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The Mets are 14-6, in first place in the Eastern Division of the National League, with the second best record in the League. Fans have to be happy about that, don’t they? But the truth is that the Mets are pretty lucky to be in this position.
In the last week, the Mets have lost…no…not just lost…have brutally blown, not one, but two brilliant performances by Jacob deGrom turning what appeared to be sure wins into gut-wrenching losses. The bullpen that appeared to be the surprising bright spot had two ugly meltdowns to contribute to the debacles.
But what is truly amazing is how the Mets are in such a good position with not only the bullpen melting down, but the Matt Harvey saga and his ultimate demotion to the bullpen, as well as the on again, off again, performances of Steven Matz. Even Noah Syndergaard, strikeouts and all, has not been able to provide the kind of lengthy performances needed to get to the back end of the bullpen.
There’s no shame in going to the bullpen. Just ask John Smoltz. The man is in the Hall of Fame. He was one of the best starting pitchers in the game, and a member of a Hall of Fame triumvirate that anchored an Atlanta Braves team that dominated the National League Eastern Division for a decade.
He went to the bullpen after coming back from Tommy John surgery, and for four years became one of the best closers in the game. He then returned to the rotation to continue as a dominant starter. Smoltz is the only pitcher in Major League history to surpass 200 wins and 150 saves. So what’s the problem?
You know who else was sent to the bullpen when he couldn’t cut it as a starting pitcher? He turned out to be the guy that, not once, but twice came in to a game and shut down the opposition. Once was in the National League Championship Series and then he followed it up in the World Series with another dominating performance. Oh…the year was 1969…and the pitcher was none other than, yes, Nolan Ryan. Another Hall of Famer.
Did anyone really think the Mets would go 161-1? So they finally lost a game to the Brewers but bounced right back to win the series in dramatic fashion thanks to, who else? Wilmer Flores and another walk off home run.
And in the midst of running off nine straight wins, they just happened to sweep a three-game series from the Nationals in their home ballpark in Washington last week. Now with the Nationals coming in to CitiField, it will be interesting to see if the Mets can keep the momentum going, or this train gets de-railed.
Opening day. The start of yet another season…a fresh start. A new manager…a mostly new coaching staff. A few new players...and another one brought back after being traded away. But the fact is that new manager Mickey Callaway will have the same dilemma that caused former manager Terry Collins such grief – how to deal with a club that is not constructed very well, is not very deep, and is just an injury or two away from suffering another disappointing season.
The key will, of course, be the health and performance of the starting pitching. After seeing each of the Fab Five – Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler – suffer some form of malady during the course of 2017, it appeared that after newly acquired Jason Vargas went down with a broken hand the quintet would finally be all together in the rotation at the same time. But Wheeler’s poor performance derailed that and he is not only not in the rotation...he is not in the major leagues. And neither is Hansel Robles. And Rafael Montero would have been cut loose but the need for Tommy John surgery gave the Mets another option on him. So Seth Lugo takes Wheeler’s place who would have been out of the rotation anyway had Vargas not been hurt.
Spring is in the air. It has to be. Baseball is back. Well…it is in Florida and Arizona. I am sitting in NYC where it is 27 degrees and windy…conditions that beg to ask the question as to why I ever left South Florida.
Football may have the “Monday Morning Quarterback” but the banter around baseball is omni-present. And while it IS enjoyable to hear, read, and enjoy the diatribe, it is also amusing to encounter the absurd. Not all fans are educated about the game. That is crystal clear. But seeing some of the ideas spewed out there is almost cringe-worthy. Spring training is well underway and so is the absurdity.
I just noticed a post on Facebook that calls for the Mets to sign Brett Lawrie to play third base now that David Wright’s status is questionable. What is WRONG with people? What is this person thinking?
My mother always tried to warn me, "Don't count your chickens before your eggs are hatched." It's a good rule to live by, especially before the start of the baseball season. A 162-game schedule makes for a long season and a lot can happen. A season can turn on a dime. Things can go bad very quickly.
So when everyone was so quick to label the Mets starting rotation as the best staff ever assembled, you just had to wonder if it was a bit premature. Well they may just be the best collection of talent. But there certainly seems like there is something to be concerned about, especially for those who remember the group from a prior era that carried the tag "Generation K." The hype is great for marketing, but sometimes it can land you with egg on your face.
While it seems like the season has just begun, the first month is already in the books. And while it’s still way too early on in a long baseball season, as we learned last year, there appear to be some clear indications of what lays ahead for the 2016 Mets.
Let’s take a look at some of the takeaways from the first month:
The best pitching staff in baseball. The best pitching staff the Mets have ever had. The best pitching staff ever assembled. Hmmm. Can’t miss. After years of hope…or rather…hopelessness…it is refreshing to hear such high praise…any kind of praise really…for the Mets. And I can understand why the excitement about the Mets starting rotation is erupting like Mount St. Helen.
But is everyone too quick to adorn this group as the greatest ever assembled? Is the hype truly deserved at this point…or is it premature?
Mets fans have been victimized by the hype before. Remember Generation K? The big three in that group were Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher, and Jason Isringhausen. Bobby Jones was also a part of that staff that was supposed to be the greatest staff ever coming together. However, that greatness never materialized. In fact, the only one who had any kind of an effective career was Isringhausen who emerged as a dominant closer for a short time after overcoming numerous arm troubles.
Okay...so now that everyone got what they wanted...and the Mets ownership opened their wallets and re-signed Yoenis Cespedes...now what? The Mets now have four outfielders for three positions and there is not yet a DH in the National League.
When Cespedes was brought to the Mets at the trade deadline, there were circumstances that were much different than they are right now. Sandy Alderson was in the midst of revamping the support staff...bringing in valuable veterans like Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson for the bench and Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed for the bullpen. But he needed to do something about the outfield situation because Michael Cuddyer, who was signed as a free agent almost immediately after the conclusion of the 2014 season, was injured and greatly underperforming. And Juan Lagares had not taken the next step forward after a nice 2014 season in which he won a Gold Glove and looked like the second coming of Andruw Jones in centerfield. It was quite apparent that he was a shell of himself in centerfield, not getting to balls he would have gotten to easily the year before, and his feared rifle arm was reduced to that of a water pistol. We later found out that he was suffering from an injury that vastly curtailed his abilities.
It is just amazing how ridiculous some fans can be. The furor over signing Cespedes was relentless. Fans screamed that the Mets ownership NEVER spends money. And I think it is just incredible that the media feeds the frenzy and perpetuates the insanity.
Whether it was caving into the fan pressure or simply Sandy Alderson sticking to his plan and doing what was right for maintaining that plan and, at the same time, adding additional necessary parts, is irrelevant at this point. The fact is the Mets GM has taken chicken shit and turned it into chicken soup. Yes...he was not very successful with acquiring some bullpen help over the years of his tenure. But then, what GM really has been? Bullpen arms are so unpredictable. But what he HAS done is oversee the reshaping of the franchise, and has made the Mets into a contending team with a strong core of young talent promoted from a revitalized farm system, and bringing in spare parts when and where needed. Isn't that the formula the Yankees used to build their last dynasty?