Apparently, Christian Vazquez now belongs on this list.
After an impressive first start of the season, Steven Matz was good again tonight. Good, not great, and that was because of Vazquez.
Over his 5.1 innings, Matz allowed three runs on eight hits. All three of those runs came on Vazquez homers.
The first homer came in the top of the second. Matt settled in, and the Mets would get him a lead. In the third, Jeff McNeil hit a bases loaded two RBI single. The Mets only had one out, but failed to push across another run. It would cost them.
In the fourth, Matz had one of his moments of old. Xander Bogaerts led off the inning with a slow roller down the third base line. McNeil had little choice but to eat it. Matz was visibility frustrated by getting beat on a slow dribbler off a good pitch.
Like we’ve seen in the past with him, he can let the emotions get the better of him. He’d leave a fastball up and over the middle of the plate, and Vazquez would hit his second homer of the game giving the Red Sox a 3-2 lead.
Vazquez really just wore out the Mets in this four game two city set. He was 4-for-12 with three homers and four RBI. All three of his homers came over the last two games.
It wasn’t just his work at the plate. He was also terrific behind the plate. He worked well with Martin Perez. On that note, Perez allowed just two runs on two hits and four walks over 5.1 innings.
Vazquez would also throw out one of the two stolen base attempts against him.
Back to Perez, he was good but very wild walking four. Even with those four walks, the Mets really only got something started in the third against Perez.
Fortunately, the Mets bullpen was great with Drew Smith pitching 1.2 scoreless with two strikeouts. Jeurys Familia has his turbo sinker working striking out two in a 1-2-3 eighth. That gave the Mets a chance.
Michael Conforto came up with a chance, but he had a terrible at-bat. He was uncomfortable with many check swings, and he’d just get overpowered when he struck out. As good as Conforto was to start he year, he’s been that bad the last two games.
Despite not really preparing for the season and missing Summer Camp, the Mets activated Brian Dozier. Not only was he activated, but he’d also be thrust into the starting lineup.
Dozier was 0-for-2 with a GIDP. With the Red Sox pitching the right-handed Heath Hembree, Luis Rojas sent Robinson Cano to the plate. After Cano’s lead-off single, Rojas sent Gimenez in to pinch run for Cano. Gimenez would steal a base, but he’d get stranded.
That meant Gimenez was up in the Dozier/Cano spot in the eighth. Unlike yesterday when he tripled, he rolled over one for the inning ending groundout.
Brandon Workman, who really labored yesterday and nearly blew the save, came on to try to get another save tonight.
Alonso swung at a 2-2 pitch well out of the zone to strike out and end the game. The Mets turned what should’ve been a series sweep with two flat out ugly loses at home, and they fell back under .500.
Game Notes: Dozier replaced Eduardo Nunez, who was placed on the IL. Daniel Zamora was recalled, and Hunter Strickland was designated for assignment. Despite having a 22 game on base streak, Brandon Nimmo continues to bat ninth.
Luis Rojas and the Mets had done nearly everything right, and they were one strike away from going to 2-0 on the season.
He got a lead in the fifth on a rally started by the same Michael Conforto we’re all told can’t hit lefties hit a double off Braves left-handed starter Max Fried. Conforto scored on an Amed Rosario RBI triple, and Rosario scored on a Jeff McNeil sacrifice fly.
Jeurys Familia was great out of the bullpen flashing the same power sinker which made him a great closer. Dellin Betances had a rocky debut for the Mets, but it didn’t hurt that Mets for a few reasons.
First, Rojas went to Justin Wilson to face Matt Adams. When Adams singled, it didn’t score a run because in the top of the eighth, Rojas brought in Jake Marisnick for defense. If that’s Brandon Nimmo in center, Adams single goes for extra bases and ties the score. Instead, the Mets got out of the inning with the lead.
Now, there were some questionable decisions. After Wilson Ramos led off the seventh with a single, Rojas didn’t pinch run for him even with the Mets having three catchers. Ramos was stranded at third (even if his speed wasn’t really the reason).
What made that interesting was in the eighth with two outs Rojas did pinch run Eduardo Nunez for Yoenis Cespedes. Nunez would steal second, but he would be stranded there. He was stranded there because in his first MLB at-bat Andres Gimenez.
Gimenez was brought in for defense for Robinson Cano even with Cano due up fourth. It’s not a bad decision, but you do wonder why not Luis Guillorme there when he had a good year last year, especially in those spots.
9th inning. 2 outs. Full count.⁰⁰
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) July 25, 2020
For those defending the pitch, EVERY PITCH OF THE AT-BAT WAS ON THE OUTSIDE CORNER. Ozuna knew exactly the location allowing him the advantage of knowing to go the other way. You go belt high to a batter knowing the location, bad things are going to happen.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets had runners on first and second with one out, but neither Nimmo (who batted ninth) nor McNeil could drive in the game winning run.
In the tenth, we saw that ridiculous new rule putting a runner put on second to start the inning. That runner scored immediately when Hunter Strickland allowed an RBI single to Dansby Swanson. Strickland wasn’t good at all. By the time he allowed a RBI double to William Contreras, the Braves fourth string catcher, it was 5-2.
Honestly, when you look at this game, Diaz was not the only player to blow it.
Nimmo and McNeil twice had runners in scoring position in the late innings, and they failed to deliver the needed insurance run. They also failed to capitalize in the bottom of the 10th.
The Mets loaded the bases with no outs against Luke Jackson in his second inning of work. Instead of Cespedes up, it was Nunez, who hit a shallow fly. Dominic Smith pinch hit for Gimenez and hit a sacrifice fly pulling the Mets to within 5-3.
That would be the final score with Ramos, who was not pinch run for, grounding out to end the game. That groundout came on the heels of some interesting (if not questionable) decisions. It came on the heels of a number of blown chances.
In a normal season, a loss like this feels devastating. In a season where a game is equivalent to 2.7 games, it may actually be devastating.
Game Notes: Last year, Diaz had a 13.50 ERA with zero days of rest, and he had a 6.14 ERA pitching to Ramos. J.D. Davis has started the year 0-for-6 with two strikeouts.
The Mets have done their part protecting the confidentiality of their players. We know Brad Brach and Robinson Cano aren’t in camp, but the team will not say why. Thar said, Luis Rojas might’ve given us an indication it’s COVID19 related:
Luis Rojas said the Mets haven't had any baseball-related injuries so far during camp.
— Tim Healey (@timbhealey) July 12, 2020
As is typically the case when a player is going to miss time, the discussion begins on what the Mets should do to replace these players.
There’s a ton of options available to replace Cano, and it’s an interesting debate.
It’s similar to Brach. Newly signed Jared Hughes is obviously the first man up to replace him. There’s also Paul Sewald, Drew Smith, Stephen Gonsalves, Franklyn Kilome, Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt, and some interesting minor league arms.
If this were a normal 2020 season, we’d debate the correct path, and we’d see the Mets have time to get it wrong, get it wrong again, and hopefully, finally make the correct decision.
However, this is far from a normal season. There is a pandemic which threatens the lives and long-term health of people. We’ve already heard about Freddie Freeman and his struggle with this disease. We’re hearing about Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz still experiencing some issues.
Right now, we don’t know if Brach or Cano have COVID19. To the extent they do have it, we don’t know how much it’s impacting them now, or will affect their health in the future.
The only thing we do know is there’s a pandemic which is affecting people differently. We know this pandemic has no vaccine. Even with precautions, we can’t guarantee players won’t become infected.
With all we know and don’t know with COVID19, at some point we need to pivot from who will replace these infected players to whether there should be baseball in 2020.
Remember, it’s alright to desperately want baseball to return. It’s also alright to believe it’s not safe for these players to play. We’re all human, and there’s no clear cut answer or solution.
With the news of Michael Conforto straining his oblique, he will likely miss Opening Day, and it is possible he will miss approximately a month. That is a month to figure out what is the best way to manage his absence. That is a problem all the more problematic given how the Mets only have two outfielders who are everyday caliber with Conforto being one of them.
There are a number of potential solutions, each of which are fraught with with their own problems.
The Mets could go with J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith in the corners. However, with their OAA and sprint speed that is not a viable defensive solution. They could also go with Jake Marisnick in center, but he was a well below average hitter and among the worst hitters at his position even when he knew what pitch was coming.
The Mets could better mix and match in the outfield if they could put Jeff McNeil back in a corner outfield position. As we saw last year, he was a good defender out there, and as we saw, he was an All-Star in left last year. However, in order for that to happen, the Mets need to have a replacement for him at third as McNeil is slated to be the everyday third baseman.
On that note, Eduardo Nunez is having a good Spring Training, and according to reports, he feels the healthiest he has in years. As reported by Tim Britton of The Athletic, Nunez took time off to heal as he said, “Last year, I couldn’t even play defense, I couldn’t hustle, I couldn’t steal any base, I couldn’t hit for power, so it was really tough.”
If he’s completely healthy, which Nunez asserts wasn’t the case in Boston, he appears to be on track to making the Opening Day roster. More than that, he could insert himself into the everyday lineup with Conforto’s injury.
In his 10 year career, despite his speed, Nunez has never been a good defender. In fact, he is a negative defender at every infield position. That said, his best infield position is third base. That’s not exactly inspiring with him having a -22 DRS there in his career. However, notably, he amassed a -12 DRS in his two years with the Red Sox.
Prior to the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Nunez had not been all that bad at third. After posting a -4 DRS in 2014, he had a -3 DRS over the ensuing three seasons with two of them being at a 0 DRS or better. It should be noted his OAA numbers were not all the positive with a -6 in 2017, 0 in 2018, and -3 in 2019.
All told, he is just not good at third. However, what he appears to be is playable there over a shorter duration. Of course, the question is whether it is worth playing him there. On the surface, the answer is probably not. In his two years with Boston, Nunez’s wRC+ was 70, which is worse than Marisnick.
Of course, that number was dragged down by Nunez’s woeful 2019 season. Looking back to the three seasons prior to Nunez’s Boston years, he had a 106 OPS+ making him slightly above league-average. Slightly above league average with the bat and below league average as a fielder isn’t a bad mix for a solid utility player.
However, for an everyday player it is less than ideal. In fact, it is not a recipe for success. Ultimately, this means Nunez shouldn’t be the solution for Conforto in his absence. That would then mean McNeil stays at third, and the Mets are left with either a center fielder who can’t hit or a pair of first baseman in the corners.
Right now, if the Mets don’t make a move, they are going to need Yoenis Cespedes to make unexpected progress, or they are going to need Luis Rojas to show deft touch in mixing a matching his lineup. That is not an enviable position to be in, but that’s where the Mets stand due to their not addressing their outfield depth this past offseason.