NEW YORK — On Friday night, Aaron Nola moved into a tie for the National League lead by earning his 16th victory.
On Saturday night, Max Scherzer not only broke that tie, he notched his 17th win by becoming the second pitcher in the NL to throw a second complete game this season.
Your move, Jacob deGrom.
The ace of the New York Mets will look to keep pace with his competition for the NL Cy Young Award on Sunday afternoon, when deGrom takes the mound in the finale of a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field.
DeGrom (8-8, 1.68 ERA) is scheduled to oppose the Phillies’ Vince Velasquez (9-10, 4.10) in a battle of right-handers.
The Mets evened the series Saturday night, when Todd Frazier hit a three-run homer and finished with four RBIs in a 10-5 victory. Noah Syndergaard earned the win by allowing four runs over a 6 2/3-inning stint that ended when he was hit in the right rib cage by a comebacker off the bat of Cesar Hernandez. X-rays were negative and Syndergaard expects to make his next start as scheduled.
The last two days have tightened a Cy Young Award race that has appeared to be tilting in deGrom’s direction over the last couple weeks. Nola’s win Friday snapped a two-start hiccup in which he went 0-1 while allowing seven runs over 12 2/3 innings. Scherzer’s victory ended a three-start winless streak in which he posted a 3.79 ERA.
DeGrom, meanwhile, has been doing all he can to take wins out of the equation. He once again didn’t earn a win for his efforts Monday, when he didn’t factor into the decision despite allowing one run on two hits over six innings in the Mets’ 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was the 25th straight start in which deGrom gave up three runs or fewer, which broke the modern record set by Dwight Gooden when he won the Cy Young Award for the Mets in 1985 and tied the major league record set by Leonard Cole of the Chicago Cubs in 1910. It was also his 20th straight quality start, breaking the team record set by Tom Seaver in 1973.
In addition, it was the 12th time this season deGrom has not earned a win despite pitching at least six innings and giving up two runs or fewer. Mets manager Mickey Callaway has been hoping for weeks deGrom’s tiny ERA — he is more than half a run better than Nola (2.29) and Scherzer (2.33) — will outweigh the lack of wins. No starting pitcher has ever won the Cy Young with fewer than 13 wins.
“He’s been the best pitcher in all of baseball,” Callaway told reporters Monday night. “It’s grit and determination. He just won’t be beaten.”
The Phillies (74-67) have not been quite as formidable over the past month. If Philadelphia can’t figure out a way to beat deGrom and the Mets (64-77) on Sunday, it will mark the 10th straight series in which Phillies have not earned a series victory.
Runs have been at a premium during the skid for the Phillies, who are averaging 3.7 runs per game over the last 30 contests. In hopes of reviving the offense, manager Gabe Kapler unveiled an unorthodox lineup Saturday, when usual first baseman Carlos Santana played third base and range-challenged Asdrubal Cabrera started at shortstop.
After the Phillies scored five runs Saturday, Kapler said he might be willing to sacrifice defense again Sunday.
“Going up against a pitcher like Syndergaard, going up (Sunday) against a pitcher like deGrom, you have to find a way to score runs,” Kapler said. “Sometimes that means making that tradeoff, putting your best offensive team on the field. We’ll think about doing it again tomorrow.”
Velasquez took the loss in his most recent start Monday, when he allowed three runs over five innings as the Phillies fell to the Marlins 3-1.
DeGrom is 7-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 14 career starts against the Phillies. Velasquez is 1-3 with a 3.78 ERA in seven career starts against the Mets.