NEW YORK — There were four of them, four young starting pitchers, and last October they carried the New York Mets into the World Series.

It felt like it could be the start of something biga team built around strong young arms that could think about winning with them, year after year. The Mets lost the World Series to the Kansas City Royals, but with pitching like this, there would be more chances.

There still could be, but on this first weekend of September, the Mets are battling for a playoff spot, and only one of those four young pitchers is healthy enough to pitch. If last year’s Mets were a lesson on how to build with young arms, this year’s Mets are the reminder that all too often those arms can break.

The Mets sent 24-year-old Noah Syndergaard to the mound Friday night against the Washington Nationals. Syndergaard didn’t win, but he looked so good the Mets could dream of having him start a winner-take-all Wild Card Game in 33 days.

Nice dream, but how do the Mets get there with a rotation that currently consists of Syndergaard, 43-year-old Bartolo Colon and three guys who spent most of this season in the minor leagues?

Already, the Mets lost 27-year-old Matt Harvey for the season from surgery to deal with thoracic outlet syndrome.

Then, before Syndergaard took the mound Friday, manager Terry Collins said 25-year-old left-hander Steven Matz won’t pick up a ball until Monday and won’t go with the Mets when they begin their next trip in Cincinnati. A while later, the Mets announced that 28-year-old right-hander Jacob deGrom had an MRI on his right forearm, and while they said doctors found no structural damage, they also said deGrom “likely” won’t be making his next start.

“Really unfortunate to hear that,” Syndergaard said, after the 4-1 loss to the Nationals.

Collins and deGrom tried hard to paint a brighter picture, calling the MRI results a great relief.

“I’m pretty certain I’ll be back out there [this season],” deGrom said.

Perhaps he will be, but the doctor’s recommendation was he takes medication to reduce the inflammation and doesn’t attempt to throw until the soreness subsides.

“I’ve got to be smart about it,” deGrom said. “I feel like I could throw now.”

It’s admirable and understandable that he wants to pitch, but the fact is no one can yet say when it would be smart for him to pitch. The same goes for Matz, who last started Aug. 14 before he added shoulder soreness to the bone spur in his elbow as ailments that have derailed his season.

At this point, deGrom seems significantly more likely to return than Matz, but the Mets can’t count on either of them. They’ll have to scramble, but then again they’ve been scrambling all season.

They’ve lost three-fourths of their Opening Day infield, with second baseman Neil Walker (back surgery) the latest casualty. The only “healthy” infielder is shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who has started just 12 games since July 31 because of knee trouble but has still managed to hit six home runs in his last eight games.

Collins talks regularly about needing to give Cabrera and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes (playing with a sore quadriceps) rest to get them through the season.

“We can’t lose Yoenis Cespedes for two weeks,” Collins said Friday. “We’ve got to have our lineup intact to have a chance.”

The surprising thing is the Mets still have a chance, even with the pitchers hurt, even with the patched-together lineup. There’s no way they’re catching the Nationals in the National League East—Friday’s loss dropped them 10.5 games behind and gave the Nats a magic number of 18 with 28 games left—but the Mets remain just two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the final wild-card spot.

Not only that, but after this weekend, the Mets will have 25 games remaining. Three of those 25 will be the week after next in Washington, but the other 22 will be against the Philadelphia Phillies (seven), Atlanta Braves (six), Cincinnati Reds (three), Minnesota Twins (three) and Miami Marlins (three).

It would be hard to come up with an easier final month.

With opponents like that, Syndergaard might make a run at the Cy Young Award. He’s given up just three runs in 22 innings in his last three starts, with opponents collecting just seven hits in 68 at-bats (.103). His ERA for the season is 2.56, which trails only Kyle Hendricks’ of the Chicago Cubs (2.09) and Madison Bumgarner‘s of the San Francisco Giants (2.49).

He could face Bumgarner in the Wild Card Game. He could face Hendricks in a division series game.

All the Mets have to do is get there. With a strong, young and healthy pitching staff, they’d be a good bet to do it.

The four pitchers who carried them to the World Series are still young and strong. But right now, only Syndergaard counts as healthy.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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