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Noah’s Arc

Somewhere around the midpoint of today’s Mets-Giants game, I was asked what’s been wrong with Noah Syndergaard [1] this year.

I wasn’t sure what to say. After all, there Noah was, throwing 99 MPH fastballs and 92 MPH sliders. There he was pushing for his 10th win pitching for a terrible team, and mowing down Giant after Giant.

And yet it wasn’t a crazy question. We saw him labor against the Cubs, and we’ve all had the sense that somehow, Noah is less than he’s been. Not so long ago he looked destined to redefine what a classic power pitcher looked like, taking the classic arsenal and amping up its numbers, then combining it with tactical brilliance and that certain meanness that every ace needs.What happened instead was that he got hurt, first seriously and then naggingly. And the Syndergaard who returned seemed to be missing that tantalizing something.

My answer, arrived at fumblingly, was that Syndergaard was mostly dealing with messy mechanics because he’d been denied the long strings of regular, uninterrupted starts a pitcher needs for consistency and confidence. But I added that I also thought Syndergaard had come down with a touch of Ron Darling [2] Syndrome, complicating his approach in a way that was a credit to his intellect but might work against his raw talent. To oversimplify a bit, in learning more about pitching, Syndergaard might have neglected throwing.

I was neither satisfied with that answer nor particularly confident in it. Maybe that’s right. Maybe that’s sort of right. Or maybe it’s dead wrong, and Syndergaard’s only real problem is our outsized expectations bumping into the ebb and flow of a career.

Whatever the case, there was nothing lacking on Sunday against the Giants [3]. Syndergaard allowed just two hits, walked one and was scratched for a lone run in posting his first career complete game, which he ended with an exclamation point by fanning Evan Longoria [4] on a 99 MPH sinker.

The series against the Giants was an example of how I can be horrified by the way the Mets are run and yet agree with the refusal to tear down the team. Jacob deGrom [5] would be a deserving Cy Young [6] winner, Zack Wheeler [7] has taken a big leap forward as a pitcher, Steven Matz [8] has had an up-and-down season but one with some superb stretches, and we’ve covered Syndergaard. Four starters of that quality is a superb hand, and what other teams are desperate to develop; if you have them, you’re thinking about how to finish the deal, regardless of what other misfortunes you’ve endured or inflicted upon yourself.

The Mets might have had more runs on Sunday if not for the heroics of Giants shortstop Alen Hanson [9]; they might have sweated the outcome a lot more if not for the heroics of Jeff McNeil [10], whose two-run single gave Syndergaard a three-run lead in the eighth.

McNeil can hit — that’s obvious. But what I particularly appreciate about him is his growth as a fielder. When he arrived in New York (about a month after he deserved a call-up), he looked barely adequate at second base, with the pivot making you want to cover your eyes. But McNeil has worked his butt off, and looks much improved. Hopefully the Mets are noticing that, and deciding it deserves to be rewarded, instead of setting up yet another promising young player for the horrors of the Full Conforto.

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DeGrom and Alex Wood [11] face off Monday night, but don’t forget the Brooklyn Cyclones’ regular-season finale. The Cyclones are half a game out of the New York-Penn League’s wild card, trailing the Auburn Doubledays, with the Staten Island Yankees right behind them. To go to the playoffs, Brooklyn needs to beat the Yankees and have Auburn lose — which is what happened today. If you’re so inclined, listen here [12].