Two things are guaranteed in Major League Baseball — the contracts, and the pain. The Mets guaranteed a record deal to Max Scherzer, who will turn 40 before it ends, to avoid the kind of pain they would feel if mounting injuries and diminishing faith cause them to lose the National League East to the Atlanta Braves.
So this is why they gave Scherzer a record $43.3 million annual wage over three seasons. Taijuan Walker goes down with back spasms after Carlos Carrasco goes down with an oblique strain after Luis Guillorme goes down with a groin strain, and suddenly the Braves are only 3 ½ games back with plenty of season to play, and with two more home games Wednesday and Thursday against the Mets.
Two more against Scherzer and Jacob deGrom.
It’s amazing how baseball can humble the best teams and the biggest payrolls in a flash, without warning. The 2022 Yankees were going to challenge the 1998 Yankees — winners of 114 regular-season games, and 125 in all after a World Series sweep of the Padres — until the sport turned against them and brought them to their knees.
Truth is, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the Yankees gathered themselves and won the whole thing. You can get red hot from 60 feet, 6 inches away as quickly as you got ice cold.Max Scherzer and Jacob deGromN.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; USA TODAY Sports
And the same goes for the Mets. Two butt-ugly losses to the second-place team and longtime nemesis don’t strip away the magic from this season in the sun. The Mets are still more likely than not to win their division for only the third time since the start of the Bush Administration — that would be George H.W., mind you, not George W.
They held a 10 ½-game lead over Atlanta at the start of June, watched it bleed down to a half-game, built it back up to seven games and now have squandered half of that spread. Of greater consequence is the damage done to the starting rotation. After Carrasco grabbed his left side in Monday night’s blowout and exited stage left before the third inning, the Mets sure didn’t need to see Walker pulling up lame after covering first base in the second inning of what would be a 5-0 defeat.
Buck Showalter tried to keep it light in the dugout, rubbing Darin Ruf’s shoulder in jest to “get him loose” for another relief appearance after his memorable 14-pitch outing in the series opener. But this was serious business. Asked after the game if Walker’s back spasms caused any reason for concern, Showalter shot an incredulous look and responded, “Sure there is.”
There’s always reason for concern in baseball. Walker said he’s never before felt what he felt when his back locked up, and so out of the bullpen came a guy with a 7.39 career ERA named R.J. Alvarez, sorta ready to pitch in the bigs for the first time in seven years.
“At some point this year,” Showalter had said during one of his team’s many winning streaks, “things will go sideways. They always do.”
Things have gone sideways over the last 48 hours, and that’s OK. This is why you sign an aging Max Scherzer for 130 million bucks.
Max and Jake. Jake and Max. Who knows how many games and series this terminating tandem will stay intact for, especially given deGrom’s injury history and his desire to opt out of his deal at season’s end? Odds are that deGrom will want stay in Queens with Scherzer, and that the game’s richest owner, Steve Cohen, will pay whatever it takes to get it done.
But strange things can go down in free agency. And there’s always a healthy market for greatness, whether through a straight-cash offseason signing or an in-season trade. Scherzer is on his fifth team, and he’s in the E-ZPass lane to the Hall of Fame.
In other words, Max and Jake need to make it happen right now. This is their window of opportunity. They need to carry the Mets from here, protect them and nurture them and drop them gently into the uber-reliable hands of Edwin Diaz, with maybe a one-inning bridge manned by the Ottavinos and Lugos and Mays between them.
Scherzer and deGrom might not get another chance to be healthy at the same time, in the same rotation for a first-place team in mid-August that seems to be among five or six with a legit shot to win the whole thing. As Showalter said, “You never assume anything, and we certainly don’t.” The 2015 Mets thought they were just getting started when they lost the World Series to Kansas City, and the franchise has seen a grand total of one postseason game since.
Tuesday night, the Mets couldn’t do anything against Charlie Morton, who struck out 12 and surrendered only three hits and one walk in 6 ²/₃ innings. The Mets have been outscored 18-1 in these two games, and they need a spark. Maybe the kid third baseman, Brett Baty, will provide that spark when he shows up at the ballpark in Atlanta.
Either way, this much is clear: The Mets overcame significant injuries to deGrom and Scherzer, so there’s no reason the two aces can’t help them overcome significant injuries to lesser lights.
Max and Jake. Jake and Max. It’s a hell of an insurance policy the Mets bought to protect against the pain.