Heading into Thursday night, the Toronto Blue Jays had won seven games in a row and 10 of their last 11, pulling within a game and a half of the New York Yankees for the second Wild Card berth in the American League.
The Jays have overcome injuries, playing home games in two different countries, and the toughest division in baseball to put themselves in the mix for the playoffs.
Offensively, the Jays have everything.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. is one of the frontrunners in the AL MVP race, Marcus Semien is chasing the single-season record for home runs by a second baseman, and when George Springer has been healthy, he’s been incredibly impactful.
Toronto leads the AL in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS, while ranking in the top five in batting average, on-base percentage, and RBI.
But, they should be seven games better based on their Pythagorean W-L record, which factors in runs scored and runs allowed.
While the Jays have very solid pitching numbers overall, they haven’t gotten great starting pitching. Robbie Ray has been their best, going 11-5 with a 2.60 ERA.
Just imagine where Toronto might be, had they held on to a pair of MLBbros who were just starting to come into their own.
Marcus Stroman and Tai Walker have been holding it down all season in Queens; keeping the New York Mets in contention for the National League East while staff ace Jacob deGrom has battled injuries all season long.
But from 2014-19, Marcus Stroman was a member of the Blue Jays, finishing in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting in 2017 and making the All-Star team in 2019.
Walker joined Toronto’s staff during 2020’s shortened-season, going 2-1, with a 1.37 ERA in six starts.
Stroman was traded during his All-Star campaign and Walker wasn’t offered a contract last offseason.
The Stro Show could still be headlining in Toronto. Stroman’s 9-12 record hasn’t reflected just how good he’s been for the Mets.
New York has only provided him with an average of 3.78 runs when he takes the hill.
It’s lucky to be that high, considering the Mets have scored two runs or less in 15 of his 29 starts, including one or less 10 times.
Stroman has gotten a total of 14 runs from his offense in his 12 losses.
In contrast, the Blue Jays have scored two runs or less as a team only 20 times all season.
Stroman also still ranks in the top ten in ERA in the National League (2.93) and gives the Mets Gold Glove-caliber defense.
No doubt that he could have picked up a few more wins wearing his old powder blues.
Tai Walker made his first All-Star team this season, as he got off to a 7-3 start, but has struggled during the second half of the season. Walker hasn’t won a game since he beat the Yankees on July 3.
But run support has been an issue for him as well. In 13 of his 25 starts, the Mets have put of three or fewer runs. Just like with Stroman, more often than not, his teammates have given him below average support.
Both Stroman and Walker would likely have better numbers had Toronto held on to them. But they didn’t.
Maybe the Blue Jays have enough to keep pushing and make it back to the playoffs.
However, if they don’t, they can look about 500 miles to the southeast and find what they were missing.
In a series that included two walk-off-hits, saw a pitcher strike out 10 batters in a row, one of the greatest catches of the year, and two Black Knights on the mound — the Bro’s involved in this weekend’s Phillies vs Mets matchup put on a show for baseball fans.
The Mets vs Phillies rivalry is one of the best in the sports and has not lacked any intensity when they have faced off this season. Flashback to April 30th when Dominic Smith squared off against Philadelphia reliever Jose Alvarado in the 8th inning of a one-run game with two on and two outs.
Alvarado got the best of Smith in this matchup and struck him out and started immediately smack-talking him.
Benches would clear and although no punches were thrown this war was far from over.
Well, during game one of Friday’s doubleheader at Citi Field, Smith would finally get his revenge. It was a low-scoring affair as Taijuan Walker and Aaron Nola battled each other on the mound. Nola had a performance for the ages as he tied Tom Seaver for the most consecutive strikeouts in MLB history with 10.
Despite the performance of his counterpart, Walker battled on the bump on his way to recording his sixth quality start in a row and kept the Mets in striking distance for the win. He finished with five strikeouts in five innings and allowed one run on three hits and a walk.
He now has the 12th lowest ERA in the league at 2.38.
The Mets would have the last laugh in game one.
Dominic Smith stepped up to the plate on extra innings with two runners on and delivered a game-winning walk-off single. Smith is 5-for-22 in his last seven games and will be an important piece in New York’s lineup and their ability to win the National League East.
Later on Friday night during game two of the doubleheader, former National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen showed us he still possesses the athleticism that made him one of the best players in all of baseball.
A ball was hit high and deep out to left field and McCutchen, as cool, calm and collected as can be made a leaping catch at the wall to keep the game tied. He got up and hit the Mets with a Jordan shoulder shrug for good measure.
A few days earlier McCutchen hit a grand slam in a thrilling game to close out their series against the Nationals. He finished this weekend’s series 4-for-9 scoring three runs, stealing two bases and collecting an RBI.
To cap off the weekend the other half of the Mets Black Knight combination Marcus Stroman took the mound and struggled for the second start in a row. He exited his start on Tuesday with a hip injury after only throwing one inning where he walked two batters.
Sunday’s start was his worst of the season. Before Tuesday’s game, Stroman had registered 10 quality starts in a row and done so in 13 of 14 appearances. Stroman lasted just three innings, giving up three walks, five hits, two runs, and striking out three.
Stroman and Walker have been excellent this season, throwing behind ace Jacob DeGrom, who has a chance at winning this year’s Cy Young award. But we still have more than half of the year to go so both will need to keep up the great pace they have set for themselves.
Stroman’s next start will come Saturday in a Subway Series battle against the New York Yankees while Walker gets his next start Wednesday against the Braves. Andrew McCutchen and his Phillies will host Jazz Chisholm and the Miami Marlins this week after a matchup with the Reds.
The Mets are still holding on to first place in the National League East, 3.5 games up on the second-place Braves, and the only team in the division with a winning record. They’ve done this despite having more people on the injured list than in the dugout at times, and an offense that sits near the bottom of the NL in home runs, and ranks dead last in runs batted in.
But on the mound, New York has dominated. Their 3.19 staff ERA trails only the San Diego Padres. No one has had a bigger impact on those impressive pitching numbers than Stroman and Walker, two of the three Mets hurlers who have made at least 10 starts this season.
They are tied with Jacob deGrom for the team lead in wins (4), and their names can be found across the pitching leaderboards.
Both rank in the National League’s Top 20 in earned run average and innings pitched. They carry matching 1.06 WHIP ratings and between them, batters are hitting a combined .221.
Another rising Black star, Jack Flaherty, is probably the early front-runner for Cy Young honors, but no pair of pitchers have had to shoulder a bigger burden than Stroman and Walker.
The timing of their mutual ascensions couldn’t be better.
Marcus Stroman Gambles On Himself
Stroman faced doubts after opting out of the 2020 season. During his time away from the daily grind of the season, he made himself a better pitcher, adding a split changeup to his repertoire. Utilizing his splitter in tandem with his sinker, he’s been able to keep batters from squaring up and off the bases, even without the high strikeout numbers that have permeated all of baseball.
Stro has matured as well; something he spoke about before the season began.
“I’m the kind of person who is always working on myself as well,” he told Metsmerized Online. “Whether it be my self-care, whether it be my mind, whether it be my breathing, I’m always trying to improve. Not only in the field, but in life.”
That improved mental toughness showed when deGrom went down with an injury. Stroman picked up the slack and then some. In 11 starts, he’s given up more than three runs only twice.
One of baseball’s smallest pitchers in stature, he’s also been able to eat innings and protect the New York bullpen, going at least six innings nine times.
Tai-Walking On These Haters
Walker has been a much bigger surprise. He’s already won as many games this season as he had in the last three seasons combined. Injuries robbed him of some precious development time just when he appeared to be tapping into his potential.
The curve of his career was bending towards success, with an earned run average that has decreased from 4.56 in 2015 to 2.17 this year.
But, after a 2017 campaign that saw him go 9-9 in 28 starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks, he tore the UCL in his right elbow and, after Tommy John surgery, was only able to make four starts over the next two years.
After starting the year with the Seattle Mariners, Walker rounded into shape during the second half of last season. He was able to give the Toronto Blue Jays some solid outings and finished with a 2-1 record and 1.37 ERA in six appearances.
There wasn’t much of a market for him though, as teams were worried if he could be counted on as a rotation regular.
Before his own trip to the injured list, he was erasing all doubts.
Top-3 lowest wOBAs against a pitcher's 4-seam fastball this season (min. 50 PAs ending with a 4-seamer):
In his nine prior starts, he allowed more than three runs one time.
Over five starts in May, Walker went 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA. Opposing hitters were left flailing, batting .156 against him. His WHIP was an obscene 0.71.
Walker, like Stroman, doesn’t rely on overpowering stuff. He pitches. He changes locations and speeds and makes quick work of each lineup he faces.
History In The Making
Two unlikely heroes in Gotham have made the Mets exciting again.
If New York can regain its health, and find its offense, a division title could be forthcoming for the first time since 2015, when the Mets advanced to the World Series. Then, whoever the Mets face could have to deal with deGrom, Stroman, and Walker twice in a seven-game series.
Good luck with that. Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker are on the verge of something special, and quite possibly, historic.