I had an interesting conversation on Sunday, with one of my oldest friends who is a dyed in the wool Mets fan like me. Back in the day, the two of us would always find ways of getting into trouble while roaming around the field level seats with our mezzanine level tickets at Big Shea. We were quite a handful for the ushers and security guards in those days, but what a blast we had as we spent nearly every Saturday at our late, great haunt whenever the Mets were in town.
By the 4th or 5th innings, they would usually give up and we’d find a couple of great seats to watch the rest of the game from. We’d then grab our prosciutto, mozzarella, and roasted peppers heros that we picked up at the Italian Deli, buy a couple of Cokes from a vendor, and then wee’d feast while we rooted our team on. Fun times….
Over the next two decades, which included plenty of heartbreak and losing seasons, my former partner in crime became the most cynical and pessimistic Mets fan you would ever see. We got into a real animated conversation over the state of the team yesterday, talking about the team’s great start, as well as the recent down tick, some questionable moves by Mickey Callaway, the bullpen, and of course Matt Harvey too.
While he believes the Mets rolled into some luck to begin the season and that it wouldn’t be long until that luck rolled the other way, I strongly begged to differ. Now, I’m not saying that the Mets are the world-beaters we saw in the first two weeks of the season. But they certainly have shown that this is a team that will battle all season long and will secure a playoff berth.
Sooner or later things were bound to normalize and I believe that’s what we’ve seen this past week as the Amazins’ lost four of their last six games following a meteoric 12-2 start. But as the great Bill Parcells used to say, “you are what your record says you are,” and at 14-5 the Mets are sitting pretty atop the NL East.
It’s easy to point to the recent bullpen implosions and some of the lackluster performances in the early going and call the first couple of weeks a fluke. But if you were to back off the ledge and look at this team objectively, you’ll be surprised to learn just how good this team really is and that the best may be yet to come.
Let me give you pessimists out there a few reasons as to why I believe this Mets team is totally legit and they are a true threat to win it all this season.
1. Outfield? What Outfield?
What I find incredibly amazing about our 14-6 record, is that we accomplished that while our three big guns in the outfield are struggling to keep their heads above water.
- Yoenis Cespedes: .195/.258/.354 (89 PA)
- Jay Bruce: .194/.280/.328 (75 PA)
- Michael Conforto: .213/.387/.340 (62 PA)
Obviously, all three of them are not going to end the season with those numbers and once they get going the Mets are going to be a juggernaut offensively. All three of them will have roughly 30 homers and 80+ RBIs each when everything is said and done. When they finally bust out and start producing like we know they can, what a huge shot in the arm this will be for our offense.
2. A Pair of Aces
If there is a better 1-2 punch in the league right now than Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom I challenge you to name them. Good luck with that… Despite some hard luck no decisions, our two big right-handers are on their way to what could be their best seasons ever according to some key metrics.
- Jacob deGrom: 2.31 FIP, 1.021 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 5.00 K/BB, 1.1 fWAR
- Noah Syndergaard: 2.39 FIP, 1.031 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 7.80 K/BB, 0.80 fWAR
What cannot be overstated when you consider this pair of aces, is that they are an incredible firewall against any prolonged losing streaks and over the years each of them have displayed their ability to be stoppers. The scary part from listening to both of them recently, is that they each believe they have lots of room for improvement and are not sitting on their laurels. As long as these two remain healthy the Mets’ chances of winning 90+ games is a given and that’s an automatic trip to the postseason.
3. What A Relief
Sure, the Mets have yet to see one pitch from their biggest bullpen acquisition of the offseason, Anthony Swarzak. But what a shot in the arm it will be when he finally rejoins the team sometime next month. Despite his absence, what a heck of a job by Robert Gsellman and Paul Sewald out of that bullpen. Each of them have burst out of the gate in dominating fashion and have taken their roles and ran with them.
- Robert Gsellman: 1.45 FIP, 1.135 WHIP, 13.1 K/9, 178 ERA+
- Paul Sewald: 1.00 FIP, 0.650 WHIP, 13.0 K/9, 184 ERA+
Small sample sizes aside, I believe we’ve seen enough so far this season that would warrant putting Gsellman in that setup role and giving AJ Ramos a less critical job in that pen. We knew what we were getting in Ramos when we traded for him. He’s always had an ugly walk rate and that’s not the kind of pitcher you want to bring in with runners on base or to protect a one-run lead. After Jeurys Familia, Gsellman might just be the next best arm in that pen. And as for Sewald, after posting a 1.207 WHIP in 57 appearances for the Mets in his rookie season, he’s looking even more dominant and more confident every time he comes out of those bullpen gates this season. I said it last year and I’ll say it again, he’s on his way to becoming an elite setup man if not more.
The bottom line is that the Mets clearly have one of the best bullpens in the league and before they got a little taxed this past week, we saw just how overpowering they were as they held some of the NL’s top offensive players at bay. As our starting pitchers begin to pitch deeper into games the bullpen should ease back into the well rested, highly effective unit we saw to begin the season. And that’s bad news for the rest of the league.
4. League’s Best Bench
I liked our bench right from the start after Brandon Nimmo made the team out of spring training, it was well balanced with some power, speed, on-base skills and some pretty good leather. But wow, I don’t think we’d be anything close to 14-6 if not for the incredible efforts of Nimmo, Wilmer Flores, and Juan Lagares. And even though there’s just not enough at-bats to go around, each of them have presented strong cases for more playing time.
- Juan Lagares: .379/.424/.414, 33 PA, 138 OPS+
- Brandon Nimmo: .333/.533/.714, 34 PA, 249 OPS+
- Wilmer Flores: .263/.333/.474, 42 PA, 125 OPS+
The good news so far for Lagares and Flores is that their walks are up and their strikeouts are down. In fact, each have exactly as many free passes as they do whiffs. Nimmo has been an absolute godsend and his exuberance for the game has become infectious. And even Jose Reyes, who began the season with an 0-for-20 slump, picked up three hits on Saturday and could be ready to make this high-octane bench even more productive.
In addition to the above, there’s a lot more evidence to suggest that these Mets are not a fluke and are totally ready for prime time. You have them finally scoring runs without the benefit of home runs, they have a manager who holds everyone accountable and means what he says, and perhaps my favorite thing of all – their swagger is back and it’s been great to see.
The resiliency of this team and their ability to battle late in the game has made them a team you can never count out. I love the confidence they’ve displayed which has fueled a winning culture that has long been missing in Flushing. There’s still a whole lotta season yet to be played and anything can still happen, but I’m confident that when all is said and done, Mickey will have guided the Mets back to the playoffs and hopefully the Fall Classic as well.