It’s only slightly hyperbolic to call the New York Mets the most frustrating franchise in sports. When they don’t re-sign a player, he succeeds elsewhere and the fans revolt. When the team signs a superstar, that player gets hurt or fails to produce and the fans boo.
Wednesday, indignant fans ran to Twitter urging the Mets to make a trade at the deadline only to feel the sharp sting of disappointment that comes from a fifth losing season. Being a fan is bad for your health.
Well all hope is not lost, despite what a few Twitter know-it-alls may say. For all the ire directed his way, GM Sandy Alderson deserves credit for sticking to the plan. Even if they finish below .500, the pieces are in place to right the ship soon. Don’t give up on the Mets now. Don’t turn off the TV. There are reasons to watch and show up to the ballpark.
The Young Pitchers
If it helps, think of 2013 as Extended Spring Training for Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler; this is just their tune-up for 2014 when the games really matter. Harvey needs to work on pitching deeper into games and Wheeler is still learning to locate his fastball, but the improvement is exciting.
Harvey leads National League starting pitchers in xFIP and K%, and ranks second in WHIP. He’s limiting baserunners, keeping the ball in the park and striking out 30 percent of batters he faces. He gives his team a legit chance to win every game he starts. Wheeler is also pitching well. When he locates his fastball to both sides of the plate, he looks dominant.
The one-two combo is great, but the bullpen needs to come around too. Gonzalez Germen is pitching well for Mets, and Jack Leathersich, Jeff Walters and other prospects in the system are flourishing. Even Jenrry Mejia has resurfaced, showing off his sweepy, Mo-esque cutter (thanks for the comp, Jerry Manuel). Noah Syndergaard and Raphael Montero are around the corner too. For the first time in a while, the Mets might have too many pitchers — the best kind of problem. Some of these youngsters will start, and the rest will form the backbone of a very sturdy bullpen, and these arms will be on display in September.
The power arms in the system have transformed from myth to commodity. They’re real and they look spectacular.
Everytime the Mets gain some momentum, something weird happens. They were poised to sweep the Nationals in a double-header, then Daniel Murphy sailed a throw to first base leading to a Nats comeback and a Ryan Zimmerman walk-off homer. Then they took two games from the Marlins, but couldn’t win the series, losing the next two behind strong pitching performances.
Despite the inconsistency and wacky misfortunes (like a routine groundball hitting a divet and bouncing over Justin Turner’s shoulder), the Mets have gone 23-19 since mid-June and sit only three games behind the second-place Nationals.
Obviously, no great team aims for or feels satisfied with second best, but considering the horrendous start to the season, the Mets should feel good about where they are. Terry Collins’ never quit attitude is rubbing off and he deserves some recognition. The Nationals and Phillies spent the last two months spinning their wheels while the Mets quietly crept closer. The Braves will likely win the division, but second place and a winning record are surprisingly attainable.
Momentum is a big deal. A strong second half would be a confidence booster shot for a young team ready to contend.
The Center Fielder
Small Sample Size warning: Juan Lagares is awesome.
In 22 July games he batted .353/.408/.529, ranked second among NL center fielders in wOBA and wRC+, and earned an NL Player of the Week Award. Seriously awesome.
Trading away Angel Pagan after the 2011 was, to be polite, not smart. The reasoning was sound — it was time for a divorce — but the results were horrendous. Andres Torres was ineffective, and Ramon Ramirez was somehow even less effective; Pagan’s played like an All-Star in San Francisco. New York Mets center fielders have been terrible ever since.
Okay, bad trade. But that’s why pencils have erasers, and Juan is that eraser. Signed as an International Free Agent in 2006, Lagares really turned heads in 2011 when he batted posted a .883 OPS between high-A and double-A. He’s still learning to hit in the Majors, but he’s a tireless worker and has a track record that suggests he’ll acclimate. If he can provide even league average production at the plate, his excellent defense makes him a true two-way player in center. Those are very rare.
Tickets will be much more expensive next year
It may be a less sexy reason to selling point, but it’s worth mentioning: If the Mets turn things around by 2014 tickets could become much more expensive. Face it, thanks to their new dynamic ticket pricing system this may be the last season you and your buddies can get to a Mets/Rockies game for ten bucks apiece. If ticket demand goes up, so does the price tag. A packed house on Harvey Day may sound nice, but it’ll cost you.
**from the FWIW files: if you’re a milestone tracker like me, Marlon Byrd is sitting on 99 career HRs. That’ll be fun to watch out for.