The New York Mets have a comfortable lead in the National League East, and it wasn't until the first half of this week that they finally lost a series. In these ways, at least, their 2022 season couldn't be going better.
But as if it wasn't bad enough that they were already down two front-line starters, now it's three.
On Wednesday, Max Scherzer was clearly in discomfort when he departed during the sixth inning of his start against the St. Louis Cardinals. On Thursday, the news via MLB.com's Anthony DiComo is that the three-time Cy Young Award winner will be sidelined for as long as two months because of an oblique strain:
Scherzer, who the Mets signed to a record-breaking $130 million contract in December, will join fellow Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom on the injured list. He's been out since spring training with a stress reaction in his shoulder. Though he's made progress in his recovery, there's still no clear timetable for his return.
In all, not the best run of news the Mets have ever had. The only question is how they'll weather the storm.
Scherzer's Injury Is an Unsurprising Blow
Needless to say, it hurts to lose a pitcher of Scherzer's caliber.
Though he's set to turn 38 years old on July 27, he was still pitching like an ageless wonder until he got injured. Through eight starts spanning 49.2 innings, he had pitched to a 2.54 ERA and 59 strikeouts against only 11 walks.
Basically, what the Mets were getting from Scherzer was precisely what the Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers got from him from 2013 to 2021. All told, that span saw him rack up a 2.81 ERA and a 5.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio alongside 55.3 rWAR. The next-closest pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) is only at 45.6 rWAR.
Yet even knowing this, the possibility of Scherzer hitting a wall at some point in 2022 was never a long shot.
His signing was risky from the start, and not just because of his age. Even with the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he still averaged 185 innings per year from his age-30 to -36 campaigns. Of the pitchers who have recently handled similar workloads in that age range, none came through with an ace-caliber season at age 37.
Further, this is not the first time Scherzer's body has broken down on him. He had issues with his back and neck in 2019, and he went on the injured list with groin inflammation last year. Come the playoffs, he also dealt with a dead arm.
It would have been unreasonable to expect a pitcher with these red flags to make it through a season unscathed. Instead, the Mets might merely have hoped that whatever breakdown Scherzer encountered would at least happen at an opportune moment.
This Is Not an Opportune Moment
Inasmuch as there's ever a good time to put a Cy Young-winning ace on the injured list, that time is definitely not now for the Mets.
Yes, they did begin play Thursday with a six-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. And yes, neither defending World Series champion Atlanta nor any of the other three teams in the division was even over .500 at the start of the day.
As noted by David Lennon of Newsday, however, the Mets are headed for a brutal stretch in their schedule:
David Lennon @DPLennon
After today, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Mets?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Mets</a> enter a 31-game stretch vs. opponents with combined .552 winning percentage.<br><br>Included in that is 18 games on the road vs. teams with a combined .602 (at Rockies, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Angels, Astros).
And yet, there's no downplaying just how important Scherzer and Megill have been to the Mets' success. In 15 games started by the two of them, the team has gone 11-4.
With those two out of the picture, New York will need more of the same from Chris Bassitt, who's surrendered more than three earned runs in just two of his eight starts. The Mets will otherwise need more consistency from Carlos Carrasco, who's been hit at a .326 clip over his last four starts, and Taijuan Walker, who's been hit or miss in three outings this month.
Bringing up the rear in the rotation until Megill, Scherzer and deGrom get healthy will be Trevor Williams and David Peterson. Though they have a combined 3.43 ERA in their starting assignments, neither is a likely candidate to eat many innings. Between the two of them, Peterson's 90-pitch outing on May 3 is the high-water mark for pitches in a game.
What would really help the Mets in the coming weeks is if their offense got hot and stayed that way. But for that to happen, it'll have to snap out of the slight funk it's been in:
- First 23 G: .732 OPS and 4.7 R/G
- Last 16 G: .686 OPS and 4.3 R/G
Bottom line: If it's going to take a village for the Mets to rally in the face of their injuries over the next few weeks, their village needs to shape up.
Any Solutions on the Trade Market?
The trade deadline isn't until Aug. 2, so it's perhaps too early to seriously discuss external options for the Mets' sudden rotation woes.
Then again, Buster Olney of ESPN wrote this about the Mets on Wednesday:
"It's pretty evident that the Mets' owner is on a mission to win a World Series and will do whatever it takes to win a championship. If [Steve] Cohen's team develops a roster problem, he'll give the OK to fill it -- even if that means taking on a bad contract in order to acquire a player."
Since it's fair to call the recent injuries to Scherzer and Megill a "roster problem," perhaps Cohen indeed won't hesitate to put his $17.4 billion fortune to work in a search for solutions.
At the least, Cohen could ask general manager Billy Eppler to put in a call to the Los Angeles Dodgers about David Price. The 2012 Cy Young Award winner is available to a team willing to give him a starting job, per Peter Gammons. The Mets fit the bill, and they might get him for nothing if they took on the remainder of his $32 million salary. As it is, half of that is already on the Boston Red Sox.
For his part, Olney speculated that the Mets could make a deal with the Cincinnati Reds in which they take on Mike Moustakas and the $50 million he's still owed for the sake of adding a "coveted" player. The Reds did a similar deal when they sent Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker to the Seattle Mariners in March. This time, it could involve Moustakas alongside either Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle.
Speculatively, the Mets could try their luck with Nathan Eovaldi and Zack Greinke, both of whom are on expiring contracts for struggling teams in the Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals. Also only signed for this year is Jose Quintana, who's having a nice bounce-back season for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
If the Mets would rather do a more traditional trade—i.e., one in which they swap controllable talent for a reasonably priced player—they could poke around Oakland Athletics right-hander Frankie Montas. Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported there was "nothing hot" with him in April, but it's no secret that he's not long for Oakland.
Of course, any trade the Mets make in the near future could cause a logjam later when Megill, Scherzer and deGrom come off the injured list. But given the circumstances, the Mets might nonetheless determine to act now and to cross that bridge when they get to it.