Just a few days after going toe-to-toe with Chris Sale and less than 24 hours after watching his team pull an extra-innings victory from the hands of his fellow Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom got back on the saddle for his 31st start of the season. Through seven innings last night, deGrom allowed just one run on three hits and a walk while striking out eight. With four supporting runs beneath him (the most he’s received since an August 13 start in the Bronx), the ace cruised through another remarkable outing.
DeGrom extended his record streak of three or fewer runs allowed to a 28th consecutive start, but also put another stamp on his historic season last night, setting a single-season record with his 23rd quality start in a row. If the season were to end today, deGrom would be the third pitcher since 1908 to finish a year with a sub-2 ERA along with 250 strikeouts and fewer than 50 walks.
Currently at 1.77, deGrom would need to allow five runs without recording an out in his next (and final start) to push his ERA above the threshold. As for walks, the righty is currently at 46. He did issue four passes in a start as recent as August 23 against the San Francisco Giants, but with a rate of just 1.5 per nine innings over his last six starts, deGrom would need to lay an uncharacteristically bad egg to fall out of an exclusive place in the record books alongside Christy Mathewson and Pedro Martinez.
As for last night itself, deGrom’s only notable hangup came in the second inning. After making quick work of Victor Robles (strikeout swinging on a 98 mph fastball), Trea Turner (6-3 groundout), and Bryce Harper (strikeout swinging on a 99 mph fastball down the middle), deGrom shelled out 27 pitches (just 15 strikes) as the lone Washington run came across. The frame had its parallels to his third inning last Sunday against the Red Sox when three runs scored on three hits (one a two-run homer off the bat of Brock Holt).
Naturally, however, as deGrom induced a loud flyout and got back into a habit of throwing strikes (just as he had in Boston), things worked themselves out. He had walked Anthony Rendon to open the inning and fell behind 3-0 to his next hitter, Juan Soto, before the 19-year old ripped a single into right to put men on the corners.
Ryan Zimmerman flew out to the warning track in center field not too long after, but with an out under his belt and a lone runner on first, deGrom became more comfortable. Wilmer Difo nubbed into a 6-4 forceout before being picked off to end the inning. And after New York plated three runs off Joe Ross to give deGrom some breathing room before getting back into the driver’s seat, the mechanism that has spoiled us all season flipped back into action.
Over his next five innings, deGrom faced 17 batters. He retired 13 of his last 14, striking out six while allowing two groundball base hits and nothing else. He threw 43 of his last 62 pitches for strikes, ultimately ending his night at 64 of 98. His pitch count ranged between 10 and 15 in this time, just another testament to the sort of efficiency he’s demonstrated in situations that have varied in terms of both competition and endurance.
Despite entering the contest with the third-lowest strikeout-rate and second-highest walk-rate in the National League, Washington had no answer for deGrom, even in his more vulnerable moments in the second inning. At .374, the Nationals have the NL’s highest RISP on-base percentage since the start of the second half. To break this down into a layperson’s terms, the Nats didn’t fail to score because it failed to score: they failed to score because they ran into an utter buzzsaw.
“Honestly, I try not to think about it. I just try and get prepared for my next start,” deGrom offered when asked for his thoughts on the discussion surrounding his name as an elite pitcher this season. “I’m very fortunate to be able to throw the ball pretty well this year. I just try to learn from the outings that I’ve had and go out there and continue to throw the ball well.”
“When I’m reflecting on the season, it may sink in a little bit. But you gotta get prepared for the next season,” he added. “I think for me this year, paying more attention to how I’m getting guys out, having a better game plan, reading swings, just continuing to try finding ways to get better at this game.
This was the 62nd time in his first 138 career games that deGrom has notched a start allowing one run or no runs. Since 1908, no pitcher has accomplished as many across that same sample. And with his 259 strikeouts on the year, he has now moved up to fifth on the Mets’ single-season leaderboard behind a pair of seasons from Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, sitting just nine strikeouts behind Gooden in 1985 – his Cy Young season.
The expectation, per deGrom, is that he will get one more start at home against the Atlanta Braves. With their current lead of seven and a half games over the Philadelphia Phillies, there’s little chance the Mets will be gearing up to play spoiler. Even so, deGrom has a lot riding on his last start. Between coming away with double-digits in wins, adding to his impressive strikeout totals, and preserving the streaks and records he has built up to this point, a pitcher often commended for his ability to finish strong will now be tasked with wrapping up something even greater.
As for the Cy Young race itself, we’d like to think that discussion has already been settled.