By Jason Keidel
Considering the biblical footprint the New York Yankees have left on baseball, it would be easy to forget there are two teams in the Big Apple.
The New York Mets, so long the poor cousins to the Yankees, have had spurts of success. But with two World Series titles in 56 years — and none since 1986 — they haven’t owned much bold ink. After a 12-2 start this season, they have tumbled down the steps of the NL East, going 11-17 since April 20.
And there’s been a recent, raging debate, spawned by one of the local newspapers, over what to do with their top two, top-tier staring pitchers. Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard have not only flourished in the fishbowl of NYC scrutiny, either would also be an ace on most MLB clubs.
Yet the media and masses are in frothing disagreement over what to do with them. Do they jam the reset button and trade them for a gaggle of prospects? Or keep them as the only true pillars on a crumbling 2018 season?
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It sounds sexy to say “trust the process” these days, with the Philadelphia 76ers tanking for a time to get really good. The Houston Astros stockpiled picks and are now World Series champs. Even the Yankees had to sputter for a time after the Core Four retired to become the behemoths they normally are. And, believe it or not, the Bombers are the team with whom the Daily News suggested the Mets deal their two most talented arms. So not only are the Mets supposed to boot two almost irreplaceable pitchers, they’re supposed to hand them to their eternal tormentors in the Bronx.
But you don’t have to be Doyle Brunson to realize you don’t fold with two aces in their twenties under the guise of getting better. Especially not to the Yankees, a team lacking just one thing from their nuclear roster — two great starting pitchers. It’s not proper for a New Yorker to speak for Chicago or Los Angeles — or any town with two teams in a particular sport — but it’s almost as important for the Mets to compete with the Yankees as it is for them to compete with the Braves or Nationals. The fact that the Yankees can’t find starters just italicizes the dearth of dominant arms.
And with such a premium placed on pitching, why would the Mets ship the two starters who make it worth paying the climbing ticket prices at Citi Field? Granted, a night at a Mets game doesn’t clean the wallet quite the way it does if you hit a Yankees game. But the Mets need to give their fans some reason to attend their home games. Not only are deGrom and Syndergaard by far their most gifted pitchers and top draws, they also have to fill the void left by their former ace.
Just a few years ago, Matt Harvey’s visage was splashed across the cover of Sports Illustrated, his new handle, Dark Knight of Gotham handed to him by Tom Verducci, the best baseball writer in the nation. But after staggering through a minefield of injury and immaturity, Harvey was dumped into the recycle bin, now toiling in Cincinnati, home of the worst club in the majors.
The Mets have trotted out lineups that would make a local softball league blush. In fact, the Mets have been so inept they can’t even keep track of their own lineup. It was in Cincinnati, coincidentally, where the Mets recently gave the umpire one lineup card and printed out another for their dugout, and hence they bat out of order in the first inning of a game they lost, 2-1. Jay Bruce was called out when he strolled to the plate with a man on second base. Seriously.
Syndergaard and deGrom are great pitchers, great guys, and Syndergaard in particular has the kind of affable social media mien that captures hearts. And unlike Harvey, who seemed to have lost his groove as quickly as he got it, Syndergaard still looks and pitches up to his comic book handle, Thor. Then consider the rest of the rotation. Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and Jason Vargas are a combined 3-9, and have yielded 62 earned runs in 87 innings pitched.
Besides, the Mets (23-19) are just 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves. They’ve won three straight — including a dominant start by Thor on Sunday — and can at least say they are competitive, an assertion they can’t make if they get rid of DeGrom (4-0, 1.75 ERA), Syndergaard (4-1, 2.94 ERA), or both.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.