On Tuesday afternoon, now affectionately referred to as "Super Tuesday" in New York, the Mets handed the ball to a pair of right-handed phenoms in hopes of winning a doubleheader, blazing the trail to contention and igniting a fanbase.
Over 18 dazzling innings, Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey did just that, taking down the division-leading Atlanta Braves behind power pitching, swing-and-miss stuff and old school velocity.
The matinee was the latest in a season full of dominant performances by Matt Harvey, who was a rookie last year and the first of the Met arms to arrive, and most importantly, the current ace of the staff. If not for a misplay around the first base bag by Lucas Duda, the second no-hitter in franchise history may have been the opening act leading into Wheeler's debut.
If Harvey's dazzling effort—which included a 100 mph fastball past Jason Heyward—was a finely tuned engine humming along, Wheeler's major league debut was a roller coaster of emotions, command issues and raw ability.
Ultimately, the results were the same: victories.
As the 2013 Mets season plays out over the next few months, contention isn't in the cards, regardless of the pair of future aces at the top of the new-look rotation. Instead, hope for the future and dissecting just how good these two young right-handed pitchers will be and the main talking points around the organization.
Of course, it's natural to wonder which of the two will be better in the long term.
To be fair and logical, it's hard not to choose Harvey at this juncture. He's been in the big leagues longer, dominated in competition on a level not seen in Flushing since Dwight Gooden, has the demeanor and mentality to pitch big games and has outperformed the original expectations talent evaluators put on him.
Harvey is the real deal, but don't just assume Wheeler can't or won't eventually catch him for the moniker of best pitcher on the staff.
With a nod to Harvey's more expansive big league resume to this point, here's a look at how each fared in their debut with the Mets:
Harvey (7/26/12 vs. Arizona): 5.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 11 K, 106 pitches
Wheeler (Super Tuesday vs. Atlanta): 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 7 K, 102 pitches
If those lines look eerily similar, take a look at how their respective Triple-A numbers (in the very hitter-friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League) looked:
Harvey: 20 GS, 3.68 ERA, 110.0 IP, 97 H, 112 K, 48 BB
Wheeler: 19 GS, 3.72 ERA, 101.2 IP, 84 H, 104 K, 43 BB
Those numbers are so close that it's easy to imagine them looking identical if Wheeler was given one more start in Triple-A before his call-up.
For as good as Harvey is now in The Show, he was essentially as good as Wheeler before arriving, yet, until that debut in Arizona and subsequent domination of the National League, Harvey was viewed as the inferior of the two pitching prospects, drafted lower in their respective drafts and talked about in more reserved tones than his counterpart.
Aesthetically, Harvey's fighter's mentality and laser focus drew rave reviews on the hill. His stuff and arm may remind some of Zack Greinke, but his personality on the hill is closer to a young Roger Clemens.
Wheeler, on the other hand, is laid-back, soft-spoken and had to stop himself from looking Jason Heyward in the eye during their first inning encounter last night for fear of laughing. From the way Harvey presents himself while in uniform, it's hard to imagine him having the capability to laugh.
Both throw really hard and struck batters out with wicked, breaking sliders. For each, the curveball and changeup are evolving secondary pitches.
Clearly, Matt Harvey is more polished than Zack Wheeler. He has a leg up on major league hitters, how to prepare and refining secondary pitches.
Moving forward, they'll get it done with different personalities, but if Wheeler can refine his command, there's little reason he can be as good, or, perhaps, surpass Harvey atop the Mets rotation.
For a fanbase itching to see winning baseball again, it's a fun question to attempt to answer.
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