Three games into the season and it’s obvious that we should brace ourselves for the unusual. The season is only 60 games long. The National League has the DH. There are cardboard cutouts of fans, and dogs, in the stands at Citi Field. Extra innings begin with a player on second base. Each team is allowed one runner to run for an out of shape batter. Rookies are allowed to hit off tees. Well, most of these are true. And if you’re not sure which ones aren’t, that’s kind of troubling and also understandable.
Still, despite the actual changes to the game, the Mets results from the opening weekend were remarkably familiar. Jacob deGrom pitched immaculately in a no-decision on Opening Day. The Mets eventually won that game, as they usually do in their first game of the season. Yoenis Cespedes hit a home run in his first game in over two years. By “game”, I mean baseball game; the last game he played was Chase the Boar Around the Ranch, and that didn’t end well. Edwin Diaz even picked up a save. And as happens nearly every year, the Mets closed out their first day giving fans an extra bit of hope.
Then, in game two, the bats remained quiet, Diaz blew a save, and the Mets eventually lost a game they were a strike away from winning. Then, on Sunday night, the Mets closed out the series against the Braves earlier than the Braves did, as they lost a nail-biter, 14-1. Rick Porcello opened the door to being thought of as a right-handed Jason Vargas, and relievers Corey Oswalt and Paul Sewald showed that they’re still not quite ready. And by the end of the weekend, the Mets had scored as many runs as Braves slugger Freddie Freeman had walks. So, despite a four month delay to the start of the season, the “same old Mets” feelings were quick to return.
This is not meant to sound as doom & gloom as it does. There were some truly positive takeaways from the first three games. Diaz did look sharp in the first game, and some of the credit for Saturday’s game-tying home run should go to the batter, Marcel Ozuna. Along those lines, Seth Lugo, Justin Wilson, Jeurys Familia, and Dellin Betances pitched well out of the bullpen over the weekend. Steven Matz was nearly as impressive as deGrom in his start. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo swung the bats well. And once the season started, only one player, Eduardo Nunez, got hurt.
Look, three games does not mean all that much over the course of a season. Even in a 60-game season, three games is pretty much equivalent to only eight games in a normal year. Furthermore, Rick Porcello isn’t righty Jason Vargas, he’s Rick Porcello; he’ll give up enough runs to have a high ERA and he’ll throw some quality starts to remind people why he’s a worthwhile major league arm. Hmm…maybe that is kind of like Jason Vargas. Whatever. Porcello will be fine enough, probably. Also, some key Mets batters had a terrible opening weekend. Some of the most dependable hitters from last year’s lineup just didn’t show up. Pete Alonso, J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil, and Wilson Ramos combined to go 4-for-38 (a .105 average).
I’m still having trouble taking this whole season seriously, partly because of the new rules, partly because the season started after the All-Star break, and mostly because I’m still concerned that at any moment the plug can be pulled on the whole campaign. So, it’s going to take me a little while to get acclimated to this baseball season, and my perspective on the whole thing feels like a moving target. That said, instead of feeling deflated by losing two out of the first three games, I’m reminded that a majority of the baseball teams, and I think maybe even a few hockey teams, will make the postseason this year. And it’s with that thought that I take comfort that despite losing two out of three to the Braves, the Mets are still only a game out of first place with 57 games to go.
And now they get on their bus (!?!) to Boston to play four games against the Red Sox. Weird.