Over the offseason, confident in his roster but understanding the need for improvements, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen signed three players to contracts of at least seven figures. The largest guarantee went to Dellin Betances, who agreed to $10.5 million plus loads of incentives. Next was Rick Porcello, at $10 million. The third, Michael Wacha, inked a $3 million contract with enough incentives to more than triple in value.
That $23.5 million outlay represented a bona fide path to improvement for the Mets, who hoped to jump from third place in the NL East to first. And perhaps they still can. But after Wacha allowed five runs in a 7-1 loss to the Braves on Saturday, dropping the Mets to their fourth consecutive defeat -- the equivalent of 11 straight losses in a 162-game season -- that prospect took another hit.
Fifteen percent of the way through the season, Betances, Porcello and Wacha have combined for a 9.87 ERA.
“It can be frustrating, but that’s the best part about this game -- we’ve got another one tomorrow where we can get right back on track,” Wacha said. “We’ve got to be able to flush it.”
Sharp in his first start of the season earlier this week in Boston, Wacha struggled from the jump at Truist Park. Marcell Ozuna greeted him with a two-run homer in the first inning, followed by a three-run Braves rally in the third. Although Wacha was able to find a better feel for his signature changeup after that, the damage was already done; the Mets did not score at all against Braves starter Touki Toussaint, who went four innings.
“Right from the start, I felt like I was just a little bit sloppy with the mechanics, with the execution, with the intent on pitches,” Wacha said. “It’s just got to be a lot more on point with everything than what I showed out there today.”
The brightest spot for the Mets was rookie reliever Franklyn Kilome, who allowed two runs in four innings and struck out five in his big league debut, but by that point, the Mets were already behind by plenty. Again.
Through nine games, there has been no singular culprit. In his first two starts, Porcello lasted two and four innings, respectively, allowing a total of 11 runs (nine earned). Wacha gave the Mets a strong outing in his debut, but he backed it up with Saturday’s abbreviated start. Betances struggled to regain his old velocity in Spring Training and Summer camp; on Friday, he also battled control issues, walking two batters during a four-run blowup.
Combined, the slow starts have played a significant role in the Mets’ losing record, which seems magnified in the context of a 60-game season.
“We’re just not combining the whole thing together,” manager Luis Rojas said.
Over the winter, the Mets had reason to think this might shake out differently. Wacha, though injury-prone in recent seasons, was an All-Star as recently as 2015 and a consistent contributor to the Cardinals when healthy. Porcello, despite posting a Major League-high 5.52 ERA last season, is a former American League Cy Young Award winner who, even in his worst seasons, has consistently sopped up innings. Betances was once one of the game’s most electric relievers; the Mets had hoped the shoulder and Achilles injuries that kept him sidelined for nearly the entire 2019 season wouldn’t affect him much in 2020.
There is still time for all three of them to turn it around, but the Mets don’t have the luxury of a six-month season to wait. They need production from their offseason acquisitions, and soon, if they are to make good on that promise.
“We’ve been in position to win games,” Rojas said. “At this point, we’re nine games in now. … We need to recover this, quickly, because we have a game tomorrow. There aren’t many days off. We need to stay consistent doing what we do, getting prepared the way we get prepared, and being able to identify the things that can be hurting us.”