New York Mets News

Zack Wheeler must help lead Mets’ turnaround against Nationals

By Michael Lecolant
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There’s a saying long popularized by wrestling great Ric Flare – in order to be the man, you gotta beat the man.

That holds true for Zack Wheeler and the New York Mets. For both, hope of contending in 2015 partly hinges on improved play against Washington.

The Mets finished 79-83 last season. Despite a 1-6 record against the Giants, they still managed a 64-59 combined record against the N.L. Central and West. Within the N.L. East, they posted a combined 34-23 record against the Marlins, Braves, and Phillies, but only went 4-15 against the Nationals, who outscored them by a 92-52 margin (or, by 2.1 runs per game).

Aug 27, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the second inning of a game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With just two additional victories against the Nationals, the Mets could have posted an overall .500 record. Obviously then, with a three game swing the Mets could have posted their first winning record since 2008.

Of course, two or three more victories could have been picked up anywhere along the way. It would also be unfair to point a finger at any one reason why the Mets fell just short in their quest to achieve a .500 record, and for the team’s particular failures against the Nationals.

However, for your offseason enjoyment, I’m about to do just that.

Disclaimer: I’m not picking on Zack Wheeler, or placing blame – honest. This is merely one of many potential discussions with regards to closing the gap with Washington, while also serving as a relevant way to address Wheeler’s continued development as a pitcher.

I’m more encouraged by Wheeler’s progress than anything. He dodged the famed sophomore jinx with a very promising second season in the big leagues.

Now entering his third MLB season, Wheeler is expected to become one of the more polished, and formidable pitchers in the Mets’ arsenal.  However, he’ll need to improve his performance against the club’s primary competition first.

In 32 starts last season, Wheeler threw 185.1 innings, for an average 5.8 innings per start. He posted a 3.54 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. He allowed 167 hits for an 8.1 H/9 average, and issued 79 walks for a 3.8 BB/9 average. Wheeler’s 187 strikeouts ranked 10th in the National League, and his 9.09 K/9 mark ranked sixth.

Now for the veto handed down by Washington.

In five starts against the Nationals, Wheeler threw 27.2 innings, for an average of 5.4 innings per start. He posted a 1-4 record with a 5.96 ERA and a 1.65 WHiP. He allowed 32 hits for a 10.6 H/9 average, walked 13 for a 4.3 BB/9 average, and struck out 27 for an 8.9 K/9 mark.

He was clearly more impressive in his 27 other starts. Wheeler threw 158.1 innings, for an average of 5.9 innings per start. He posted a 10-7 record with a 3.13 ERA, and a 1.27 WHIP. He surrendered 135 hits for a 7.7 H/9 average, issued 66 walks for a 3.8 BB/9 average, and fanned 160 for a 9.1 K/9 mark.

That said, the Mets’ ability on the mound to fight fire with fire is strengthening. They have a young, still-emerging stable of starting pitchers with the potential to become just as deep and talented as Washington’s rotation.

However, the recent addition of pitcher Max Scherzer to the Nationals’ rotation gives the Nationals another ace to deal with.

2014 N.L. Pitching Comparison

Nationals:

  • Lowest ERA – 3.03
  • Fewest HR Allowed – 110
  • Fewest Walks Issued – 352
  • 6th Most Strikeouts – 1,288
  • 6th Batting Average Against – .244
  • Lowest WHiP- 1.16

Mets:

  • 6th Lowest ERA – 3.49
  • 6th Fewest HR Allowed – 141
  • 4th Most Walks Issued – 509
  • 3rd Most Strikeouts – 1,303
  • 8th Batting Average Against – .248
  • 10th Lowest WHiP – 1.28

The Mets’ offensive capabilities are pretty straight forward.

With Spring Training less than a month away, Michael Cuddyer, to date, represents the only offseason change to the Mets’ lineup. Cuddyer alone will fail to make up the disparity between New York’s and Washington’s offensive output.

2014 N.L. Offensive Comparison

Nationals:

  • 3rd Runs Scored – 686
  • 4th Home Runs – 152
  • 5th Team Avg. – .253
  • 4th Team OBP – .321
  • 5th Team Slg.- .393

Mets:

  • 8th Runs Scored – 629
  • 9th Home Runs – 125
  • 13th Team Avg.- .234
  • 9th Team OBP – .308
  • 12th Team Slg. – .364

In order to close the offensive gap, a number of things must transpire.

An improved season is required from Curtis Granderson, and a rebound season from David Wright is paramount. The hope is that Michael Cuddyer’s presence in the lineup will help them both. Of the following I feel quite certain – at least two of the aforementioned three need to hit near their career averages this coming season, or the Mets will not contend in 2015.

Rounding out the middle of the order, Lucas Duda must sustain the production level he set for himself in 2014. Nothing short of a validating season will do.

Travis d’Arnaud must also continue improving upon the hitter that returned from last year’s brief demotion to Las Vegas.

Juan Lagares quieted many naysayers with an improved sophomore season at the plate, highlighted by a .281 batting average. He will turn 26 years old in March, and will be expected to become a more mature hitter.

The situations at shortstop and second base are now transient at best. If we’re forced to accept the situation at face value, then Wilmer Flores should provide added pop at shortstop.  And, for as long as Daniel Murphy remains in a Mets uniform this season, he’ll continue to be one of their most reliable hitters.

Until further notice, that’s what the Mets are going with.

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