Mets’ starting pitching soap opera headed toward cliffhanger


The Mets’ vaunted starting pitching suddenly has more plot twists, double-crosses, and overall melodrama than your average afternoon soap. The team entered the 2015 season with both talent and depth in the rotation and this strength kept the team afloat for half a season. Now, with the offense finding its footing, the starting pitching finds itself equal parts “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “General Hospital.”

The Mets’ resident superhero has always been Matt Harvey. It’s mixing metaphors, but the Dark Knight’s kryptonite is now his innings limit. Whatever that limit may ultimately be. Harvey’s Maserati may do 185, but his arm apparently tops out at 180.

Two years ago, Matt Harvey dominated in the all-star game at Citi Field and Mets fans swooned. A year away recovering from Tommy John surgery, followed by a couple of ill-timed quotes from Scott Boras and an awkward response from Harvey, and Mets fans find their world upside down. We’re like John Cusack holding up the boom box in “Say Anything.” We’re lovesick and it’s led to social media vitriol and half-assed trade scenarios shipping our ace out of town. Harvey for Manny Machado – is this fantasy baseball?

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Luckily for us, there is life after Matt Harvey. Jacob deGrom emerged from Harvey’s shadow in 2014, when he won the Rookie of the Year award. No longer a sidekick, deGrom had his coming out party at this year’s All-Star game when he struck out the side on 10 pitches. One bout of agita aside, he’s done nothing in the second half to make us believe he’s not our new ace.

Noah Syndergaard has his own obvious superhero name and the trappings of a future ace. What he also has is a looming innings limit of his own. There is no super agent whispering innuendo to members of the press, but there is a precious, young arm to protect. Syndergaard’s 152 innings this year already represent a career high. You can’t help but feel as though Syndergaard is the member of the cast who’s going to have the surprise case of amnesia, just when we think he’s about to become a meaningful part of the story.

Speaking of super heroes, Jonathan Niese may be the Mets’ ‘Torch.’ This member of the Fantastic Four cruises along looking like a viable member of the rotation until – FLAME ON – he has his blow-up inning. Death, taxes and the Niese blow-up inning. Niese is becoming the two-faced villain who turns on us just when we need him.

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As Niese has struggled, Bartolo Colon has become a Mets hero. In the face of the Harvey ugliness and uncertainty, Colon has stepped up to pitch in relief when the staff was taxed, and tossed a complete game, pitch count be damned. It’s obviously much easier for the team to treat a 42-year-old impending free agent this way, but Colon manages it with aplomb, from bobble-head at-bats to behind the back fielding tricks. And Bart is much more than comic relief.

Precocious youngster Steven Matz and rotation fill-in Logan Verrett add some intrigue to the mix, teasing with their talents. Could they step in to upstage the headliners, stealing a role in the rotation? Or are we putting too much faith in these youngsters who are not ready for the roles we would so willingly thrust them into?

Matt Harvey seems destined to pitch one or two more games during the regular season — Tuesday against the Nationals and perhaps against the Yankees in 10 days or so. That’s when we find ourselves with a cliffhanger. Harvey’s playoff role is currently shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Will he pitch or won’t he? How many pitches can he throw? Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion…

Either way, expect Jacob deGrom to be the team’s ace in the playoffs (should they make it). Our game one guy. After that, the Mets should play it one round at a time. Similar to what you do in order to push a game to extra innings if you’re behind, and worry about what you have left on your bench when you get there.

If the Mets are on the road to start the NLDS, then throw Harvey in game two. This lets the team save Syndergaard for a game three start at home — where he’s been more effective. If that’s all you get from Harvey, then you deal with it.

With the help of Matz and Verrett, the Mets should be able to manage Syndergaard’s innings. He is big and strong, and not coming off injury. He should be counted on to pitch in the playoffs. After Syndergaard, the team’s number four starter should be Bartolo Colon. The veteran is just more trustworthy than Niese at this point, having stepped up when it mattered most. By contrast, Niese has wilted under the spotlight. In a fairytale season, you go with what got you there.

If the Mets find themselves in the NLCS, or even in the World Series, then they can worry about whether Harvey is available. You can’t save bullets for a fight that may never happen. Pitch Harvey until you can’t. Then count on the next wave of arms to step up and do the job.

In a season where the team has pressed all the right buttons, and come up winners more often than not even when they don’t, they should not overthink the Harvey situation. It’s a team game, and the Mets have the depth to overcome the absence of one pitcher, not matter how big a star he (or his agent) is.