The 2018 Mets are a complete question mark going into the season. Nobody has any clue what to expect from the team this season.
Going into the 2017 season, the Mets were coming off two straight playoff appearances for only the second time in team history and there was no reason to expect anything less from the team that year.
However, they got less, and by a lot. They finished the season 70-92 and ended up trading many of the team’s veteran players that were a part of the 2015 NL Champion roster.
The biggest question mark, as has been well depicted, is whether this team will stay healthy enough to compete with the elite of the National League.
Now, while getting everyone healthy again is key, there is one man that is more crucial than anyone for this team’s ability to succeed in 2018.
That man is Matt Harvey.
The 2017 season is one Harvey wishes he could forget. The 28-year old went 5-7 with a 6.70 ERA, 1.694 WHIP, and 6.37 FIP in 92.2 innings. He also finished with 47 walks as compared to only 67 strikeouts in that span.
In all fairness to the right-hander, 2017 was his first year returning from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, in which he underwent a procedure that not many have returned successfully.
Many pitchers, at the very least in their first season back, struggle with command and lose velocity, both of which happened to Harvey.
The 2017 season was not just difficult on the field for him, though. Off the field, he skipped team practice and instead stayed out late partying and was subsequently suspended by the team and was replaced for his start the next day by Adam Wilk.
So now its time to talk about what makes Harvey the team’s X-factor.
Remember the days of the Dark Knight. Those beautiful two years of 2013 and 2015 in which he just came out there and came out with a moxie that few pitchers have shown in the sport.
He looked like he came out with a target and he was not going to walk away without a perfect at-bat. He did not want to throw at the hitter, he wanted to throw the ball through them.
While 2013 was by far his best season as he had a 2.27 ERA, his 2015 numbers would be more than gladly welcomed by all Mets fans this season.
In 2015, the “Dark Knight” went 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA, 1.o19 WHIP, and 3.05 FIP. That season, he finished with 188 strikeouts as compared to only 37 walks in 189.1 innings.
As was well documented in the month of September that season, Harvey was up against a wall for an innings limit that was agreed upon by all parties, but attempted to be enforced largely by Scott Boras.
Harvey was initially planning to listen to his agent, but after hearing fan backlash came to the realization that if he wanted to pitch in New York and be liked by his own fanbase, he needed to pitch in the postseason.
He did so exceptionally as he went 2-0 with a 3.04 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 27 strikeouts in four starts. Hitters hit a mere .212 against him in the playoffs.
However, most Mets fans will always remember his postseason for his final start, which should have given him three postseason wins.
That game was the fifth game of the Kansas City Royals.
As can be seen in the above video, Harvey dominated for the first eight innings of this game. He looked like the ace of the staff and was throwing through hitters.
This World Series was the only time the Mets pitchers had struggled to miss bats as the Royals constantly put the ball in play.
Harvey was a different story that night. The Royals could not find a way to hit him and that led Harvey to have a shutout through eight innings to go along with nine strikeouts, only 103 pitches, and a 2-0 lead.
He was as fired up as ever, and sadly it might have been to a fault. He proceeded to confront Terry Collins and Dan Warthen when he was told he would be replaced by Jeurys Familia. He made a passionate plea, the one Mets fans had wanted to see from him when he almost sat out for the playoffs entirely.
Harvey convinced Collins to let him pitch the ninth, which as well all know ended up being a mistake being his and the Mets last night in World Series.
So why am I even mentioning this?
Well, it’s not to give everyone painful memories of the past. The point of this is to explain something about Harvey.
Many people say they just want Harvey to be himself out there, whatever that is. They want to take the pressure off of him. While I would like to not rely on him too heavily in 2018, there is one thing I think everyone has learned about the right-hander:
Harvey is only going to be good if the team can get him to believe in himself again, and not just that he is an MLB pitcher. They need to get him to believe that he is the best pitcher on the mound when he is out there.
It is all about confidence and fire with this guy. He needs to start throwing through guys again and find the fire that once made him the exciting phenom and talk of New York earlier in his career.
Let me put it this way, though. There are multiple teams that have more than one ace like the Mets with Syndergaard and deGrom.
The Cubs just signed Yu Darvish to go along with Jon Lester, the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, the Giants have Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, and the Nationals have Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
While some of those rotations are better than others after their two big names, all of those teams have something in common: they don’t have a third ace.
Well, in 2015, the Mets did, and that guy was Matt Harvey.
The key with this team is to find that third ace. Sure, it could be Steven Matz if he stays healthy. In a perfect world, the Mets could assemble the “Fab-Five” they had initially envisioned when Alderson began this project, which if perfected would be matched by no other team in baseball.
It isn’t a perfect world, though. The fact is Matz has never shown the ability to be durable throughout his career and Zack Wheeler is starting the year in Triple-A after an atrocious Spring Training.
Harvey is no guarantee, either, to be clear. In fact, it could be argued he is even less likely to find himself this year when considering he was the healthiest of the three and was by far the least effective.
The Mets will have to hope that an extra year removed from surgery will help him find his form and allow him to become the pitcher he was in the past.
Don’t listen to the projections for this team if Harvey is able to produce anything close to what he did in 2015. If he produces like that, this team will be in the playoffs and potentially win the division.
No other team has what the Mets would have in that scenario: three true aces.
So while everyone wants to take the burden off of him, which they do need to do to an extent with some insurance options in the rotation, the goal should not be to make him an afterthought in the rotation.
The goal needs to be to get him back to where he was. They need to make him believe he is the best guy out there again and let the “Dark Knight” rise again in what likely will be his last season with the Mets.