Jacob deGrom excellent in return, but Mets still lose

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MLB: New York Mets at Washington NationalsUSATSI

For the first time since July 7, 2021, Jacob deGrom took the mound for the Mets in big-league action. He looked exactly like the deGrom we saw last season, really, which was aesthetically pleasing. 

After all, deGrom is still arguably the best pitcher in baseball when he’s healthy. Given that his 2021 season ended prematurely due to elbow issues and the injury he suffered in spring training was to his shoulder, seeing deGrom look like his old self was not a foregone conclusion by any stretch of the imagination. He did, though, even in a Mets loss. (We’ll get to that.) 

In five innings of work, deGrom allowed just one run on three hits. He struck out six and didn’t walk anyone. He only needed 59 pitches to get through those five innings. His fastball averaged 99.7 miles per hour, topping out at 101.6. He got seven swings-and-misses out of the 21 sliders he threw. 

As I said — other than the abbreviated pitch count — this was same old Jacob deGrom. 

Unfortunately for deGrom and his teammates, the rest of the game unfolded in somewhat familiar fashion as well. It was a 5-1 loss to a hapless Nationals team that just traded their two best offensive players, including a generational talent in Juan Soto. The Mets’ only run was a solo homer from Francisco Lindor. They only managed five hits. The bullpen coughed up four runs in the two innings followed deGrom’s removal. 

I couldn’t help but think back to 2018 and 2019. 

Remember those two seasons from deGrom? Remember how the Mets couldn’t win at a consistent clip in spite of how amazingly dominant he was? It was so remarkable it was laughable. 

In 2018, deGrom had a 1.70 ERA. Aaron Nola of the Phillies was second in the NL at 2.37 while Max Scherzer sat at 2.53. No one else in the league was within a run of deGrom. It wasn’t a small workload, either, as deGrom’s 217 innings trailed only Scherzer’s 220 2/3. And yet, the Mets went 14-18 in deGrom’s starts that year. They lost two games in which he went at least seven innings and allowed zero runs. Eighteen times he gave up either zero or one run and they lost eight of those. In 2019, deGrom wasn’t quite as good. He had a 2.43 ERA (169 ERA+) in 204 innings, striking out an NL-best 255. The Mets, again, coincidentally, went 14-18 in his starts. Seven times he went seven innings and didn’t allow a run and the Mets still managed to lose twice. They lost twice when he gave up one run and six times when he allowed two. 

Things got better on this front in 2020 and 2021 and we knew it was a quirky coincidence all along. No one should believe this is something that will continue. It’s not a predictive occurrence. 

The biggest takeaway for the Mets on Tuesday should be that deGrom looked great and that gives them the best 1-2 punch in baseball along with Scherzer. They are still in first place, too. It was just a little too familiar to see the rest of the team perform so poorly for deGrom in his return. 

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