Noah Syndergaard gets it, and is delivering it for the Mets in dominant fashion
The Mets have won the first two games of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs.
And they’ve done that all without even starting their ace. That comes on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Jacob deGrom.
Meanwhile, the Cubs will try to avoid falling down 3-0 in this best-of-seven NLCS having thrown their two best pitchers in Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, losing both of those games while being overmatched in the process.
That’s not at all meant to be a knock on either Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard, who by all accounts have pitched like dominant aces themselves.
But for Syndergaard in particular, he has shown the kind of baseball evolution pitchers don’t often show at such a young age, and on the grand stage of the playoffs at that.
On Sunday, he grew some more again with 5 2/3 mostly dominant innings against the Cubs for his first ever postseason win, once again pounding the strike zone with one blazing fastball after the next, dropping curveballs below the swing plane of each of the Cubs big bats, and striking out nine while allowing only three hits and a run.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Syndergaard explained after the win. “I feel like I battled the elements pretty well out there. It was a little cold, but I was able to stay loose in between innings and stay warm.”
What Syndergaard does so well – which is bring the heat – plays right into the Cubs weaknesses. They struggle against fastballs 94 mph and up, and Syndergaard averaged well over 98 mph with both his four-seam and two-seam fastball on Sunday night.
That made his change-up that much more effective. He threw nine of his change-ups for strikes, inducing five swings and misses and only two of the 15 change-ups he threw were put in play.
That change-up came in handy against Kyle Schwarber with Dexter Fowler on first and one out.
Said Syndergaard, “I knew he was probably sitting on fastball and he was going to gear up for it. I just liked changeup in that count right there because I knew he was probably sitting on a fastball and I had a base open. So why not, basically.”
That sequence to Schwarber was very representative of how far Syndergaard has come in such a short span of time. Not too long ago, he struggled with his pitch selection, leaning on one pitch or another too often and getting burned thanks to a lack of deviation in his sequences.
But as he’s done so often lately, he worked Schwarber backwards, starting him off with off-speed pitches to slow his bat down, then went to his blazing fastball to speed it up, only to slow it down with a big 3-2 pitch for the second out of the inning.
Recall, Syndergaard made his big league debut against the Cubs in early May at Wrigley Field. He was far more erratic that day but still managed to survive 5 1/3 innings.
But Syndergaard – who has grown more and more confident with each pitch he’s thrown – feels he’s an evolved pitcher himself since that cool night at Wrigley.
“I feel like a completely different pitcher now,” he said. “Being able to work with [Dan Warthen] has been a true joy being around Jacob and Matt and Matz, and even Bartolo, even though there’s a little bit of a language barrier, he’s a lot of fun to watch, and soak in as much knowledge as possible from those guys.”
“He gets it real fast,” said manager Terry Collins. “When he first got here you could see the power arm. I’m going to tell you, this guy sat on the bench. He pays attention, he listens, he asks questions. He got better real fast because he did what he’s supposed to do, and that’s learn things that he needed to work on.
“He picked up a two seamer in one bullpen session and it’s become a big pitch for him because he works at it,” Collins continued. “That’s what makes him really good. This guy is going to be an outstanding, outstanding pitcher for a long time. He’s big, he’s strong, hopefully we keep him healthy, and he has no fear. He’s not intimidated by anything. Of course when you’re that big you shouldn’t be intimidated by anything. But he’s legit.”
Maybe those other pitchers can all now learn a thing or two from Syndergaard, too.
The Mets pressed all the right buttons with Syndergaard, dating all the way back to last year. His 2014 season in Las Vegas was both challenging and humbling, and when he didn’t get the call last September to join the club when rosters expanded, he used that as motivation and a lesson to prove Sandy Alderson wrong, get to the big leagues and thrive as quickly as he could.
Syndergaard got it right out of the gate under Wally Backman in Las Vegas this year, got to the big leagues and hasn’t looked back.