The Day After

Carrying the Mets into the playoffs: Yoenis Cespedes (52), Jose Reyes (7) and Asdrubal Cabrera (13)

Carrying the Mets into the playoffs: Yoenis Cespedes (52), Jose Reyes (7) and Asdrubal Cabrera (13)

The 2016 season is now in the “books” as we like to say in Mets-land. The boys failed to win the Wild Card game last night vs. San Francisco. But with the multitude of injuries this year it is hard to not feel like on some level the season was a success, just by virtue of playing in this playoff game last night. In fact, since the last time I wrote in this space, so much has transpired it’s strange to think where we were just sixteen months ago.

Winning the 2015 NL East, the NL Pennant, and playing in the World Series; were all wonderful things. The most wonderful things to happen to this franchise in fifteen years. We did it with the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, the Dark Knight of Gotham, the newly minted Thor, and of course Big Sexy Bartolo Colon. Even David Wright came back in September to bring the positive energy his presence usually produces. In the end, we fell just short of the ring, but something new had begin to appear in Queens that we have not seen in a long time. Something that typically shows up after seasons like this, as a precursor to next season. That something was hope.

2016 was a different animal though. Beginning of the year we had the whole staff. Harvey, deGrom, Noah, Matz and Colon filling in until Wheeler’s impending arrival. On the other side David Wright, Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson were all healthy. We had youngsters like Michael Conforto and Dilson Hererra poised to start. And finally in the biggest of encouraging signs, Yoenis Cespedes was miraculously re-signed by the team. So as you can see there was every reason for hope. The 2016 Mets would pick up where the previous year’s squad left off. As with all runners-up, the words unfinished business appeared everywhere throughout spring training.

However, unlike 2015, its successor saw injuries like we have rarely seen. First, Wright, then Harvey, then deGrom and, Matz. Then Wheeler never recovered from his surgery, he was initially expected by mid-summer. After that, the backups brought in to replace these Mets, themselves started to go down. Neil Walker, Wimer Flores, Kelly Johnson, and so on and so forth.

Now coming of of last year’s trade deadline moves, the Mets were looking to make effective and productive acquisitions. On June 25th Jose Reyes was acquired and brought back to his beloved home squad. The next month the Mets dealt for NL RBI leader Jay Bruce, and veteran reliever Fernando Salas.

Then after these moves, the Amazin’ happened… Again.

After bottoming out at 60-62, the Mets finished 27-13 to come from 5 games out, to winning the top NL Wild Card spot. The guys played with fire, they played with pride and they played like they wanted to win. For all the continuous blunders Terry Collins commits, you have to admit the boys play hard for him. That is really all you can ask for from any manager really.

So with another year of meaningful September baseball, and consecutive playoff appearances now in the books, it would appear these Mets are poised to return for another great season next year. The rotation’s best arms should be back, the Captain should be back and of course, hope.

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First Place Mets

The negativity this franchise has inspired since Carlos Beltran went down looking to end the 2006 NLCS, has reached peak levels coming into this year.  Start with six straight losing seasons, and with David Wright out most of the year leaving zero star power in the field. Add in an unpopular dunce for a manager and what has to be the least trustworthy medical staff in baseball, and it all adds up to another painful season on the horizon… or so it seemed. 

Truth is, these Mets are actually succeeding. Without a starting 3B, a closer, any reliable middle reliever, and perhaps the most unreliable middle infield in baseball; this team is in FIRST PLACE. 

Say that to yourself again, “First Place Mets”.  Hell, we are 1.5 games in front of the NL East, six games over .500 so far for the season.  All this with our customary depleted lineup. So what’s changed? Why is this team the most successful edition in Queens since before the Obama Administration took office?  Well that’s the best part, nobody knows for sure. Theoretically,  we should be in the midst of another long painful season but we are most certainly not. My best guesses, because baseball is subject to such randomness, that all we can do is guess most of the time. 

1. Pitching

Losing Zack Wheeler turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Forcing the Mets to tinker with the rotation has resulted in calling up purported future ace Noah Syndergaard. Add in the return of Matt Harvey and reigning NL ROY Jacob deGrom, and you have three power arms under 26 who can pitch you to compete in ever series. Plus, the ageless Bartolo Colon appears to be pitching as good as anyone right now. Augmenting what could be come a staff who challenges the 1986 rotation of Gooden-Darling-Ojeda-Fernandez-Aguilera for possibly the best in Mets history. 

2. Adding by subtraction. 

Getting rid of Campbell, Niewenhuis, Recker, Gee, was a great first step. These players are middling pros who likely would never start for another team.  Gee looks particularly awful compared to previous years. Adding Dilson Herrera, Wilmer Flores and shifting Daniel Murphy to third base until David returns has actually invigorated our lineup. Travis d’arnaud has actually been having a career year in his limited play so far this year. Kevin Plawecki and Darrel Ceciliani have also contributed in their short time up on the big squad so far as well. 

3. Inspiration 

The most mind-boggling element of them all. The guys are trying, they are not giving up and continuously fighting. Does this come from Terry Collins?  Doubtful. From being severely underpaid? Possibly. From just wanting to win after so many years of losing? Unlikely. But I would like to think that has a hand in it. After all, you do not become “First Place Mets” by accident, do you?  Perhaps.  

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Halfway through Spring Training and…

I still do not care about this team. It really is amazing. After growing up obsessing over the Mets, as a kid whose biggest dream was to meet Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, I am having trouble finding someone to root for on this team. Think about it, who embodies the underdog spirit traditionally rooted in this town’s youngest sports franchise? The ballclub descendant of the departed Dodgers and Giants? I frankly have no idea.

I mean who are you rooting for? Who am I rooting for? The Mets allow us to root for the laundry, of course. But who are the heroes, the guys you wish you could be like, who you wish you could play like? Is there anyone you watch, and think “win or lose I really want this guy, to succeed”? I will exclude the pitchers for now, they simply do not see the field enough to draw me in other than periodically. So with that in mind, we start at the 1.

At catcher Travis d’Arnaud has been a disappointment since his arrival, has zero personality when interviewed. Prime example, here is a guy who has given me no reason to want him to succeed beyond the laundry.

Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy; I am convinced these guys would not start for any other MLB club. If when wishing you could play baseball, you wish you were any of these guys, then you are aiming tragically low, and probably have self-esteem issues. These players are the epitome of the “AAAA” player. Their presence to me embodies the entire Sandy Alderson Era in Flushing. Cheap middling players, who will never amount to much, but I must be forced to pull for them because of the laundry.

Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson; also emblematic of Alderson FA signings. Old players, way past their prime, who are on their final contracts. They may produce this year, as they have in the past. Solid players with talent, no matter how old, can not suppress it all the time. But this does not make me want to root for either of them. Not here long enough for me to develop any attachment.

David Wright and Juan Lagares remain. It is nearly impossible not to root for David. He is our captain, he is sold as the face as the franchise. I root for David, I always will. But I do not root for him because I want him to succeed. I root for him because it will help the team succeed. Same goal, so our causes overlap. But if David Wright never swings a bat again, he will be fine. After a hundred million dollars, a gorgeous model wife, and being forever etched in Mets’ history as our captain; nobody should worry about David.

Juan Lagares is the guy, he is the lone success story in my opinion, on this team. Problem last year was, we have a manager whose ineptitude caused him to consider not playing him every day until later in 2014. That doubt and his amazing athleticism and talent, makes me root for him. Frankly, I wish we had 7 other Lagares’ in the field. After being signed by Omar Minaya in 2006, Juan began his journey fighting through doubt and questionable managing in the minors. Seven years after signing with the Mets, he finally saw the field. Juan is now a Gold Glove center fielder, and hopefully a permanent fixture on this team.

I pray Juan Lagares is a Met for life, because as it stands right now I am simply not invested in any of these other players. The blame swirls throughout the offices at Citi Field, as they talk about contending for the playoffs, 90 wins, etc…

Realistically, if none of these happen, attendance in Queens will continue to plateau at where it is, with the stands 40-45% empty. The reason? Not anyone we like frankly, is wearing the laundry.

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Mets Fans Are Now Unpaid Employees

Well it has been a while. I have not felt the need to write much about this organization. Because despite my affection for the Mets, they have played like trash, treated the fans like trash and operated like trash.

They have operated like a small market team, or even like a minor league outfit at times. The refusal to spend money, the refusal to upgrade the personnel – except in limited circumstances, essentially the refusal to compete has shriveled the crowds at Citi Field correlating to that of the 8th most popular team in this city.

Every year however, there are glimmers of hope. Every winter there are occasional glimpses of opportunities that the management appears to willfully ignore. Free agents searching for employment, who may be fits for this team are shunned because of the same old tired rationale. Mediocre talents that would never start for any other team, are extended and glorified by this team’s publicity drones. Management’s only perceived solution appears to be the occasional reconfiguration of the stadium’s outfield walls.

Mets can not spend, the organization can not afford, management does not see the value, and so on and so forth; these are the narratives. After almost half a decade, much of the fanbase that is left has begun to buy into it.

That is the saddest thing of all.

Sandy Alderson and his minions have finally accomplished what I believe they were hired to do from day one. He has successfully beaten down and shamefully lowered all of our expectations. He has made us believe that the Mets can not afford players, that they have “prospects” that are going to win multiple Cy Young awards and MVP trophies – someday. That we do not deserve to compete today, that we will get there eventually. It is maddening and infuriating, it is not anything any other New York sports franchise would do to its fans.

Bloggers and social media are now espousing management’s mantra – FOR THEM.

I read and watched several blogs today, where fans themselves (!) are telling me Player X is too expensive, Player Y is “not worth” the money he will receive. – ignoring the upgrade in talent they would bring to this squad.

These fans, willingly or unknowingly, have actually become part of management’s PR campaign of endless excuses.

The Mets GM now has all these fans who so dearly love this team, spreading his gospel of “we cannot afford” or “he’s not worth”, to everyone throughout what is left of this crumbling fanbase. We are now the ones imploring patience – after six losing seasons. The patience slope is a slippery one, do we need ten or twenty losing seasons before we refuse this patience?

Congratulations Alderson, you have Mets fans now advocating for your owner’s wallet, and have effectively destroyed this fanbase.

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Swept Away in Hollywood

So after a solid series in the desert, the boys went to L.A. and just flatlined.

Jenrry Mejia kicked off the series with a solid outing, he even struck out phenom Yasiel Puig twice on 7 pitches. But a short-lived 2 run lead walked-off into the Hollywood Hills.

Then Matt Harvey, who despite getting hit as hard as anyone has against him all year, still gave up just 4 ER. The Mets fought a little, but being down 2 runs, was something the Mets lineup could not overcome.

In the finale, Dillon Gee was spotted a 4 run lead thanks to a 3-run homer by Eric “Forever” Young. But despite another solid outing by a Mets starting pitcher, the Dodgers dream season magic resulted with a tying homer in the bottom of the 9th, leading to the eventual extra-inning walk-off for the Trolley-Dodgers.

Now I am not worried about Harvey… nor am I worried about Mejia and Gee. These guys pitched their hearts out, and we could have swept the Dodgers as easily as we were swept.

Bottom line, the bullpen needs more than Pedro Feliciano, the 1-8 needs more than Juan Lagares when David Wright is out… Ike Davis needs to keep improving, but the rest of the scrubs are not built for this kind of baseball.

Omar Minaya left Harvey, Gee, Jon Niese, Mejia, Bobby Parnell, Lagares, Wilmer Flores, Germen, Davis….. Sandy Alderson needs to give us something other than Zack Wheeler.

Otherwise the AAAA Mets will continue to tease you in spots, and ultimately dissapoint you in every other.

Five straight losing seasons, now seems more realistic than ever.

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Metsies v.2013

Pessimism.

You can not have been a Mets fan over the last five years and not have been engulfed by biting claws of pessimism.

But after a few years of dismal displays of faux-baseball, the dark shade of pessimism might have started moving away from Flushing, NY. The Mets came into this season with low expectations, sprinkled with few precious bright spots. However, those pinholes of brightness have kicked off the season with the potential for some actual light.

This 2013 New York Mets campaign has started with the loudest of bangs. Opening day featured Jon Niese holding an admittedly mediocre San Diego Padres lineup in check, and offensive contributions from the unlikeliest of contributors. Colin Cowgill and Marlon Byrd, of the much maligned outfield, came through with big time hits, as did new catcher John Buck. Contributions from new Mets players, was great to see on opening day.

Following Niese, Matt Harvey looked every bit the ace we have all hoped he would become in game 2. Harvey picked up where he left off in his few starts last season and threw seven innings of 1 hit ball. Lucas Duda and the surprising John Buck, both getting key hits to help the cause. Looking every bit an effective a 1-2 punch as any, Niese and Harvey paved the way for two wins to kickoff the season.

Two games is the smallest of sample sizes, as any baseball numbers nerd will tell you. So while Mets fans were enamored with the play of the boys the first two games, the next two are a different story.

Dillon Gee took the loss in game 3, the Mets’ bats did not show up and a 2-1 loss ensued in a 1 PM Thursday afternoon getaway game. Last night, Jeremy Hefner took the game 4 loss, as the Mets could not overcome a 5 run seventh inning from a Marlins team eviscerated by their ownership in the off-season.

However, while relief pitching and sporadic hitting might have cost the Mets the last two games, here are the numbers that should temper your pessimism…. at least just a little:

Niese: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER
Harvey: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER
Gee: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER
Hefner: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 0 ER

Folks, we have four solid starting pitchers give four solid 1st starts each to kick-off the season. Should this group continue to give us these kinds of outings more often than not, there will not only be joy in Flushing, but these young building blocks could be the foundation for the future.

So the next time we blame the GM for the craptastic outfield or start spitting bullets at our infuriatingly inconsistent batting order, take a deep breath, and focus on the young men below. Baseball God willing, we will enjoy their grazing on the Citi Field mound for a long time.

Jon Niese

Matt Harvey

Dillon Gee

Jeremy Hefner

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Team JV1

I have made my feelings on this year’s Spring Training pretty clear, but one storyline has emerged from the proverbial rubble. In a Mets training camp polluted with the negative elements of a disgruntled ace, no major-league caliber outfielders, and the absence of the team’s top star and de-facto captain; one player has emerged as an interesting, captivating and yet polarizing entity.

Jordany Valdespin.

“The Man… right now”, as he has referred to himself, is fighting for a job on this team, and getting closer and closer to one. But in addition to his talent and proficiency at the plate, Valdespin is displaying the swag of some of the all-time great Mets characters. He is not afraid to tweet how he “can’t be stopped” or to post all manner of self-pics on Instagram. In person though, when interviewed by the media, he comes off as a very humble and hard worker, and has even dedicated home runs to his Mom. But unfortunately, as happens often, a common side effect of supreme confidence is the polarization of the fan base.

JV1 devotees love his exuberance, his the unabashed pride in… well, himself. These same qualities may turn some people off, but as has always been the burden of “certain” athletes, the talent has to match the bravado. Deion, Shaq, athletes like that need to support their larger-than-life personalities with support beams made of talent and numbers. Otherwise, they become another Channing Crowder or a similar irrelevant gasbag athlete.

The WSJ published a great article on Jordany and his “zany world”. As time goes by and Valdespin keeps succeeding on the field, the attention will continue to increase, as will the criticisms.

My only hope is that the rest of the Mets fanbase will embrace JV1 for his high level of play, as well as his wonderfully refreshing personality. At least until either of those qualities begin to fade.

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