By Paul West
With under two weeks left in the regular season, the group moonwalk that is the National Wild Card race remains at a standstill. The New York Mets are in a three-way tie with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, two other injury-riddled teams that alternate between glimpses of hope and head-scratching flashes of ineptitude. And while it behooves them to ignore the very thing I’m about to say, it remains true that because of scheduling and a few other factors, the odds still seem to favor the Mets to make it into the postseason.
This brings me to the one question that’s begun to make its way from distant consideration to outright planning states: who would start the Wild Card game for the Mets, should one come to pass? The prevailing wisdom has been that it should be Noah Syndergaard, the last man standing from the Mets’ highly touted Big Four staff of potential aces, and this is a hard one to refute. The man known as Thor has some of the best numbers in the league this year; he sports a 2.63 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP, with 210 strikeouts in just under 178 innings. But if you can believe it, Thor hasn’t really been his previously terrifying self on the mound this year. He’s struggled to put hitters away in two-strike counts, whereas last year two strikes meant certain doom for almost any batter he faced. He’s occasionally had precipitous in-game declines–and last but not least, there’s the matter of his occasional early-game blowups. They’ve been fewer and farther between than when he first came on the scene, but it remains somewhat true that on days when he doesn’t appear to have his best stuff, he can really get hit hard early on. Please do not make the mistake of thinking I’m disparaging Noah Syndergaard! But one of the primary reasons I’d come to see Jacob deGrom as the team’s de facto ace before his season-ending injury is that even when deGrom doesn’t have his best stuff, his ability to make in-game adjustments and Houdini his way into the middle innings is almost as amazing as his raw ability.
On the other hand, there’s Bartolo Colon. Colon, expected to begin the year as arguably the best fifth starter in baseball, has emerged as arguably the surest thing on the Mets’ staff. He’s had one or two blips, but has generally been metronomic from one start to the next, producing quality outings with middling strikeout numbers as he pitches to contact and always seems to keep the Mets in games. Like deGrom, he seems Houdini-like in his ability to wriggle his way out of trouble; only in Bartolo’s case, this guile doesn’t belie his years. At 43, the man known as Big Sexy is the Yoda of the Mets’ pitching staff, displaying athleticism that belies his oft-gif-ed frame. His numbers aren’t bad, either: he sports a 3.12 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, with 122 strikeouts in 184 innings. While Syndergaard is clearly the guy no other team wants to see penciled in as the opposing starter, Colon is the guy most likely to have them scratching and/or shaking their heads through five or six innings. And lest we forget, he made his way onto the All Star team this year.
Another argument for starting Colon in a potential play-in game is the threat potential of having Syndergaard in relief, as Terry Collins used him during last year’s postseason run. Syndergaard’s fastball routinely approaches 100 miles per hour, which would look like roughly 120 miles per hour after Colon’s death-by-a-thousand cuts pitching style, which relies on several different versions of the same pinpoint-accurate low-to-mid-90s fastball. Can you imagine having to make that adjustment? It would almost be unfair. Moreover, even on his best days, Thor’s pitch count often runs high relatively quickly. Colon tends to go deeper into games more easily, which makes it more likely that if he has a strong outing, the Mets wouldn’t need to tax their bullpen to make it to the Divisional Series.
It might seem counterintuitive at first, but Bartolo Colon might be the man for the job if the Mets make it to the Wild Card game.