Despite all sorts of challenges the Mets find are still in first place, and it’s about time the role that Luis Rojas has played is recognized.
In the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, when I was in my early teen years, I had a somewhat foolish outlook on spring training games. Partially due to youthful naivete, and otherwise due to a desperate hunger for baseball games, I assigned an inaccurate level of importance to these contests. I’d record them on VHS when they were on TV, and on cassette tape when they were only on the radio. Seriously. I believed that Darren Reed was the answer to the Mets outfield problems. And I would get upset every time the Mets lost, even though they players closing out the game were usually a couple years away from making it to the majors. Nowadays, I have a more appropriate expectation of what spring training games are supposed to be. I don’t get too caught up in the stats, the wins and losses, or even the lineups. When I look at who’s playing for the Mets in March, I’m usually pretty sure that I won’t see them in Queens any time soon. Until this year.
In the last two weeks, instead of seeing players like Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, JD Davis, and Brandon Nimmo taking key spots in the batting order, we’ve watched the Mets depend on Brandon Drury, Jose Peraza, Billy McKinney, Mason Williams, Cameron Maybin, Travis Blankenhorn, and Mitchell Friedman. Okay, I made up that last one; you get the idea though. These are players who are new to the Mets. Players whose previous teams gave up on them. Players whose spot in a spring training batting order would stand as reminders that it was only a spring training game. Except, we’re in June. In past seasons, it’s at this point that I would say that the Mets don’t want to use injures as an excuse for their disappointing season, even though they could. This year, they don’t need an excuse, they’re in first place. Seriously.
As dependable as the starting pitching and bullpen have been for the Mets, manager Luis Rojas has been the source of consistency for this team. Players slump, and while we might get impatientf with their lack of results, they’re usually only a few good games away from transitioning boos to cheers. Managers, on the other hand, have a different sort of challenge. If a team that’s expected to win comes through, the manager’s job is looked at with satisfaction; if that team disappoints, the manager is almost always singled out as a reason. Every Monday we wake up and find that the Mets are still winning in spite of a roster that suggests otherwise, and there must be a reason. Each week it becomes more evident that Luis Rojas is doing something right.
To be clear, I don’t agree with every decision that Rojas makes. There have been some questionable substitutions, and some confounding non-substitutions. At times, his bullpen usage has been puzzling. And I can’t say that all of his lineups have made sense to me. Still, the results don’t lie.
Following Sunday’s Mets 6-2 win over the Padres, earning them a series split against a tough NL West team, pitcher Marcus Stroman said, “…this is one of the best teams I’ve played [on], as far as camaraderie. It’s a blessing to come to the clubhouse every day.” The Mets front office put together a roster capable of creating this atmosphere, and kept Luis Rojas as their leader. I don’t know if Rojas pals around with his players, or just stays out of their way, or something in between. Still, the Mets are an enjoyable team to watch, and not just when they’re winning. The camaraderie that Stroman mentioned is obvious even to a casual viewer.
The rest of June is sure to be interesting for the Mets. Following a 2-game series against the Baltimore Orioles, they’ll take on the Padres, who have the second best record in the NL, then the first place Chicago Cubs, and then the rest of the month will be spent playing against teams in the NL East. It’s possible the Mets will get some of their planned regulars back, and it’s equally possible that they’ll continue to lose players to injury. Seriously. Whatever happens, they will obviously need to continue to rely on Rojas to help maintain consistency amongst the chaos.
For whatever reason, many Mets fans came into this season rooting against the manager. Maybe they were expecting that the high profile owner and some recent high profile additions should be led by a higher profile manager. Or perhaps, they were just unimpressed by the team’s 2020 performance. Either way, the 2021 Mets have been in first place for almost a month now in spite of their ever-changing roster. If this trend continues, Luis Rojas will have to be in the running for manager of the year. Seriously.