August 4, 2020

Monday Mets: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

I really didn’t want to write this. As an experienced Mets follower, I know the facts of this life, and you really do have to take the good with the bad. So, after the relatively magical first few weeks of this season, I had a moment when I realized that I would likely have to write this piece one day, and it was sad. And now here we are. How have the Mets gone from top of the world to bottom of the NL East (unless you count the Marlins, which you shouldn’t)? Let’s take a look…

At the beginning of the year the Mets had a lot going for them. To start, they hired a new manager, Mickey Callaway, who came to the Mets with some innovative ideas and heaps of praise from “baseball people” throughout the league. Callaway impressed in spring training and through much of April. He seemed to know exactly what moves to make, and  how to handle the New York media without getting caught up in the winning. Wonderful. Since then, however, his inexperience has shown. His in-game decisions have been perplexing at times, especially his bullpen use. The lack of hitting on this team has done nothing to quiet the original concerns that he would be too pitching-focused. And, subsequently, some of his recent comments to the local press have displayed the kind of lack of savvy on which the media loves to pounce. Of course, winning takes care of all of this, or most of it at least. Callaway’s decisions go from mind-boggling to clever when they work. He goes from being pitching-minded to a pitching leader when the team starts coming out ahead in 1-run games. And he goes from naive to refreshing during a win streak. This is a down time for Callaway and his team, and his first true test as a manager. It must be really tough. And it’s only going to get tougher if he doesn’t figure out how to turn things around.

As is common with the Mets, and many baseball teams really, injuries have played an important role in their struggles. The Mets brought in a new training staff, but the results have pretty much been the same as they have always been. I wonder if former trainer, and understandably common scapegoat, Ray Ramirez, feels some measure of vindication. To be fair, the injuries could have been worse, last year they were; but I think we have all seen way more of Jose Lobaton, Tomas Nido, a whole bullpen’s worth of pitchers we’ve never heard of, and even guys who should only be starting rarely, like Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores (who is now injured, of course). Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz suffered different, but similar enough, finger injuries in the same week. Do you know the last time that two MLB teammates suffered finger injuries in the same week? No, of course you don’t, nobody does. Instead of discussing how Jacob deGrom is one of the best pitchers in the NL and nobody realizes it, we’re left to focus on injuries, ranging from common to nagging to freak. SNY’s Andy Martino recently referred to this Mets season as a modern day adaptation of the Book of Job. That is the most accurate and appropriate description that I’ve heard yet.

The Mets lineup shouldn’t be this bad. Then again, Kevin Plawecki shouldn’t be batting cleanup. That’s not meant to be a knock on him. His return from the DL has been integral in getting the Mets starting rotation back on track. Between Plawecki and Devin Mesoraco, the improvement in the starters is obvious and important. It also hasn’t yielded many wins. Some of this blame can go on the overused and underperforming bullpen – Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have been great, Familia has been better than we probably realize but not as good as we want him to be, and everyone else has been a disappointment. But really, aside from a handful of games on their last road trip, this team’s lack of offense has been sad and uninspiring, and that’s just on the nights when it actually shows up. The Mets have scored 1 run in their last 24 innings (on a Michael Conforto HR), and no runs in their last 17 innings. And honestly, it’s felt worse than that. There have only been two “rallies” in those innings and nobody seemed surprised when they proved fruitless. From top to bottom, the lineup has been struggling. Earlier in the year, it felt like anybody could contribute, and now it’s quite the opposite. Conforto has been okay, but the Mets need him to be better. The same could be said for Amed Rosario. Lenny Bruce was more offensive than Jay Bruce has been, and other than Brandon Nimmo and Asdrubal Cabrera, there doesn’t seem to be a single tough out on this team right now.

In other words, the Mets are wasting their seemingly talented roster, a potentially clever manager, a great start to the season by deGrom, and surprisingly All-Star-like performances by Nimmo and Cabrera. Indeed, these are tough times.

Now that we have passed Memorial Day, we are no longer at the “early” stage of the season. That said, we are also not at the point in the season when it’s too late to turn things around. This Mets team is probably not this bad. They’ll get Todd Frazier back this week, and they’ll also get Anthony Swarzak back this week (you may not know from him, but in the offseason they brought him in to help with the bullpen). Cespedes’ return should follow soon afterward. The confounding finger injuries mentioned earlier seem to be little more than an annoyance, so the team should be at relative full-strength soon. This season doesn’t have to be a repeat of 2017, it could still be 2016, when the Mets were able to put it together in time to make the postseason, or even 2015 when the Mets put it together and made it all the way to the World Series. If you remember, there was a good deal of frustration and little inspiration with that team as well. When things seemed to be at their darkest in 2015, they put together one of the most enjoyable runs in franchise history. It may be hard to believe at the moment, but this Mets team could do that as well. That would definitely be a nice thing.