NEW YORK -- Veterans in the Mets' clubhouse agree: The term "ace" is thrown about too lightly in today's game. Some fans believe every club has an ace. Purists tend to opine that in all of baseball, only six or seven such pitchers exist.
"When I think of ace, I think of the team's elite," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "I don't just think of a team's No. 1 starter. There's a handful out there. Not every team has one."
Wright spoke those words in the aftermath of the Mets' 3-1 win over the Brewers on Sunday, when Noah Syndergaard racked up 11 strikeouts over seven more superlative innings. That came during an afternoon in which New York's bullpen was gassed, on the eve of a first-place showdown in Washington. Still thinking about aces, the Mets' third baseman nodded across the room at Syndergaard's locker.
"He's on his way," Wright said.
No one at this point questions Syndergaard's ability. Quantitatively, his stuff is the best in baseball; over half of the pitches he threw against the Brewers were 97 mph or faster, including six offerings of at least 99. Syndergaard throws his slider in the low- to mid-90s and trusts it, too. His changeup is harder than many pitchers' fastballs. His curveball does not dare dip down into the 70s.
Syndergaard has thrown more pitches 98MPH+ than these teams combined HOU LAD SF CIN TX TB SD CWS WSH ARI LAA OAK CHC TOR PHI MIL DET CLE MIN
"I personally think that there's only a few aces around baseball," second baseman Neil Walker said. "You could probably pick them all off the top of your head. And we've got a couple guys in here who are potential aces."
At the start of the season, the Mets had four. But while Matt Harvey has scuffled mightily this season, Jacob deGrom has battled through velocity loss and Steven Matz has missed time due to injury, Syndergaard has done nothing but ascend. In striking out 11 batters with no walks Sunday, Syndergaard maintained his second-place position on MLB's strikeout-to-walk leaderboard, behind only Kershaw. He also joined Dwight Gooden as the only Mets to submit consecutive outings with double-digit whiffs and no free passes, and Syndergaard is linked with Kershaw, Jose Fernandez and Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers since 1913 to do that without allowing an earned run.
Syndergaard was touched for an unearned run Sunday after Wright committed a fielding error in the first inning, giving Jonathan Lucroy a chance to crack an RBI single. Later in the afternoon, Lucroy approached home plate and told fellow catcher Rene Rivera, "You got lucky you're catching him because he's not easy to hit."
"The growth that I've had in the span of one year has been night and day," Syndergaard said. "I have the ability to go out there and have the confidence to throw any pitch at any given time."
Another few weeks and the world will be convinced. Already, the Mets say his name in the same breath as Kershaw or Scherzer. In front of their eyes, they all seem to understand, the Mets are witnessing the birth of an ace.
"When I think of the elite, elite in the game," Wright said, "not just are they dominant, but they've done it consistently for a little while now. And I think we've got guys that can be those types of pitchers. But I think what makes those guys special is they've got a track record also. We've got some guys who are starting to form a pretty good track record also. They're certainly working their way there. Pure stuff-wise, I'd put Noah up there against anybody. Now he just needs to pitch games, and show just how dominant he is."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.