Mets vs. Noah Syndergaard: The disagreement that could cost them a playoff spot

NEW YORK – Noah Syndergaard and Mickey Callaway aren’t on the same page regarding the value of pairing Syndergaard with his preferred catcher, Tomas Nido.

And it was made clear again Friday.

Syndergaard would rather throw to Nido than the Mets’ starting catcher, Wilson Ramos. There’s a certain comfort level with Nido. Syndergaard also benefits from Nido’s ability to better frame the low ball.

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The Mets’ dilemma is that to appease Syndergaard and start Nido, it would leave Ramos, the NL’s hottest second-half hitter entering Friday, on the bench.

Callaway often says that Syndergaard can dominate no matter the catcher.

“My faith in Noah Syndergaard and who he is and what he can do probably pushes me toward Ramos,” Callaway said before the Mets faced the Dodgers on Friday night. “I don’t think Noah has to have a catcher. I think it’s about Noah Syndergaard and who he is and what he can do. I have faith he’s going to do that.”

Callaway and the front office ultimately have the final ruling, and yet again, they opted for Ramos’ bat over Syndergaard’s comfort.

And it didn’t work for the third straight time.

Syndergaard allowed four runs in five innings in the 9-2 loss at Citi Field, and now owns a 5.20 ERA spanning 16 starts with Ramos, including an 11.78 ERA over their last three pairings. Syndergaard allowed all four runs in the fourth with Gavin Lux’s three-run homer on a questionable 3-2 curveball giving the Dodgers a 4-1 lead.

The Mets (76-71) are now three games back of the second wild-card spot, and have been eliminated in the NL East race.

“Mechanically, I felt really good as far as I was able to keep my tempo up,” Syndergaard said. “I thought Wilson called a really good game, I felt we were meshing out there. Just wish I could have one pitch back.”

Is Syndergaard in the best position to succeed?

This situation regarding the use of a personal catcher can essentially be boiled down to a debate over what puts a team in the best position to succeed.

Syndergaard, who some believe overthinks things, believes he’s best positioned to win with Nido, and the numbers back that up.

He owns a 2.45 ERA in 10 starts with Nido this year.

There’s also the comfort level and trust that Syndergaard has with Nido, which can’t be quantified. He doesn’t have to worry about losing strikes because of poor framing. That allows for more confidence in his sinker.

That comfort level and drastic splits are why Syndergaard met with the coaches and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen regarding the team not pairing him with Ramos last Sunday, but it did not change their minds.

A strong argument could be made that having your starting pitcher at his best is what gives a team its best chance to win since the pitcher most affects a game.

“I’m under the impression when Mickey makes the lineup,” Syndergaard said, “he’s making the lineup to put the team in the best possible situation to win a ball game.”

The Mets certainly understand Syndergaard’s point of view. They even paired the two together nine times in an 11-game stretch to get him going.

This late in the season, the team is making it clear that they believe their best team has Ramos in the lineup, Syndergaard’s comfort level be damned.

The Mets also appear to be sending Syndergaard a message about who runs the show, which is why it appears Syndergaard won’t be a lifelong Met.

“I have faith in Noah that he’s going go out there and pitch a good game no matter who’s catching him,” Callaway said before the game. “I understand that Ramos is going to give us the best opportunity to score runs against Clayton Kershaw.”

Sep 13, 2019; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (34) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 13, 2019; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (34) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A questionable curveball

Syndergaard and Ramos worked well for three innings Friday, but it fell apart in the fourth inning. Cody Bellinger worked a 10-pitch walk with one out, and two batters later, A.J. Pollock ripped an RBI single to even the game at 1-all.

Syndergaard then battled Lux, a rookie, into a 3-2 count, and opted for a curveball, which he had only thrown four times in his previous 77 pitches.

The curveball did not dive and hung up in the zone, and Lux hit a 103-mph bullet that hit the black above the wall in center, giving the Dodgers a 4-1 lead.

The decision to use a curveball seemed odd considering Syndergaard throws it less than 10 percent of the time, according to BrooksBaseball.net, although it has been an effective pitch for him. Syndergaard did not throw another curveball.

“It wasn’t a very good (curveball),” Syndergaard said.

Ramos did reach base twice, showing why the Mets value his bat.

“I thought they did fine. Seemed the rhythm was good,” Callaway said. “Except for two pitches, it seemed to work out good.

Syndergaard’s next start is scheduled for Wednesday in Colorado – an unforgiving locale for any pitcher – and the Mets will either have to sit Ramos twice in five days or start Ramos in five straight games to pair Nido with Syndergaard.

Ramos’ bat has helped the Mets stay in the race, but they can’t afford to lose games due to poor performances from a starting pitcher.

The Syndergaard and Ramos connection just isn’t working right now.

A playoff spot could be decided on whether the Mets give in, even if Syndergaard said all the right things after the game.

“Today was a step in the right direction and that’s building a strong relationship,” Syndergaard said. “I look forward to many more outings with him.”

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