It was only a dream.
That ultimately is what the Mets’ projected dream rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler became.
A figment of the imagination.
They were going to be Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery. Or Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Claude Osteen and Don Sutton. Or Mike Cuellar, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson.
They were going to be contenders to be remembered as the best rotation in baseball history. But then they weren’t. Instead, sad songs filled with lyrics about injuries and unfulfilled expectations have been sung. Everyone knows them by heart.
Harvey is on his way out after being designated for assignment by the organization Friday, though oddly, No. 33’s uniform and assorted belongings remained in place in his (old) clubhouse stall before Saturday night’s game against the Rockies.
Matz, who got the start against Colorado after being pushed back four days because of back issues, is seemingly always one bad moment away from imploding. Wheeler is a roller-coaster ride.
DeGrom and Syndergaard are the cream that has risen to the top, but there is a hold-your-breath component to their starts, too, in the realm of physical vulnerabilities and realities.
Just this week, the organization held its breath like Houdini trapped in an underwater safe when deGrom felt a twinge in his elbow after taking a swing at the plate. The escape from doom was provided by the diagnosis of merely a hyperextension that won’t even cost the 29-year-old right-hander a start.
The Mets got the grand total of two full rotation turns from Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz and Wheeler, both this April. The five started 10 straight from April 9-19, combining for a 4.02 ERA the first time through, a 4.70 ERA the second time, and a 4.34 ERA overall. The Mets won the first four games, then lost four of the final six, the last one marking Harvey’s final start.
Their dream rotation reduced to fantasy, the Mets are attempting to keep from spinning off their axis. They entered Saturday having lost four straight, seven of the previous nine and 12 of 18 since breaking out of the gate 11-1. They had allowed 26 runs in their past three games, with starters Wheeler and Jason Vargas — Harvey’s replacement — conspiring to yield 14 runs in 10 ¹/₃ innings Thursday and Friday.
Overall, Mets starters rank 13th in the NL with a 4.53 ERA. Subtracting deGrom and Syndergaard from the mix — bite your tongue — and the rest of the starters’ ERA is 6.72.
Yet manager Mickey Callaway continued to express optimism the rotation could/would become the strength he and pitching coach Dave Eiland envisioned this spring. Of course, you’d expect nothing else from this resolutely positive and optimistic individual.
“Every rotation has some ups and downs,” Callaway said before the game. “Are we always trying to work with them to be better? Absolutely. But you have to wait until the end to see what happened.”
Matz had not been able to get past 5 ¹/₃ innings in any of his first five outings. He’s given the Mets an average of 4 ¹/₃ innings per start while pitching to a 4.98 ERA. His ERA over the past two years is 5.81, with last season an unmitigated disaster that ended with elbow surgery Aug. 23.
Yet Callaway expressed belief in the 26-year-old lefty, once penciled in as this generation’s Jerry Koosman or Jon Matlack. According to the manager, it’s all about the pitcher’s mental makeup, an area that is being addressed on an ongoing basis by Eiland.
“The stuff is there that he can be an elite left-hand pitcher if he has the right mentality,” the manager said. “He has to overcome the things that happen in games and focus on the things he can control.”
The Mets once thought they would have the future under control. They’d have Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz and Wheeler.
But, then, as John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote about sad words not so long after Abner Doubleday invented the game: “The saddest are these, it might have been.”
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