The Mets sandwiched four terrific starts (in wins) between two sub-par efforts (in losses). We can call coincidence that those sub-par efforts came with Noah Syndergaard pitching to Wilson Ramos.
But that would necessitate us taking up residence in the land of unreality with Mickey Callaway.
Before Friday’s series opener against the Dodgers, the Mets manager described Syndergaard as someone who “doesn’t let anything affect him,” when Callaway has been the sounding board (and at times yelling board) for Syndergaard’s stated desire to not pitch to Ramos. Callaway also continued to call Syndergaard “one of the five best pitchers pretty much on the planet,” which has only been tenable to believe the past three years when the righty has pitched to Tomas Nido or Rene Rivera.
That Ramos was again catching Syndergaard on Friday was negligence, obstinance or belligerence on the part of the Mets. If it was punishment, then it did the most damage to the Mets’ thin playoff hopes.
Would Syndergaard have pitched better in what became a 9-2 Dodgers triumph had Nido or Rivera caught him? That is unknowable. What is understood is Syndergaard’s comfort level and stat line are far superior with Nido or Rivera. These past two starts with Ramos were identical five-inning, four-run, one-homer results — and Mets defeats.
Before and after the last one against the Phillies, Syndergaard let the Mets know of his disenchantment with the pairing. And then — via an exclusive in The Post — the displeasure became public. And still the Mets gave Nido to Marcus Stroman for a second straight start, when minor finagling would have teamed Syndergaard with one of his preferred catchers.
Perhaps the Mets felt the need to get Stroman going or they see Stroman, but not Syndergaard, as part of the 2020 team. Yet why devalue Syndergaard’s trade value? More pertinent in real time: Why unsettle him when every game is so precious right now? This loss dropped the Mets three games out of the second NL wild card with 15 to play.
Callaway said Syndergaard made two bad pitches, but one was a tantalizing hanging curve that Gavin Lux swatted for a three-run homer to break a 1-1 tie in the fourth. Maybe that occurs with Nido or Rivera. But here are facts: Syndergaard has allowed 15 homers in 405 plate appearances (one every 27) with Ramos and three in 264 with Nido or Rivera (one every 88).
It seems anyone can catch Syndergaard when he is humming, as he was the first three innings, with a J.D. Davis first-inning homer off Clayton Kershaw providing a 1-0 lead. But a one-out, 10-pitch walk by Cody Bellinger in the fourth turned the game. Suddenly, Syndergaard was not humming. He clearly is rattled by the running game, and the next two batters hit singles with men in motion. That brought in one run for a tie. Lux, the next batter, brought in three and the Dodgers were off to a rout.
Asked if such tense, action-filled situations are when Syndergaard needs one of his security blanket catchers most, Callaway said, “That is a better question for Noah.” But, really, the answer is something a manager should know for how to make out a lineup. Of course, he wants Ramos’ offense, but what is the good is it if Syndergaard is letting games get away because of lack of faith in the defense?
Syndergaard was in defuse-and-downplay mode about who caught him in the fourth, saying, “It just comes down to me executing pitches.”
Which is true. This is not an attempt to exonerate Syndergaard. He is a talented guy whose best is needed, especially now, regardless of who is catching. But Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation and when he was Syndergaard’s age, he insisted on throwing to A.J. Ellis, a light-hitting backup. A main task of a manager is putting players in position to succeed — and that is not happening currently with Syndergaard.
Before the game, Callaway gave among his longest, most meandering responses in two years as Mets manager to a few questions related to Syndergaard and Ramos, sounding as if he were trying to convince himself or reporters or simply protesting too much about why The Odd Couple was being renewed Friday night. Callaway knows the numbers. Syndergaard’s ERA with Ramos is now 5.20. It is 2.17 in 22 career games with Nido; 2.52 in 29 games with Rivera. Syndergaard’s best stretch this year came when he was paired with Nido for seven straight starts.
This is not coincidence. The Mets can continue the negligence or obstinance or belligerence. But the biggest loser in that case is not Syndergaard. It is his employer and manager.
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