A) The ballclub’s season-long offensive funk can no longer be dismissed as a small-sample fluke and B) Carlos Carrasco, finally healthy, will be a force in the starting rotation the final two months of the season.
On Friday night there was evidence they were right on both counts, which was actually more of an endorsement of the deal than Sandy Alderson and Zack Scott wanted, as the second-lowest scoring team in the majors lowered its runs-per-game average in a 6-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
Will the Mets ever hit? After showing signs of breaking out right after the All-Star break, they’ve gone cold again, scoring only 13 runs in their last six games, four of them losses.
Baez is known as El Mago, Spanish for “The Magician.” Suffice it to say he’ll live up to his nickname if he can bring this offense to life with any consistency.
The no-show by the offense spoiled something of a party-like atmosphere at Citi Field, as a big crowd was buzzing from the start, perhaps in part due to the much-publicized first appearance of the black jerseys, but surely because of the news of the Baez trade as well.
Baez is that type of player, a dazzling defender and a free-swinger who creates excitement with his presence and can carry a team offensively when he’s hot. Francisco Lindor has been a close friend since they were young kids, growing up in Florida, and he was thrilled by the trade, saying Friday night:
“I can’t wait for him to get here and put on a show for everybody. He’ll bring a lot of energy, leadership, winning culture, great defensive plays and big-time hits. He’ll come up clutch. I’m looking forward to watching him on the biggest stage here in New York City.”
One thing Baez won’t be able to do, however, is help the Mets’ pitching situation.
And, while Carrasco’s solid four-inning outing against the Reds in his first start of the season after missing so much time due to a hamstring tear was a great sign for the Mets, it practically paled in comparison to the news that Jacob deGrom will be shut down from throwing for two weeks after an MRI showed inflammation in his elbow.
Indeed, the deGrom development has to scare the heck out of the Mets, as his immediate future is suddenly very uncertain. After Friday night’s game Luis Rojas still seemed a bit stunned by the turn of events.
“We thought he was progressing,” Rojas said. “Now the focus goes to the two weeks, and let’s see how he responds.
“The importance of Jake here is immeasurable, but this is the best thing, to shut him down. We’ve gotta do it because we want him healthy. Nobody is more frustrated than he is.”
DeGrom hasn’t pitched since July 7, and even if the shutdown gets rid of the elbow inflammation, he’ll need a fairly lengthy ramp-up to be ready to pitch in a game again, so the best-case scenario for a return looks like early September.
With that in mind, Carrasco now looms as invaluable for the immediate future, a starter with the potential for dominance if he’s right. And after giving up a home run to the first batter he faced, Jonathan India, Carrasco looked like the guy the Mets believe is a legitimate No. 2 starter, allowing two more hits and a walk while getting the next 12 outs, four on strikeouts.
Carrasco threw 58 pitches, as he continues to ramp up back to full strength, and said “I felt really good, except for that first hitter. I was a little nervous to be back but everything settled in after that. I felt really strong. I can’t wait to get to the next one.”
Rojas said he liked what he saw as well.
“With the Jakes news, Carlos is going to be huge for us down the road,” the manager said. “I liked that he had a really good first outing.”
With Carrasco back, the Mets at least have a full five-man rotation for the first time in a few weeks, including Marcus Stroman, Taijuan Walker, Tylor Megill, and the newly-acquired Rich Hill.
Will that be good enough to keep the Mets in first place in the coming weeks in the NL East, where the Phillies and Braves also made significant moves on Friday to improve themselves?
The Mets’ brass obviously believes so, as the only pitcher they added on Friday was Trevor Williams, a journeyman right-hander who came with Baez for the Cubs and is pitching to a 5.07 ERA this season. The Mets sent him to Triple-A at least for now.
For the moment at least, with Carrasco back to stabilize the rotation, the focus turns to the offense that has failed to live up to expectations all season. Michael Conforto continues to be a complete enigma, hitting just .199 after going 0-for-4 Friday and getting booed by the Citi Field crowd, but he’s hardly the only culprit.
At this point, 102 games into the season, with the Mets scoring fewer runs than every team in baseball except the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s fair to make the case that this is who they are this year.
The front office decided it couldn’t just wait and hope for the best. Now, can El Mago work some magic on this offense?
For the Mets’ sake, he better.