made his season debut after recovering from a torn hamstring, and looked good; he went four innings, giving up 1 run and three hits while striking out four. The Mets will obviously lean on Carrasco more in the weeks ahead to help fill the void deGrom left.
The Mets will also have to rely upon Marcus Stroman and Tylor Megill to continue their solid pitching while hoping that the recently-struggling Taijuan Walker goes back to the form he had in April and May. The 41-year-old Rich Hill can give the Mets between five and six solid innings each appearance, and Williams — who didn’t wow with the Cubs, where he pitched to a 5.06 ERA — will need to find a way to turn his fortunes around.
Even with the struggling offense and woebegone starting pitching staff, the Mets still find themselves Saturday morning 3 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Philadelphia Phillies at the top of the National League Eastern Division. The Phillies did make a significant starting pitching acquisition Friday, picking up Kyle Gibson from the Texas Rangers along with closer Ian Kennedy.
The Mets have to hope the starting pitching staff can somehow hold it together, and that the offense finally figures it out, if they want to keep their division lead to the end — and advance to the playoffs.