|Zack Wheeler pitching to Curtis Granderson in the sixth inning Tuesday night. Photo by Jason Schott.
Zack Wheeler turned in his second straight superb outing since the Mets decided to keep him at the trade deadline despite heavy rumors that he would be dealt to a contender.
Well, in the past week, it is the Mets who are now contenders, and Wheeler threw eight shutout innings on Tuesday night in their 5-0 win over the Miami Marlins.
This comes after he threw seven shutout innings against the White Sox last Thursday in a 4-0 win, in which he scattered four hits, didn't walk anyone, and struck out seven.
The Mets have now taken three straight against Miami and go for the sweep on Wednesday afternoon. They have now won 12 of their last 13 to improve to 58-56, and are now just 1 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot behind Philadelphia. They are only 2 1/2 behind Washington for the top Wild Card berth, and they come to Citi Field for three games starting Friday night.
The Mets enter the final two months with a rotation that features, in addition to Wheeler, their only trade deadline acquisition in Marcus Stroman, reigning National League Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz.
That's as close to a group of five aces as any team has in baseball now, if not ever, and with the offense stepping up and the bullpen improved, the wins are starting to come in bunches.
Mets Manager Mickey Callaway said of the lift the team has gotten from keeping Wheeler, "There's no doubt that when you think about our rotation, it excites you, right. It's one of the best in baseball. I'd probably put it up there with anybody's, and they're pitching well right now. So, it was a huge jolt; I think when 4:01 hit that day (of the July 31 trade deadline), you saw a lot of excitement in the clubhouse and the guys have gone out there and backed up the moves that we didn't made or did make, and that's good to see...
"I think Zack loves it here, so I think he got a little bit of a jolt from not being traded, and I know the rest of the team did, and he does get to relax a little bit because he knows he's going to be here the rest of the year. He knows he's going to be pitching every fifth or sixth day, well, seventh day this time because we have two days off, and he's going to get after it and try to do something special with a pretty good special group of teammates."
Wheeler was superb in this one despite allowing eight hits, including one each in the first six innings and two in the seventh. He managed to get out of trouble each time by inducing two double plays, and then a freaky play in the third when Miguel Rojas hit into a force out, then get tagged out while on the ground after rounding first base before he suffered a leg injury. That was not ruled a double play, but may as well have been.
Wheeler improved to 9-6 with the win and lowered his ERA to 4.20. He has allowed two-earned-runs-or-less in five of his last seven starts, with four victories in that span.
Callaway said of Wheeler's efficiency, as he threw just 101 pitches (72 strikes) in his eight innings of work, "Get ground balls, tons of ground ball outs, you know, they got a lot of leadoff hitters on, whether it was a basehit the other way, a walk, but he got the groundball that he needed. He really utilized those slick middle infielders that we put out there today and those guys did a good job behind him."
Callaway was referring to Luis Guilorme at second base, one of the platoon that will be filling in for Robinson Cano, who went on the injured list Monday, and Adeiny Hechavarria, who was at shortstop as Amed Rosario had the night off.
On the effect having them in the middle infield did for Wheeler, Callaway said, "Yes, getting more contact, but just, you know, okay, I'm going to get a ground ball here, it's not that easy. He's obviously aware that when you have those guys in the infield that, hey, you know what, just execute a pitch and then we got a pretty good chance to handle it."
The Mets gave Wheeler early support as Todd Frazier had an RBI double in the first and Wilson Ramos hit a three-run home run to right center field in the third inning that made it 4-0. Alonso hit a solo homer, his 36th of the season, into the left field corner (the same spot he hit his game-winner on Monday night) in the fifth to make it 5-0.
This was the sixth straight game the Mets scored first in, and Callaway said of what that early run support does for his pitchers, "We have done that, that's how you get on a roll, especially when you have the starters that we have. They get down over there and they know they have to face Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman and Wheeler and Matz. That makes it tough, and it also allows our pitchers to relax a little bit and just execute pitches and not worry about one pitch beating you, so it's definitely the key to winning games. You've got to score first and we've been doing that."