I try to have realistic expectations when it comes to the Mets and, a lot of times, those come off as rather negative, but – when it comes down to it – we all want the same thing: for the Mets to win the World Series.
Coming into the 2016 season, I said how strange it felt to actually have genuine expectations for this ballclub. As Met fans, we’ve basically gotten used to being out of things before the trade deadline, but still seem to enjoy the few bright spots whether that be an overperforming fan favorite (see: Dickey, R.A, 2012) or a singular moment of awesomeness (Santana, Johan, also 2012). There are times when the team is bad, but there’s still enough to have fun while taking in the day-to-day grind of the season.
There’s been plenty of years where I’ve gone to a ton of games during lost seasons and found ways to still maximize the fun value whether that be through cheap tickets, short lines for bathrooms and concessions or not having to wait to get out of the parking lot. That kind of stuff matters to a ballpark experience.
This year was different, though. Coming off a surprise World Series appearance last year, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the same seats at the same prices anymore. I knew I’d have to wait a bit longer than usual to get a steak sandwich. More importantly, I knew I had a team on the field that wasn’t building for the future, but meant to contend right now.
To be honest, the fact that the Mets are only 6 games out in the NL East right now despite all of the injuries they’ve suffered in the lineup is an accomplishment in itself. The team has looked so inept offensively at times that you have to wonder just how much of a catastrophe this season would have been had the front office followed the original blueprint and not resigned Yoenis Cespedes.
But let’s not play the “what-if” game right now. Let’s take a genuine look at what we have as we start the second half tonight in Philadelphia. Can this team make the playoffs? Is making the playoffs enough to fulfill the preseason expectations? Can Daniel Murphy just leave us alone? Let’s examine.
Is there enough pitching to hold this together?
This is the most important question and the answer isn’t as simple as it was even a month ago. Matt Harvey hasn’t been the Matt Harvey we thought we were getting and will now miss the remainder of the season due to surgery. For now, at least, he’ll be replaced in the rotation by Logan Verrett who has basically been your typical 6th starter/swingman out of the bullpen. Key thing to remember here is that while Harvey has a lot of name value, the performance that needs to be replaced wasn’t Cy Young level so Verrett should – hopefully – be able to give you what you were getting out of Harvey before the injury.
A bigger problem is the setbacks in the rehab of Zack Wheeler. Originally expected to be returning to the rotation around now, Wheeler has continually suffered what the team has classified as “minor” setbacks and hasn’t even thrown off a mound as of yet. That is not good. At this point, it’s basically unreasonable to expect any kind of significant contribution from Wheeler in 2016.
Which brings us to Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz who both have bone spurs in their elbows which doesn’t even include Thor’s recent “dead arm” issue. If one or both of them decides that the pain from the spur is just too much and decides to have surgery to remove it, this team is dead in the water as there just isn’t the depth in the system that there used to be because of promotions, trades and Rafael Montero completely forgetting how to pitch. Bartolo Colon was brought back this season to give the team a bridge in the rotation until Wheeler would come back at which point he’d move into the pen and provide depth. He’s been terrific and the Mets have needed it as their best-laid plans have caught fire.
Why didn’t they re-sign Daniel Murphy?
Look, Murph was here for a long time and was a nice player, but aside from two weeks in October, he never looked like the player he has apparently become. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and the Mets desperately needed to upgrade defensively after they were absolutely exposed in the World Series against the Royals. Allowing Murph to leave gave them the chance to add a comparable offensive player in Neil Walker who was a definite improvement with the glove while also being able to add a first-round sandwich pick in the draft after giving Daniel the qualifying offer. With Dilson Herrera waiting in Las Vegas to take over 2B in Queens, the ability to use Walker as a one year stopgap and get back another compensation draft pick when he leaves as a free agent after this year was a smart tactical decision by the front office. Sure, it stings that Murphy has had a great year and has hit something like 43 homers against just the Mets so far, but sometimes these things happen. I’m not rooting against Murph. For a team that lacks positive moments in their history, Murph provided us with one of the all-time great postseason runs – not just in Mets history – but in all of baseball. We should always be grateful for that.
Is Jose Reyes the biggest addition we’ll see for this lineup?
From how it sounds…probably. But is this enough? I wasn’t enamored with the idea of signing Jose. As much as I was a fan during his first go-round in Queens, the combination of declining skills and him grabbing his wife by the throat and slamming her into a door didn’t exactly put him at the top of my list. But he’s here. He’s shown obvious signs of rust which is to be expected since he hasn’t seen major league action since last October, but, aside from that, there does appear to be something left in the tank. He’s obviously motivated to reclaim his career and – even if he isn’t as fast as he used to be – he’s still a net positive on the basepaths (as long as he can get on base with any consistency) because the Mets – as a team – may have the least footspeed of any team ever. This team is strictly station to station which limits the things you can do offensively if you can’t steal a base or go first to third on a single to right or even score from second on a base hit. This team needs to be able to generate more runs so Reyes could be valuable if he finds even some of what made him special way back when.
The lineup will still need another addition, but it’s doubtful it will come from outside the organization in another Cespedes-type acquisition like last year. Lucas Duda seems no closer to returning than he did when he first went out and the team may have to rely on Walker, Curtis Granderson to provide bigger second halves to go along with the return of Michael Conforto once he returns to the big club from a stint in Triple-A. Before going down, Conforto looked absolutely overmatched and was an automatic out. Hopefully, he comes back in a similar fashion that d’Arnaud did when he was demoted a few years back with a renewed approach and clear head.
Is Terry Collins the right guy to be leading this team?
I hate Terry. It’s no secret. I can’t kill him too much this season because of all the injuries, but do I have faith that Terry Collins will be to outmaneuver anybody come crunch time? No. Not in the least. Unfortunately, barring an unforseen and atypical ballsy move by Alderson, Collins is here to stay.
Is this a playoff caliber team? Is just making the playoffs enough?
Can this team as currently constructed make the playoffs? Tough question. I’d lean toward yes, they can, but it’s far from a sure thing. The Marlins have been surprising and while the Pirates haven’t played as well as you may have expected, there’s still plenty of time for them to get hot. The Dodgers currently hold the first Wild Card spot, but if Clayton Kershaw’s back injury is anything longer-term than thought, they are in real trouble with a thin rotation.
The Mets had huge expectations coming into the year with a maturing pitching staff that was considered the best in the game and a solid lineup that Collins never figured out how to work before everybody dropped like flies anyway. I am not confident that the Mets will catch the Nationals. It wouldn’t be absurd if they did, but this is not the Nationals of last year. They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and are taking extra enjoyment each time they can humble the Mets, especially when Murphy is the one leading the way.
The Mets will have to slide in as a Wild Card where they have as good a shot as anybody as long as they don’t lose any of the other pitchers. But would that be enough to satisfy preseason expectations?
Honestly? Yeah. To me, yes. The Mets – in their history – have only qualified for the postseason in consecutive years one time (1999-2000). That’s it. We’ve sat through such consistency of losing that our great teams are standalone years as opposed to transcendent eras of winning. This team has enough pieces in place where this can be a sustained run of competitiveness and – with the amount of teams that now qualify for the postseason – should be playing meaningful September and October baseball for the foreseeable future.
Only eight teams (the two that lose the Wild Card game really don’t count) in the majors make the playoffs. It’s an accomplishment to get there after such a long season and should be respected and appreciated as such. As a Mets fan, you’ve learned to deal with extended periods of losing baseball while keeping the optimism high that the future holds better days. Well, that future is here. This team may not be blowing teams out of the water like the 86 or 06 teams did, but they’re a far cry from being “the worst team money can buy” of the early 90s.
Yes, missed opportunity to score a run from third with less than two out is going to frustrate you, but sometimes you have to take a step back and remember, “Hey…we went to the World Series last year.” I know I do. It actually happened. I have a cap and jersey that actually say “World Series” on it. Enjoy the good times, friends. Because, as we’ve seen, they can be fleeting and then you’ll be left wishing you enjoyed them more as they were happening.
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