A New York Mets starting rotation that was supposed to be the mightiest force on this or any other planet has become battered, broken and badly in need of a hero.
Noah Syndergaard was not the biggest difference-maker in the Mets' 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday. That honor belongs to T.J. Rivera, whose first career home run was a go-ahead shot in the top of the 10th inning that erased Jeurys Familia's blown save.
But none of that could have happened had Syndergaard not first led the way in arguably his most dominant start of the second half. He lasted seven innings, giving up just one earned run on four hits and a walk. He struck out 10, pushing his total for the season to 205.
So it goes for the fire-balling right-hander. Syndergaard now has a 2.43 ERA in 174 innings, and that ERA is trending down in a hurry.
His ERA in his five most recent starts is 1.06. And that comes with 34 strikeouts in 34 innings to boot.
Let's acknowledge this for what it is: pretty much the only piece of good news the Mets have gotten about their starting rotation in recent days.
Matt Harvey has long since been felled by injury. Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz are more recent victims of the injury bug. Those two could probably use more time to recover, but Rafael Montero's ouster from the rotation is forcing Terry Collins' hand. The manager's considering bringing back both deGrom and Matz to "piggyback" in the same game on Sunday.
"If things are moving forward," Collins said (via Anthony DiComo of MLB.com), "then we've certainly got to take a look at it."
Meanwhile, the numbers are about as ugly as you'd expect. The Mets have used eight different starters in the last month. Syndergaard has pitched well. The other seven have a 4.46 ERA.
The silver lining is that the Mets keep finding ways to win. Their defeat of the Nationals on Tuesday was their eighth win in their last 10 games and their 17th in their last 23 games. They hold a half-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League's second wild-card spot.
Among the many reasons for this is that Syndergaard has been a much-needed rock when his turn comes up every five days. He's done so stealthily, as Tuesday was his first double-digit strikeout game since June 15. But with that now in the bag, there's no escaping the sense he's getting back to being the overwhelming force of nature that had everyone's attention earlier this season.
The road in between was bumpy. Syndergaard battled a dead arm and elbow trouble in the middle of the summer. Per Brooks Baseball, his velocity responded accordingly with a slight dip in July. He had a seven-start stretch between early July and mid-August in which he didn't pitch more than six innings.
But things are different now. After drifting upward, Syndergaard's release point is closer to where it was earlier in the year. And the adjustment process is ongoing.
"I made a slight adjustment in my mechanics the other day that allowed me to get over my front foot quite a bit easier," Syndergaard said after Tuesday's game (via ESPN.com's Adam Rubin). "So I had quite a bit of extra late life on my two-seamer."
Speaking of that two-seamer, Syndergaard has dusted it off in September:
This is not including Syndergaard's effort against the Nationals on Tuesday, but the raw PITCHf/x data shows he once again threw his two-seamer in equal tandem with his four-seamer.
It's not surprising Syndergaard is heating up again as he's bringing his two-seamer back into the fold. His four-seamer is an outstanding pitch in its own right, sitting in the high 90 mph range with some nifty vertical action, according to Baseball Prospectus. But it serves him best on the glove side of the zone. To work the other edge, he needs his two-seamer.
So, this is the Syndergaard hitters are seeing now: He's more mechanically comfortable and can work both sides of the plate with high-90s heat. That's enough for them to worry about, and that's before they can think about the slider, curveball and changeup that have done the heavy lifting for his strikeout rate (10.6 per nine innings).
This has helped Syndergaard forge an overpowering six-start stretch, and the Mets' schedule leaves room for three more. Considering the state of their rotation outside Syndergaard, these three starts may be the difference between going home and going back to October.