NEW YORK – One of the ways Justin Verlander is keeping quiet about the trade is to continue pitching the exact way he did Wednesday night.
The logic goes like this: If the Mets are close to National League Wild Card contention in the days leading up to the August 1st trade deadline, they’ll have reason to keep their roster intact in the hopes of a late playoff run. For the Mets to be close to wild card competition, they’ll need Verlander and Max Scherzer at their best.
Verlander pitched in a 5-1 win over the White Sox at Citi Field, holding Chicago to one run over eight innings on 100 fairly effective pitches. He collected seven hits, allowing three hits and a walk, and would have thrown an entire game if not for the 30-pitch clock, which included Louis Robert Jr.
“I’m getting a little bit closer to where I want to be,” said Verlander, who lowered his ERA to 1.74 over his last five starts.
The improvement hasn’t been linear for the 40-year-old Verlander, who spent the month of April on the injured list and was inconsistent throughout most of May and June, battling his mechanics, his slip feel and occasionally his control. But it all clicked on Wednesday, with Verlander hitting three of the first four batters he faced and relying on early contact the rest of the way. His defense helped. With one out in the third, Brett Batty pitched a backhand on the run to steal Oscar Colas from an infield hit. In the fourth, Jeff McNeil made a catch to right field to take one away from Tim Anderson.
By the time Verlander got to work in the seventh inning, pitching more than 14 pitches in an inning for the first time all night, the Mets had a healthy lead thanks to Patty’s home run in the third and fourth for four runs against the White Sox. Initiator Touki Toussaint. Francisco Alvarez drove in a race during that rally to increase his team’s monthly drive total to 14 RBIs in July.
But Alvarez’s most important contribution came behind the plate, as he recorded Verlander’s best start of the season.
“Yeah, he had his good stuff tonight,” said White Sox first baseman Gavin Sheets. “He’s just a seasoned guy who throws the ball really well.”
The result was a third straight win for the Mets, who snapped a game over the Phillies to within seven games of a National League Wild Card spot. While that may seem inconsequential with over two months left in the regular season, it has real implications for how the Mets can attack the trade deadline in less than two weeks. If the road to the postseason feels a long way off as the deadline approaches, General Manager Billy Eppler will likely sell the assets to improve the organization in 2024. But if there is a glimmer of hope, the Mets may decide not to sell, or even to become modest buyers.
Verlander, whose name has popped up in trade rumors despite his unwieldy contract and no-trade clause, is at the center of it all. So is Scherzer, who got off to his best start of the season with seven scoreless innings the last time out against the Dodgers.
“I think everyone knows when the trade deadline is,” said Verlander. “No one has given any indication of exactly what we’re going to do. I think we need to stick together here at the club and keep doing what we’ve been doing, which comes here with optimism every day, doing what we can individually do to win the ball game, doing what we can do.” It’s the combination to win the ball game and we’ll see how far that takes us.”
This week, which saw six games against the White Sox and Red Sox – each fourth in their respective divisions – seemed like the Mets’ last chance to prove themselves before the deadline. Two games at 2-0.
It’s not a panacea, but it’s definitely a start.
“I don’t think you can look at a point in time and say, ‘Well, you have to do it.’” Verlander said. “I think we’ve been saying that all year. You don’t want to wait. You’re digging yourself in a hole, and you have to dig yourself out.”
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