The ace of the Yankees staff, Luis Severino, threw 100 pitches on Saturday, didn't make it to the sixth inning and got his 16th win anyway. Because of the lousy month Severino just had, it was treated as if Severino was back on the road to Monument Park. By the way, it's worth noting that before Severino hit the skids around the All-Star break, a lot was being made of the fact that Pedro Martinez had helped Severino become a better pitcher -- helped him out with "stuff."
On the same Saturday, the ace of the Mets and the whole sport right now, Jacob deGrom, pitched a complete game against the Phillies, struck out nine and lowered his ERA to 1.71 while picking up just his eighth win of the season to go with seven losses. Forget about the won-loss record. deGrom isn't working on his "stuff" with Martinez. He's been pitching like Martinez all season.
But deGrom's Mets are 53-69, and they're a lot closer to last place in the National League East than they are first place. But they are still a team to watch when deGrom gets the ball. At least once a week, he makes their season matter. He is the pitching star of baseball in either league, which means even in Max Scherzer's league.
I believe Chris Sale, when healthy, has been the best pitcher in the American League. But who knows what Sale does the rest of the way now that he was placed back on the disabled list on Saturday with left shoulder inflammation. Even if deGrom ends up winning just 10 or 12 games this season -- Felix Hernandez once won the AL Cy Young Award at 13-12 in 2010 -- he is producing one of the great pitching seasons in Mets history. deGrom has pitched like an heir to Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden.
If you add up everything over the past several years, run all the numbers, Scherzer has been the best starting pitcher in baseball. He's 15-5 this season, which is some year -- just not deGrom's. Same with Aaron Nola of the Phillies, who is 14-3 with a 2.24 ERA. Eighteen years ago, when Martinez was pitching like a right-handed Sandy Koufax, thriving in an era before drug testing came to MLB, Martinez followed up a luminous 23-4 season in 1999 by going 18-6 for the Red Sox in '00.
Martinez finished '00 with a career-best 1.74 ERA, even better than the 1.90 he produced once with the Expos. Now, all this time later, with six weeks left in the regular season, deGrom's ERA is 1.71. He only gave up an unearned run against the Phillies in Saturday's 3-1 win. He returned after a 41-minute rain delay. He was nearly throwing 100 mph as he got to the end of his 108-pitch day.
The Mets scored just three runs for him, in a season when they've averaged 3.91 runs in games that deGrom has started. The Yankees, on average, score 2.53 runs more per game for Severino, their ace. The Yanks ended up scoring 11 runs in their win against the Blue Jays on Saturday.
Gooden's best ERA, in his spectacular, K Korner, 24-4 season in 1985, was 1.53. Seaver's best, in '71, was 1.74. Even with an 8-7 record, and even while getting pathetic run support for so much of this season, deGrom is breathing that kind of rarefied Mets air. It doesn't mean he is a lock to win the NL Cy Young Award. But he ought to be if he keeps pitching this way. At the end against the Phillies on Saturday, he wasn't giving up the ball. His last pitch of the day, which induced a groundout to Nick Williams, was his hardest of the entire afternoon: 99.1 mph, according to Statcast™.
"I think it's the same stuff we've seen all year," Mets manager Mickey Callaway told the media after the game.
"If we ended the season right now, he should win it," Callaway said the other day.
Callaway is right. He wants the NL Cy Young Award for his pitcher. His pitcher has made no secret of the fact that he wants it, too. In a season in which the Yankees are 31 games over .500 and still see themselves as a World Series team even if they have to start their postseason by playing in the AL Wild Card Game again, the best player in town has been the Mets' ace in a season that went off the rails after it began 11-1.
The award is supposed to go to the best pitcher in the league, and deGrom is the best pitcher in the league. He has the best ERA of any starting pitcher in either league. In his last 21 starts he has allowed just 23 earned runs and held opposing hitters to a .202/.250/.291 slash line. deGrom also paces all MLB pitchers with 6.6 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs.
As an old Mets fan I know said to me on Saturday, telling me that deGrom was doing it again against the Phillies: "Every five days we still have a season."
That's what deGrom has really become. He has become a silver lining in the Mets' lost season. They once called Seaver "The Franchise." This season, even with just eight wins, deGrom feels a little bit like that at Citi Field. If he's still pitching this way at the end of September, if he's still got an ERA south of 2.00 and doesn't win the NL Cy Young Award, the voters should take the language about that award going to the best pitcher and fold it into a paper airplane.