NEW YORK -- The Mets’ unsuccessful pursuit of Trevor Bauer this winter was supposed to end their chances of constructing a super-rotation. Yes, the Mets still had Jacob deGrom and several other well-regarded pitchers, but without Bauer, they were not supposed to possess one of the league’s best starting fives.
And yet after Marcus Stroman again pitched into the seventh inning in their 4-1 win over the Padres on Saturday, the Mets found themselves with three starters in the Top 15 in the Majors in ERA: deGrom, first at 0.56; Taijuan Walker, sixth at 2.07; and Stroman, 14th at 2.32. No other team has three qualified pitchers even in the Top 25.
“We knew what we were capable of, to be honest, from the very start,” Stroman said. “It’s just a matter of going out there.”
Stroman’s excellence is unlike anything he’s accomplished previously in his career, even though most of his underlying numbers -- his strikeout, walk and home-run rates, specifically -- are in line with his previous norms. Be that as it may, the Mets are most interested in the finished product, which has been routinely excellent. Stroman scattered six hits on Saturday -- five singles and a Fernando Tatis Jr. second-deck homer -- with eight strikeouts and only one walk over 6 1/3 innings.
“To be able to throw six-plus each time … that says a lot about him,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “Hats off to him.”
It was Lindor who provided early support at Citi Field with a two-run homer off Joe Musgrove in the first, and that was all the pitching quartet of Stroman, Aaron Loup, Seth Lugo and Edwin Díaz needed. That’s typically been the case when one of the Mets’ top three starters have pitched. Combined, deGrom, Stroman and Walker have produced a 1.69 ERA in 34 starts. All other Mets starters have combined for a 5.65 mark.
To that end, the Mets’ rotation is far from perfect, despite its league-leading 2.79 ERA overall. Back-end starters David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi have proven inconsistent enough that their roles have come into question over the first two-plus months of the season. The Mets are also lacking rotation depth, with neither Carlos Carrasco nor Noah Syndergaard due back from the injured list any time soon. Earlier this week, acting general manager Zack Scott acknowledged that the Mets will likely shop for starting help before the July 30 Trade Deadline.
In the interim, there’s no need for Scott to do anything rash; New York’s top three starters have kept the club not just afloat, but in first place in the NL East for five consecutive weeks. Consistency such as Stroman’s has eased pressure off the bullpen, despite a slew of brief starts from Peterson and Lucchesi. When the Mets do ask their bullpen to assume a heavy load, the group is generally well-rested enough to handle it thanks to the efforts of deGrom, Stroman and Walker.
“It’s just huge,” manager Luis Rojas said. “Especially with some of the doubleheaders that we have ahead, if we keep throwing the ball like that, it’s something that we can definitely battle through and be in a winning position. So those guys have been huge. Those guys have been horses for us.”
This isn’t exactly how the Mets drew things up at the outset of the winter, though they were glad when Stroman accepted their $18.9 million qualifying offer to return to Flushing. That gave the Mets enough leverage to work the free-agent market at their own pace, which led to interest in names ranging from Jake Odorizzi to James Paxton and eventually Bauer, who rejected their nine-figure offer to sign with the Dodgers instead. Only then did the Mets pivot toward Walker, who has turned into one of the game’s best free-agent bargains at two years and $20 million.
The mix has worked wonders, with deGrom, Stroman and Walker accounting for 72 percent of the Mets’ rotation innings. The team has now allowed three runs or fewer in 11 consecutive home games, its longest such streak since 1968. Not surprisingly, New York’s top three starters have pitched in eight of the 11.
“I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from [deGrom],” Stroman said. “Same thing with Tai. … I mean, I love this team, man. We have a great flow and a great camaraderie and a great vibe going on.”