October 28, 2020

Monday Mets: Baseball Like It Should Have Been

The last three weeks have been more enjoyable than any other period of this Mets season since their hot start, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

In a season wrought with misery, a .620 winning percentage over 21 games should be joyful. Even more enjoyable is the ways in which the Mets have been winning: Strong solid pitching, a mostly reliable bullpen (Sunday’s performance excluded), clutch hitting (usually) with a relatively balanced combination of “small ball” and home runs.

It seems like just about the whole team is on a much-awaited upswing. Amed Rosario has started to consistently show why he was touted so highly, so much so that he’s leading off for the Mets and impressively so. Michael Conforto has re-ignited thoughts of what his career could be instead of what almost was. Jeff McNeil (or Chuck Knobless, as I’ve decided to call him) has either proven that his minor league hitting was not a fluke, or has done a remarkable job of extending this fluke all the way through his first month in the majors. Jay Bruce hit his first 2018 HR at Citi Field in his first game back from a 2-month injury.

It’s not just the hitters either. Zack Wheeler has been so good (4 earned runs and 34 K’s in 33 August innings) that he can now be discussed as one of the better top of the rotation starters and not just a probably very good mid/late rotation guy. Jacob deGrom hasn’t stopped being Jacob deGrom. Meanwhile Noah Syndergaard has been good but not great, and it hasn’t mattered much. Even Jason Vargas has pitched well. That’s significant enough that it needs to be read again. Here, I’ll make it easy for you, I’ll happily type it again. Even Jason Vargas has pitched well.

The Mets haven’t lost a series in 3 weeks. They are finally playing like fans have been waiting for them to play for months. And as great as that is, the Flushing Faithful can’t help but feel like the Flushing Wistful, and what they lose in alliteration they more than make up for in longing. When the losing first started, Mets fans said, “They can’t be this bad.” Then, when as the losses really started to pile up, it became a question, “Are they really this bad?” And after a while, after the inefficiencies proved consistent, the thought turned into, “Wow, they really are this bad.” And now, suddenly they’re not.

Unlike the other three major team sports, baseball doesn’t really reward tanking. The First-Year Player Draft has been around since 1965, and only two #1 overall picks have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame (Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones; Alex Rodriguez would have been, but, you know). So, even when teams are far from postseason contention, they still play to win, or to at least try evaluate their rosters to gauge how much of a rebuild is needed. It’s fun watching the Mets win. It’s always fun watching the Mets win. And even though this modest success comes with a figurative twinge, it also offers a modest reason for hope. Perhaps this team isn’t as far away from being good as had recently been feared. Perhaps they can contend even sooner than many detractors have been saying recently.

At the very least, maybe the recent improvements just mean that the rest of the season could be easier to watch than it’s been for some time. After months of frustration, Mets fans deserve to have something to smile about, however inconsequential it may be.