The moment came when I knew I had mentally, if unwittingly, written off the 2016 Mets. On Thursday night, I had a late meeting that kept me out until 10:00 PM. In such circumstances, I always, and I mean always, check the scoreboard. But having just witnessed the possible season-defining squandering of the biggest hit of the season, the Yoenis Cespedes home run the night before in the rubber game of a key series against St. Louis, and the maddening parade of runners left on the bases for the last three months, I did not even remember to check and see if they won until…after midnight.
This did not happen overnight. The feeling of a seriously disappointing season began to overtake me – and many others – by the first official day of summer (after getting swept at Citi by the Braves), but many people here lambasted me for writing such, I advanced then, as I do in part now, the unsophisticated assertion that sometimes you just have a lousy season.
Sure, I understand the NL is not so good this season, so they could still get hot enough to snag a wild card berth. Jay Bruce could provide a boost. They could somehow recreate the synergy that suddenly developed at exactly this time a year ago.
But there is no denying that this team is free falling right now. And there is not a single player out there who can turn a season around as Yoenis Cespedes did starting a year ago Monday. And other than the overarching “just a lousy season” theory, the RISP (runners in scoring position) issue will almost certainly become the singular cause of RIP (rest in peace) for this team.
How bad is it?. Well, this is the worst performance with RISP by any team since the Padres in the year the Mets won the World Series. And no, I don’t mean 1986. I mean 1969. That’s 47 years ago, folks. And this is the second worst performance with RISP in MLB history. Add to that the fact that Mets are not just at the bottom of MLB in this category, but are last (behind the 29th place Yankees, of all people) by 17 points. This borders on the inconceivable.
I am not alone in saying I now actually dread loading the bases, or even getting the first two men on in an inning. Just hit your solo homers, pray for your pitchers and be done with it.
How could it be this bad?
Theories abound. Major injuries to our core and corner infielders, leavened with consistent short term injuries that have consistently wreaked havoc with the lineup. The absence of Daniel Murphy 2.0 (though I think he skipped multiple upgrades and went straight to 6.0). A total lack of team speed. Or perhaps the lowest BABIP in the majors (just ahead of, believe it or not, the Nationals), leading to the scientific conclusion that they are…snake bitten.
We’ve even been reduced to considering whether the baseball gods are getting even for all the breaks they offered up last year: a down season for the Nationals, falling into Cespedes only after concerted attempts to acquire Carlos Gomez and Jay Bruce had failed, plus the usual once-per-generation Mets magic.
But the only theory that really makes any sense is that this team became so accustomed to bashing their way to victory with long balls in April that they completely lost their edge in situational hitting, and have never regained it. And now, the RISP thing has become such a meme that even the manager has admitted it is certainly infecting the clubhouse (just as their total lack of offense developed into a league-wide meme last July). Most every player in such circumstances projects himself as the one who can get the breakout hit, and none but Mr. Cespedes has succeeded.
This, despite legitimate pre-season projections that this lineup would be good if not great. Better than average certainly, with the pre-season prospect of a decent hitter like Asdrubal Cabrera or Travis d’Arnaud hitting eighth in a balanced and deep lineup.
And yet, the only offensive player who has even met, not to mention exceeded, expectations is Mr. Cespedes (though James Loney might accurately be considered an overachiever). Wasn’t Michael Conforto going to be an impact bat, even at this nascent stage of his career? Couldn’t we expect Curtis Granderson to at least come close to his outstanding performance out of the leadoff spot last season? Who expected Alejandro De Aza to be such a bust (despite better AB’s lately)? Wasn’t d’Arnaud poised for a breakout offensive season? And if not, wouldn’t Plawecki represent a capable backup behind the plate? Where is Zack Wheeler? Where is Josh Edgin?
At the same time, could we not pencil in 25-30 homers from Lucas Duda and perhaps 120 games played from the captain?
One thing is inarguable. This offense lacks even a hint of dynamism. They are incapable of making things happen. And a team already sorely lacking speed now proceeds without the only two players who could be defined as fast – Jose Reyes for the short term (or so we’re told) and Juan Lagares for the long term. This makes for a station-to-station team that has descended from the most exciting team in baseball from this date on last season to the point of being almost unwatchable.
It is too late to change the identity of this offense. We can only double down on the one asset we do have. Thus, the interest in Bruce, now that the Mets’ rather generous offer for Jonathan Lucroy was rejected, to provide a shot of adrenaline for an offense that has proven that they can win consistently only with power.
We are actually at the point where some are advocating what seemed unthinkable if we rewind the calendar to April, that the Mets should be sellers as the trade deadline approaches. They probably won’t be per se, but even the front office has to believe at this point it is unwise to empty the farm system for the sake of a possible one game playoff. At the same time, no one will shed a tear or claim we’ve gone into a rebuilding mode if the likes of Walker, Cabrera, De Aza, Granderson and certainly Antonio Bastardo are peddled immediately to build a better 2017 and possibly re-stock the farm system.
Sometimes, a season just ain’t happening. Just ask the 2015 Nationals, who have – surprisingly to my mind – rebounded as if last season never happened. We have reason to remain optimistic about the future, if not as wildly optimistic as were were after a most unexpected trip to the October Classic one year ago.
But certain things must fall into place. Whether Bruce is acquired or not, Mr. Cespedes must be tendered an offer to extend his current deal for another three or four years. Let Harvey recover, remove the bone chips from the elbows of Matz and, if necessary, Syndergaard, keep Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith at almost any cost, and be flexible with the likes of Nimmo and Cecchini, letting them develop or including them as trade pieces that can return immediate offense next season. Because the last thing we can bear – again – is the performance of this historic trove of ace-quality young and controllable pitchers to continue to go for naught.
We’re Mets fans. We know that with the lone exception of 1999-2000, we never have back-to-back postseasons. So perhaps we should have somehow expected this, but the amazing memories of 2015 are still present if not fresh, and that will hopefully allow us the occasional sad or even joyful smile and the belief that 2017 can only be better.