The injury bug has been trying to block the New York Mets from returning to the World Series in 2016. Credit the Mets for putting up a strong resistance.
But the fight has finally been lost.
Jacob deGrom was set to return from a forearm injury Sunday, thereby restoring a power arm to a diminished starting rotation. So much for that. Rather than taking the mound against the Minnesota Twins, Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com reported deGrom likely won't pitch again this season.
"Jacob has had issues with the ulnar nerve in his right elbow, which is not unusual after Tommy John surgery, even during the time after that surgery," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said, per Bloom. "He will not pitch tomorrow. I think it's unlikely he will pitch the rest of the season. We'll see."
The right-hander didn't have any trouble in a Friday bullpen session, but he felt pain after making a throw while shagging balls during batting practice Friday. That convinced the Mets to shut him down, and it's likely to lead to offseason surgery.
So it goes for the Mets. Losing a pitcher with a 2.74 career ERA fits with a trend of bad breaks that, as James Wagner of the New York Times highlights here, has all but destroyed their Opening Day roster:
The bottom list may not include Steven Matz, but that might just be a matter of time. The Mets have not yet offered a return date from a bum shoulder for the young left-hander.
According to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, they haven't been brimming with optimism:
If Matz can't return, at least the Mets still have Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon for the stretch run and the postseason. But they only have Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Gabriel Ynoa after them. Even if Matz does return, his workload will surely be limited.
The good news is deGrom's absence and Matz's up-in-the-air status don't necessarily kill New York's chances of making the postseason.
The Mets hold a two-game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League's second wild-card spot. The Cardinals are not playing well, and the Mets have the advantage of playing only one winning team, the Miami Marlins, in the closing weeks of the regular season.
Plus, the bad vibes shouldn't mask how well the Mets are playing. They've won nine of their last 12 games.
Assuming the Mets do indeed close on a wild-card berth, they'd be in good shape to take the next step. They're on track to play the San Francisco Giants, who are backing into October as the NL's worst second-half team. The Mets have Syndergaard, an electric pitcher who happens to be red-hot, slated to start the Wild Card Game on Oct. 5.
Even if the Mets get past the Wild Card Game, they'll have these guys waiting for them:
At 94-53, the Chicago Cubs have already clinched the NL Central and are running away in the race for the NL's top seed. They'll await the winner of the Wild Card Game, ready to unleash the league's most well-rounded attack in their quest to end their 108-year championship drought.
Of course, it was the Mets who pushed the drought from 107 to 108 when they swept the Cubs in last year's National League Championship Series. Daniel Murphy, now with the Washington Nationals, had a big hand in that, but Chicago's inability to handle New York's power pitching was the deciding factor.
Should the Mets and Cubs meet again in this year's NLDS, the Mets won't be able to go back to the power pitcher. The only dominant pitcher from last year's NLCS still at full health is Syndergaard. If he pitches in the Wild Card Game, he would only be available for one start in the NLDS.
It's true what they say about nobody being able to predict baseball. And that may go double for postseason baseball—an entirely different animal.
But sorry, it's hard to imagine the Mets beating the Cubs in a five-game series with just one start from Syndergaard. The Cubs would have a better offense, a better defense and arguably a better bullpen than the Mets. Getting just one start from Syndergaard would render the Mets unable to match up with Chicago's starting foursome of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey.
If the Mets were to pull off a miracle and survive into the NLCS, they'd run into that same matchup problem against either the Los Angeles Dodgers or Washington Nationals. The Dodgers have an excellent trio in Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda. The Nationals have lost Stephen Strasburg, but they still have Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez.
Thinking this far ahead may be pointless. Having Syndergaard lined up for a likely matchup against the Giants in the NL Wild Card Game gives the Mets a good shot at advancing, but it wouldn't be automatic. The Giants have Madison Bumgarner lined up for Oct. 5, and we all know what he can do under pressure.
If deGrom had been able to return Sunday, it would be possible to paint a more optimistic picture of the Mets' future. His presence likely wouldn't have impacted the Wild Card Game, but the Mets could have used him twice against the Cubs. Under those circumstances, we could be looking at the Mets as just the team to challenge Chicago's status as the obvious favorites in the National League.
But now there's no arguing with the odds. FanGraphs gives the Mets a 13.0 percent chance of going to the NLCS, a 4.2 percent chance of going to the World Series and a 1.6 percent chance of winning it all.
The odds say it's not happening, and with deGrom out of the picture, they may even be a little generous.