New York Mets fans, have you ever done a jigsaw puzzle and spent hours looking for a single piece? You flip every piece over, looking at the shape, the color, the size. You hold each piece in the light just right so you can be sure that you're not overlooking the one that you need. Invariably, you give up, only to find the piece later, right in front of your face, when you least expect it.
Hovering around the .500 mark for the first third of the season, the Mets have been a puzzle themselves. Fans have bandied about potential trade targets and moves that the front office can make to kickstart a playoff push, but the answer to our prayers may have been right there all along.
Carlos Carrasco could be the piece the Mets have been looking for.
The Venezuelan right-hander has been a forgotten man in a Mets rotation that has been in a constant state of upheaval this season. Prized free agent acquisition Justin Verlander began the year on the IL. Max Scherzer did, too. Jose Quintana has yet to suit up. Kodai Senga has been solid but not ace material. David Peterson is best suited for the minors. Carrasco was extremely ineffective before hitting the IL in April, and even his first start back was less than encouraging.
As we reach the end of May, the fractured pieces of the Mets pitching staff have slowly started coming together. Verlander is back and looking like his old workhorse self. Scherzer is riding high after three consecutive stellar outings. Tylor Megill has quietly been extremely dependable. Senga continues to banish opposing hitters to the netherworld with his ghost fork.
In shutting down the Cubs over 6.2 innings last week, Carrasco looked like a completely different pitcher than the one that has been shelled like a bowl of pistachios in four previous starts this season. He kept the Cubs off balance all night, scattering five hits and two walks while striking out four. He made excellent and frequent use of his curveball, tripling its usage rate in this outing compared to the rest of the season.
It's easy to connect the dots and see that Carrasco really was hampered by the right elbow bone spur that sent him to the IL in mid-April. The 6.2 innings against the Cubs are the most he's thrown in a start since August 9th of last year, and his increased reliance on the curve is a great sign that he's now free of pain and able to throw all his pitches effectively, an auspicious omen going forward for both Carrasco and the Mets.
The Mets were able to tread water during a long stretch when much of their rotation was in shambles. Now the team is due to make a run. If Carrasco can return to the form that saw him post a 15-7 record last year, he could be one of the league's best fourth or fifth starters, and exactly the missing piece the Mets need.