September 24, 2020

Monday Mets: Would the Real Mets Please Stand Up

In order to keep these write-ups fresh, I usually wait until Sunday night to write them. Earlier this week I noticed a troubling trend with this team and started to jot down some notes, wondering if they’d still be relevant by the end of the week. Then Matt Harvey was designated for assignment, and I considered writing about that. Well, from the moment the announcement was made on Friday, straight through Harvey was actually DFA’d on Saturday, scores of articles, thousands of tweets, and countless conversations exhausted the topic. As much as I would like to wax nostalgic and such, it’s been done already, quite well even.

So, let me just say this…In the 1983 comedy, The Man With Two Brains, Steve Martin’s character calls out to the spirit of his deceased wife, asking her for a sign that he doesn’t actually want to see. What follows is a quick series of events through which the spirit blatantly conveys her feelings. Martin’s character’s response – “Just any kinda sign. I’ll keep on the lookout for it.” Mets fans wanted Harvey to succeed so badly, that many of them (but certainly not all), were willing to ignore that painfully obvious red flags. Between the multiple season-ending injuries, the rumors about his non-baseball recreational activities, and his ill-perceived attitude (not sure if the perception was accurate, but it probably came from somewhere), it became more and more challenging to believe he could match the incredible potential he brought with him as a rookie. Despite Bobby Cox’s earlier proclamation that the old Harvey had returned, and in spite of a relatively successful season debut, the newer old Harvey reappeared, and frankly, he just couldn’t stop giving up runs. Eventually, there was just no hope left. I suppose he could have gone to the minors and straightened himself out and made a return, but that wasn’t in his plans. Presumably, Harvey will find a team willing to take a shot, and it’s possibly that a new city with a pitching coach who can figure out a proper approach, will work for him. If/when it does, I’ll be happy for him, I guess, and wistful that it couldn’t happen here. If it doesn’t happen, that will be a shame for him and for the team that invests in him. And now, on to the current Mets…

I probably could have written this piece earlier in the week when I started to put together my notes, as not much changed between last Monday and today. The Mets did nothing this week but lose. They lost all 6 games on the schedule. When the Mets routed the Padres, 14-2, last Sunday, some people thought it was the beginning of an offensive turnaround. It was not. Not at all. For 45 straight innings, beginning with the first inning of Tuesday’s game against the Braves, the Mets were losing. They gave up at least one run in the first inning of each of the first five games of the week. What’s even more upsetting, that nugget of information doesn’t even begin to tell the story of how inept they looked. And when they finally did take a lead, after the first inning of Sunday’s game against the Rockies, it only lasted for four innings. The Mets were leading 2-0 after the first inning, and they never scored again.

They didn’t just lose games this week; they also lost their ace starting pitcher and their best hitter. To be fair, that statement probably sounds more dramatic than it actually is. Jacob deGrom hyperextended his elbow on a swing in his second at-bat during Thursday night’s appearance against the Braves. While initial speculation expected him to miss at least a month, the Mets were toying with (their fans and) the idea of having him make his next scheduled start. However, for a team that has a brutal history of mishandling injuries, they decided to be extra cautious and put him on the 10-day disabled list. His next start will now be on May 13th in Philadelphia. Similarly, Yoenis Cespedes was seen pounding his right leg after a single, and subsequent run from first to third on another hit, on Sunday. This was not like Astros pitcher Ken Giles punching himself in the face on Tuesday night. Cespedes’ self-attack was brought on by an injury to his quad, and led to him being removed from the game before the second inning. Following the game, Cespedes said that he might play in the Mets-Reds game on Monday, or he might take a little time off for precautionary purposes. Either way, it seems like a crisis has been averted. Maybe. Given the Mets recent history with injuries, and the fact that this concept seems to make its way into every Mets discussion, let’s wait and see before declaring anyone “out of the woods”.

Between the losing streak and the injured stars, the celebrations of the early weeks of the season seem like a distant memory. More distant than a few weeks. That said, I’m reasonably sure that there will be a time when we look at this period as a thing of the past. Coming into the season, the Mets were widely considered a slightly better than .500 team. Some teams that fit that description do so by winning some and losing some. The Mets appear to achieve their near-mediocrity in bunches. So far, at least.

If the Mets are going to succeed this year, they’re going to need to rely on a few players who just haven’t really shown up yet this year…

  • Michael Conforto – It’s possible that he came back a little early from last year’s sudden and scary shoulder injury. He seems healthy, but just not consistently reliable. In other words, the guy’s just not hitting. When he went down, literally, with his injury last year, some reporters questioned whether or not Conforto would ever return to the high-quality hitter he had started to become. The Mets have to be hoping that this is just some extended rust, and that before long he’ll get to be that player that he once seemed destined to become. This team is built around Conforto as a key piece of the lineup. Without him playing at a high level, they’re going to continue to struggle.
  • Amed Rosario – Imagine you are a single person about to go on a first date setup by a friend. For weeks you’ve been hearing wonderful things about your potential mate, and not only are you curious about this person, you’re actually kind of excited. Then, just as you’re about to leave to meet this potential superstar, you’re informed that this person is missing half a face. Wait, what? Don’t you think that this is important enough information that could have been mentioned before you got overly excited? At the moment, that’s how I feel about Rosario. For some time, the young shortstop has been talked up as a future star. Shortly before being called up, he was ranked a top prospect by every person who gets paid to rank prospects. He was deemed a multi-tool talent. And then, just as he was about to become the Mets new every day shortstop, a few people casually mentioned that he swings at a lot of bad pitches and therefore strikes out a lot. And, as it turns out, that is the most accurate component of any scouting report that’s been done on him. Fortunately, Rosario has a great deal of raw talent. Even more fortunately, he is still quite young. In November he’ll turn 23, which means that he is much closer to my daughter’s age than mine, which is baffling. So he has plenty of time to develop into the star that everyone has been expecting. But the strikeouts are an issue, as are some other aspects of his game (like bunting and base-stealing). The Mets are depending on him to grow up a little sooner than is really fair, but that’s the reality.
  • Noah Syndergaard – As I mentioned earlier, Jacob deGrom is the ace of the Mets starting rotation. This doesn’t mean that he’s the only pitcher with ace-like stuff. The man better known (and easier to spell) as Thor, is one of the most intimidating pitchers in the sport. He has a fastball that regularly tops out in the triple-digits, a mid-90’s slider with some serious movement, and a frame that would scare most hitters even if he were tossing wiffle balls. And while he’s been very good so far this year, he just hasn’t been great. Syndergaard has shown an ability to throw well, but he hasn’t pitched amazingly, yet. Thor talks a good game too. Aside from endearing himself to everyone other than Mr. Met, Thor has also been quite candid after his starts. He speaks with a mix of confidence and self-realization. He knows he hasn’t been better than very good so far, and he also makes it clear that he will be dominant in the near future. Based on the Mets performance so far in May, they need it to be more “near” and less “future”.

Certainly there are other players underperforming on this Mets team right now. Jay Bruce hasn’t been anywhere close to the run producer he was last year, Adrian Gonzalez has been close to what fans were worried he’d be, and the substitute catching tandem of Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido has gone on about two weeks too long already. Right now, it really feels like everyone other than the Mets is winning, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, the Mets have reversed their earlier recipe for good fortune, by repeatedly featuring mediocre pitching and weak hitting. They have three young potential superstars on this team. Those players are going to have to step up soon if the Mets are going to follow through on the hopes and expectations that came with the team’s early-season success.