May 28, 2020

Monday Mets: Time To Get On The Coaster

Part of following the Mets is the innate understanding that the season will be a roller coaster ride. Extreme ups and downs are commonplace, year after year. Sure, other teams go through their own highs and lows, but not like this, and Mets fans know it, and enter the year as emotionally prepared as they can be.  In a season that featured an early 9-game winning streak followed by a month without consecutive wins, this past week was a perfect example of the ride that we know as the New York Mets.

While the Mets didn’t play last Monday, the week started with talks of injuries – did Jacob deGrom’s one inning/45-pitch outing signify that he was still feeling the effects on a hyperextended elbow (it didn’t, more on this soon), and would Yoenis Cespedes’ lingering leg issues force him to go on the DL (it would, more on this even sooner)? Most concerning though was an unnecessary discussion of whether or not the Mets should consider blowing up this team and trading away their two top pitchers in deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, and begin to rebuild. Look, I get that a day off in a time when things aren’t going well means that writers and publications need to attract readers by preying on their high anxiety levels. And I’m not even suggesting that a full team collapse wouldn’t warrant consideration of clearing the board and starting over. But, in mid-May, with the team less than a handful of games out of first despite a few weeks of subpar play, this conversation seemed premature, overblown, and silly (in a disappointing movie sequel sort of way, not a Benny Hill sort of way).

On Tuesday, the Mets welcomed the Blue Jays to town and subsequently destroyed them, 12-2. Syndergaard pitched pretty well, in light of some recent comments from Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland, questioning why expectations around Syndergaard were so high when he really hasn’t done anything extra-special just yet. Thor did not do anything extra-special on the mound in this game either, but he pitched well enough to win, drove in a couple runs, and helped pace a Mets team who really seemed primed to get out of their recent slumps and return to their winning ways.

Then Wednesday happened. The day started with news that Cespedes finally went on the DL with a strained hip flexor. While I used to think that a “hip flexor” was a figure skating trick – you know, as in “did you see Adam Whats-his-name perform that triple hip flexor in Pyeongchang this year?”, the internet has taught me that it’s actually the name of the group of muscles that help lift the knee toward the body. I thought Cespedes was supposed to be taking yoga and drinking plenty of fluids in order to avoid these things. Then again, who am I to judge? I strained a muscle in my lower back while looking up the term “hip flexor” online. The Mets then proceeded to lose whatever equity they had gained the previous night with a 12-1 drubbing by the Jays. Full disclosure: I have never used the word “drubbing” before, in any form, but it seems appropriate in this situation. This game also featured a fine 9th-inning catch by Juan Lagares, in which he  slammed his foot into the outfield fence and hurt his toe (just wait, it’s coming).

Thursday, much like Monday, was another day off, which meant more discussion of whether or not the Mets should get rid of all their good players in the hopes of building up a successful team in a few years. Even though the Mets were just a couple days removed from a 12-2 victory, the roller coaster had now reached another low.

That low got even lower on Friday, when, with the NL West first place Arizona Diamondbacks coming to town, the Mets announced that Lagares would be out for the season. In case you hadn’t been paying much attention, and who could blame you, Lagares was off to an impressive start. He showed up in spring training claiming to have a new approach to hitting. In March, that claim seemed to be sound more like most other phantom promises from the Grapefruit League, but through the first 7 weeks or so, Lagares was playing quite well. Then he hurt his toe, and now he can spend the rest of the baseball season playing “Fortnite” on his video game system, or he can spend a fortnight playing a baseball season on his video game system. Either way, it doesn’t appear like he’ll be contributing much to the Mets for the remainder of 2018. But the ride didn’t stop. Back up the ramp it went. Remember that deGrom guy I mentioned earlier? Yeah, he went and threw his best, and most efficient, game of the season so far, on Friday night. He struck out 13 Diamondbacks, and the Mets won a close, clean, exciting game, 3-1.

Saturday was an especially loopy part of the ride. Steven Matz started the game for the Mets, and did not pitch well. Sometimes Matz is good, sometimes he’s not. It seems, however, that he is always inconsistent, which doesn’t seem possible and yet it’s exactly what he is. He could throw 7 shutout innings in his next start and I wouldn’t be surprised (although obviously would be pleased). He could also be removed after a couple terrible innings in his next start and I wouldn’t be surprised. Lest you think that Matz’s subpar start was the end of the story, I’ll let you know now that the Mets won the game, 5-4. They were down 4-2 in the 8th inning when recently-acquired catcher Devin Mesoraco hit a game-tying 2-run HR. Mesoraco has only 4 hits in 21 at-bats in his first 7 games played with the Mets (an unimpressive .190 batting average), but 3 of those hits are home runs, and 2 of those were clutch. Then, in the 9th inning, Wilmer Flores won the game with a “walk-off” sacrifice fly. Did you know that “Wilmer” means “Walk-off” in some languages? Fine, those languages only exist in Flushing, but still…this was his 8th such RBI in his career, tying him with former Mets great Kevin McReynolds for second in team history. His next one will tie him with David Wright for first. Also, “former Mets great” means “former underrated until he was way overrated Mets player” in some languages, also in Flushing.

The Mets win on Saturday night was their first back-to-back win since mid-April. A three game sweep of the Diamondbacks would be asking for a lot. Not only is Arizona a first-place team at the moment, but the Mets haven’t swept a home series since 2016. Then again, anything can happen on this coaster. The Mets proved this by winning 4-1 behind a solid outing from Syndergaard. It took the offense a little while to get going in this game, but in the 7th inning, the Mets took a lead with a pinch-hit 2-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera, the team’s most consistent hitter this season. I’m serious, stop laughing. Also, Amed Rosario had one of his best games in his young career, with a game-tying solo home run in the 6th inning, and a solo HR right after Cabrera’s shot, providing an important insurance run.

So, to recap, this week featured the Mets star outfielder going on the DL, the Mets best-fielding outfielder being declared done for the season, talk of trading away the team’s best parts and starting a rebuild, as well as two of the best starting pitching performances so far, some clutch hitting, a walk-off victory, a three-game sweep of the first place team in the NL West, and some renewed excitement at Citi Field. Ready to throw up yet? I know I am.

In the 1989 movie, Parenthood, Grandma (wonderfully portrayed by Helen Shaw) provided an insightful description of the roller coaster ride: “You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.” She would have made for a wise Mets fan, even though she did end up sitting the neighbor’s car.

And now a new week begins, and Monday’s Mets starter will be…Jason Vargas. So make sure your safety belt is secure, keep your arms and legs inside at all times, and please, enjoy the ride.