With the New York Mets failing to make the postseason, and worse yet, with their collapse, the narrative has become this core hasn’t been good enough to win a World Series. Sandy Alderson seemed to echo that sentiment a bit when he said there were going to be changes to the core this offseason. Of course, with free agency and the like, that was probably going to happen anyway.
Before Steve Cohen purchased the team, the Mets core could probably be defined as Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Jacob deGrom, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, Dominic Smith, and Noah Syndergaard. At least, that was the homegrown core. In that core, you had two ace level pitchers, two All-Star level first baseman (yes, Smith was that in 2020), two All-Star level outfielders, and a jack-of-all trades All-Star.
When you add Francisco Lindor, who joins deGrom as a future Hall of Famer, you’d be hard pressed to find much better cores in all of baseball. This level of talent should be the envy of the other 29 teams in the league. That begs the question what went wrong in 2021.
On the one hand, this was a team which was 3.5 games in first place at the trade deadline. Their high water mark was 5.5 games up on June 16. As we know, this team had the bottom completely fall out as they finished eight games under .500 and 11.5 games back of a mediocre Atlanta Braves team for the division.
The narratives emerged. Luis Rojas was in over his head. The ReplaceMets got them the division lead, but the regulars couldn’t seal the deal. This team had no heart, no will to win, no killer instinct, etc. Basically, chose your narrative and apply it to this team.
In many ways, that’s what people said about the 2007-2008 Mets. As we all learned, firing Willie Randolph wasn’t a solution. Switching out leaders like Cliff Floyd was a mistake. Really, making change for its own sake proved to be a complete and utter disaster. Certainly, so was the Wilpons involvement in a Ponzi Scheme. That said, the level of dissatisfaction with “the core” rather than a real analysis of what was the problem led to the demise of that team.
The real issue with that Mets team was injuries and pitching. During the back-to-back collapses, the pitching completely fell apart at the end. Certainly, Jeff Wilpon playing doctor played a massive role in that happening. In some ways, we’re seeing the same thing happen but with a completely new regime.
Let’s take a look at the 2021 Mets. The first thing which should jump off the page is the team went into the season without a real third baseman or a left fielder. We all knew by Opening Day J.D. Davis could not handle the position, but there he was. Behind him was Luis Guillorme, who was as good a glove in the middle infield as they come, but he was a poor third baseman. After that was Jonathan Villar, but he has never been a good fielder.
As for left field, it’s the Mets mistake as old as time. You cannot just throw anyone in left field and expect it to work. Todd Hundley wasn’t a left fielder. Lucas Duda wasn’t a left fielder. Sticking a good bat in the outfield just never works, and oft times, we see diminishing returns for that player at the plate. While Smith did an admirable job, he again proved he couldn’t play left field.
Of course, the Mets could have gone with McNeil at either position as he’s played both positions well. Instead, the Mets were obstinate he was a second baseman because that was the belief Sandy Alderson stubbornly held during his first stint with the Mets.
This speaks to a real problem with the Mets and how it colored how the core was viewed. Players were asked to do things they shouldn’t have been asked to do. For example, remember Conforto in center field? It’s been an organizational approach to just plug bats everywhere. The end result was the team suffering as players failed to reach their ceilings as they struggled out of position, and we also saw the defense lag.
Now, the defense wasn’t really the problem in 2021. With the analytics and Rojas at the helm, the defense was much improved. However, to a certain extent, the damage had already been done. Steven Matz, who struggled in large part due to the absence of defense and analytics, was cast off for relievers who pitched poorly. We had already seen pitchers like Chris Flexen and Paul Sewald cast off. There’s more.
Really, the issue isn’t the core, but what the Mets did with it and how they built around it. For years, we knew Alonso and Smith were both first baseman, but they Mets absolutely refused to make the tough decision and pick just one of them and try to move the other to address a need. It’s a decision which has held this team back for three years now. As for the justification of the anticipation of the universal DH, that’s no reason to throw away three seasons, especially with Alonso and Smith is going to a free agency after the 2024 season.
Looking deeper, this was a team really harmed by injuries. Really, you can make the argument if deGrom was healthy, they don’t collapse. If Carlos Carrasco isn’t hurt in Spring Training, they don’t collapse. If Syndergaard returns when anticipated, they don’t collapse. However, that happened. That’s more of a sign of a snake bit team than it is a problem with the core.
Really, despite the flaws in roster building, this team was good enough. We actually saw it with this team being in first place despite the injuries and the odds. If you’re being honest in your assessment, you should be saying the Mets need to get a real third baseman and left fielder, and this team will be primed to win a World Series. After all, this team with a relatively shallow pitching staff and being plagued by injuries was on the precipice.
That brings us to the next issue. The front office didn’t try to go for it. There was the opportunity, and they chose not to get the pitching this team needed. There’s no good explanation why they didn’t.
As a result, the people who failed at supplementing a very good core is now going to call it an eroding one. They’re going to allow people to falsely accuse this core of not being good enough to win. It’s complete and utter nonsense, and it completely obfuscates what the real problem is – how this organization has approached building rosters.
Overall, if the Mets bring back this same exact roster replacing Davis at third with a real third baseman and putting McNeil in left field, they will be the best team in baseball. There should be absolutely no doubts about that.
Báez created a run with his hustle and base running in the first, and then he homered in the third. He really accounted for all of the Mets runs.
— New York Mets (@Mets) September 9, 2021
Through the first five, Stroman allowed just one hit. In the sixth, he got himself into trouble putting the first two on base, but he limited the damage to one run.
Through six-and-a-half innings, the Mets led 2-1. Luis Rojas stuck with his big game pitcher in the seventh. Sadly, the team failed the pitcher and manager (again).
Hand looked like the pitcher the Toronto Blue Jays released as he struggled to find the zone. Still, he limited the Marlins to just infield singles.
The bigger problem was Hand threw a ball he had no business throwing. He tried to get the speedy Lewis Brinson. Instead of eating it and leaving the bases loaded, his throwing error allowed Isan Diaz to score.
Of course, the Mets would find a way to compound that frustrating inning. After Pete Alonso tripled to lead-off the eighth, he would be left stranded there.
Parenthetically, there was criticisms of Rojas not allowing Davis to face Anthony Bender in last night’s loss. Rojas’ assessment that Bender”s velocity and slider was a bad match-up for Davis proved correct.
Long story short, this was just the latest in inexcusable losses, and if not for the other competition faltering, it would’ve proved to be a death knell for the Mets. Whatever the case, this is a highly flawed team who is going nowhere.
Maybe the New York Mets were just too accustomed to playing at 10 P.M. after their west coast trip. Certainly, they came unprepared to play.
The San Francisco Giants started swing starter Sammy Long who had been ineffective in his eight appearances. Naturally, he shut out the Mets over 5.1 innings allowing just one hit.
Tylor Megill struggled allowing four homers in an ugly start. Overall, he allowed seven runs on 11 hits and five walks over 3.2 innings.
As shown, there was no fire in this team and no boost from Francisco Lindor coming off the IL. On Lindor, he hit the ball hard but at people.
With Lindor’s return, Javier Báez moved to second. Jeff McNeil shifted to left field. Finally, J.D. Davis stayed at third because you need to shoehorn him into the lineup to go 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a HBP.
Really, the only highlight was the Friends theme being played for old friend Wilmer Flores. Of course, he promptly doubled reminding us of the the Wilpon and Van Wagenen incompetence.
Long story short, the Mets lost 8-0 and dropped back to three games under .500. That just about sums up what happened to this once glorious season.
Starting with the obvious, none of that trio have exactly made the case to play everyday. At least, not this season.
Smith has an 84 wRC+ and a -2 DRS in left while he battles a wrist injury much akin to Michael Conforto in 2016.
Davis has been yet again completely incapable at third with a -6 DRS and -2 OAA. He’s been a horrible base runner, and as we especially see with the bases loaded, his strike out rate is climbing. Sooner or later, his BABIP luck will run out leaving him to slide to being what he was last year.
That leaves us with the enigma of McNeil.
Look, for whatever which reason, McNeil isn’t hitting. We see that with his career worst 94 wRC+. We also see it with his career worst K%, ISO, AVG, OBP, SLG, etc.
All told, this is the worst he’s ever looked at the plate. Maybe it’s injuries. Maybe it’s something else. Whatever the case, he hasn’t been good at the plate let alone near his career norms.
However, he’s been phenomenal in the field. He has a 5 DRS and a 4 OAA at second. This is the best he’s ever looked in the field, which is saying something given his level of success at different positions.
That success includes third where he’s been quite good in his career. With Báez back, that’s where the Mets need him.
Instead, the Mets are putting McNeil in LF. That’s a huge mistake for a few reasons.
First, it puts Davis at third where he has no business playing. Second, and perhaps more important, McNeil is dealing with leg injuries.
It’s part of the reason we’ve seen McNeil’s speed and sprint speed decline. That’s not a good mix for LF where McNeil was merely average. That’s nothing to say of the possibility he aggravates his leg injuries further when trying to track down a ball.
Overall, for his health and to prevent neutralizing the greatness of Báez and Lindor, McNeil should be at third. To build the best lineup and defensive alignment possible McNeil should be at third.
Really, no matter what way you look at it, McNeil should be the Mets everyday third baseman.
The New York Mets were reeling, and honestly, they were on the verge of not just falling out of the race, but completely falling apart. They turned desperate activating Javier Báez without so much as a rehab stint.
This was actually the perfect time for a Marcus Stroman start.
In his career, Stroman was established himself as a big game pitcher. We saw it as he rushed back from an ACL injury to help the Toronto Blue Jays in the postseason. He was the World Baseball Classic MVP. We now have his Mets performance to add to the list.
Entering his start yesterday, Stroman had a 3.07 ERA in the second half. That’s nearly a run and a half lower than the Mets team ERA in the second half. Of course, that team ERA is lower partially due to Stroman.
He took the mound against the Los Angeles Dodgers with the Mets a season worst three games under .500 and 7.0 games back in the division.
Báez proved to be a spark plug to the offense with an RBI double in the first. It actually led to three first inning runs and an offensive explosion of seven . . . SEVEN! . . . runs.
However, before it got to seven, it was 3-0, and it was up to Stroman to ensure the win. After that top of the first, he did what great pitchers do. He shut down the side, and he did it in order.
In fact, Stroman wouldn’t allow a hit until the third. That was a single by the opposing pitcher David Price. A position player wouldn’t get a hit until the fourth. The reason was Stroman was filthy.
Marcus Stroman, Sick 88mph Split Change. 🥴 pic.twitter.com/AEOWoEoDu3
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 22, 2021
He would get into trouble in the fourth, and it was partially because J.D. Davis couldn’t make a play a third baseman needs to make. The bases would be loaded, and Cody Bellinger hit a two RBI single pulling the Dodgers within 3-2.
That’s as close as the Dodgers would get. Patrick Mazeika came up big throwing out Bellinger trying to steal second for the third out of the inning.
Speaking of Mazeika, this was the second straight start he worked with Stroman, and they look like they’ve been working together for years. It’s something Stroman spoke about and for the second straight start, he gave credit to his catcher.
.@STR0 shouts out Patrick Mazeika for adapting to his pitching style so quickly:
"The camaraderie and the relationship is usually developed over time, so for him to just come in and pick up and be great, that just says a lot to his character and his commitment to his work." pic.twitter.com/o4Hc8JMIqy
— SNY (@SNYtv) August 23, 2021
The Dodgers wouldn’t get another hit off Stroman, and they wouldn’t score another run in the game. Stroman’s final line was 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K.
This isn’t just the line of a pitcher who wants to push his way into the Cy Young discussion, or one who has free agency pending. No, this is the line of a pitcher who wants to will his team into the postseason.
What was a tight game became a blowout. Again, it was Báez igniting things with a double. That seventh inning double didn’t just spark two runs, it was also the smoothest slide you’ll ever see. It was in front of Trea Turner to boot.
In the end, it wasn’t just a 7-2 win, it was a desperately needed win. Mostly, it was a big time pitching performance against a loaded lineup at a time the Mets needed one.
There were many players who stepped up on the day, but in the end, Stroman loomed largest. This is what he does, and it’s what he may well continue to do as he looks to push the Mets into the postseason.
Perhaps, it is unfair to suggest J.D. Davis was the reason the New York Mets lost. After all, in baseball, it is really more than just a player, play, pitch, or at-bat.
The Mets were down 3-0 after former Los Angeles Dodger Rich Hill allowed homers to Trea Turner, Albert Pujols, and Chris Taylor. With the Pujols homer that was one 40 year old homering off another one.
The Mets would begin to mount a comeback against Max Scherzer in the fifth beginning with a Brandon Nimmo solo homer. The inning continued, and Michael Conforto would have a tough at-bat with two outs to draw a walk with the bases loaded.
This brought J.D. Davis up to the plate. If you were expecting anything other than a strikeout, well, you haven’t been paying attention all season. This was the fifth time he did it all season in five such tries. Again, it was a fastball over the heart of the plate.
Didn't have his best stuff today, but legendary strikeout here from Max Scherzer to get outta the jam pic.twitter.com/IhDRIAbyId
— Blake Harris (@BlakeHarrisTBLA) August 21, 2021
The shame was after Miguel Castro loaded the bases with no outs walking in a run, Jeurys Familia got the Mets out of the jam further unscathed. Pete Alonso would also hit a two run homer off Blake Treinen to pull the Mets to within 4-3.
— New York Mets (@Mets) August 21, 2021
That would be the final score, and it was an extremely frustrating one at that.
As for Davis, well, the Mets decided they’d rather let him sink the season. It doesn’t matter he doesn’t play defense, run the bases, and isn’t hitting. In the end, the Mets just seem to be accepting his blaming everyone else for his inability to produce.
The New York Mets offense has been dreadful lately. With that being the case, you can never quite tell if it’s the offense or the opposing pitcher.
Because the Los Angeles Dodgers started Walker Buehler it’s easy to concede it was the starting pitcher. After all, Buehler is arguably the current NL Cy Young favorite. Despite that, the Mets almost got him.
That would be the last time a Dodger reached base. Carlos Carrasco settled in, and he would have his finest start since coming off the IL. It was the first time he went five innings, he struck out a season high six, and he seemingly started figuring stuff out.
After Carrasco, the Mets bullpen did their job putting up zeros. That kept the Mets in the game, and a Pete Alonso fourth inning solo shot had the Mets trailing 3-1 entering the eighth.
— New York Mets (@Mets) August 21, 2021
That eighth inning set umpiring back decades, and you could actually argue putting players on the honor system would be better.
That McNeil at-bat is where home plate umpire Nestor Ceja which would’ve left Eric Gregg scratching his head. McNeil appeared to work out a walk loading the bases. That was until Ceja called a pitch a foot off the plate a strike.
Yeah…about that… pic.twitter.com/rzyA5f6Wis
— SNY (@SNYtv) August 21, 2021
That bogus strikeout was the difference between bases loaded one out and two on with two outs. It would make a huge difference.
It was Alonso driving in another run with an infield single pulling the Mets within 3-2. Problem is it shouldn’t have been a single.
Good catch from SNY broadcast: Alonso's infield single appeared to hit his foot in the box, which would have rendered it foul: pic.twitter.com/Ie99PAaL2m
— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) August 21, 2021
Alonso who has a ton of hard hit outs lately got some assistance from his cleat. On the subject of Ceja, he had called a foul off Jonathan Villar‘s foot when the ball easily cleared his foot.
Davis would strike out. It was the fifth time Davis struck out with the bases loaded, and he has yet to get a hit in that situation. It’ll be interesting to see how he blames that on Alonso.
After Kenley Jansen made quick work of the Mets in the ninth, the Mets fell to two games under .500 and six games behind the Braves. There are just no words for that right now.
In April, Kris Bryant hit a routine grounder to third, and he was safe because J.D. Davis doesn’t charge the ball before triple clutching it. Davis’ response to the play was he didn’t know what happened because he delivered a strike.
That’s right. Davis completely botched the play, and he laid the blame at the feet of his first baseman who did all he could do to save him. Apparently, this is not an isolated incident.
Against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Davis made a dive to stop a Chris Taylor grounder. Now, for any other third baseman, this is a routine play, but Davis, he of limited ability, he has to dive.
Then, somehow thinking he’s Manny Machado or Nolan Arenado, he goes to throw from his knee. Davis proceeds to throw it away despite Alonso’s desperate attempts to knock it down and keep it from rolling away.
Of course, Davis, thinking he’s amazing, has an issue not with himself. No, the Dodgers cameras showed us Davis was in fact irritated with Alonso:
JD Davis after a throwing a ball 99% of MLB third baseman hold on to – “come on Pete, fuck.” pic.twitter.com/5hJnGKlR6F
— Lets Go Mets Blog (@LetsGoMetsBlog1) August 20, 2021
This error, which was properly attributed to Davis, was the beginning of the end for the Mets. From there, Taijuan Walker let up some seeing eye hits which saw a 2-1 deficit grow to 4-1.
The shame is this is not at all reflective of how Walker pitched. Walker was quite good against a loaded lineup. However, when you play someone completely incapable of playing third at third this stuff tends to happen.
Really, Davis has no business at third. He has a -10 OAA and a -25 DRS at the position. He’s shown zero improvement, and as we saw, he apparently doesn’t think he’s the problem.
At the plate, he’s still a guy with an outlier second half fueled by an unsustainable BABIP. For those who point to this year’s numbers, again, they’re unsustainable.
Over his first 14 games, he had great stats with a .583 BABIP. No one can keep that up, and he hasn’t.
Since returning from the IL, he’s hitting .252/.352/.396. Even that has a lot of luck with a .375 BABIP. Notably, he’s struck out 32.4% of the time.
None of this even addresses his running the Mets out of the inning by getting doubled off second. Really, when you look at everything, you see a guy with a low baseball IQ and next to no instincts.
The press can continue to not cover his comments at Alonso much like how they ignored his involvement with the Houston Astros cheating scandal and lying about it. They can pretend he’s a better player than Bryant.
However, in the end, what you have is someone who is a mediocre hitter, wholly incapable defender, and someone who is completely unaccountable for his actions. That’s not a player who should be in your lineup.
As things started to slip, acting general manager Zack Scott had a press conference blaming the players for their injuries. He also called the team he assembled mediocre.
Now, that the season is falling apart with the Mets in third and 3.5 games back, owner Steve Cohen is now attacking the players:
It’s hard to understand how professional hitters can be this unproductive.The best teams have a more disciplined approach.The slugging and OPS numbers don’t lie.
— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) August 18, 2021
Cohen, Scott, and whoever is with the front office can put the blame on the players all they want. Fact is, they assembled the roster, and they opted not to fortify a roster 3.5 games up in the standings at the trade deadline.
Their lone Major League acquisition was Javier Báez, a player who was dealing with heel issues at the time of the trade. He would play 10 games before hitting the IL.
The team failed to really add another starter. You could say Trevor Williams, but considering the Mets keep stashing him in Syracuse, they didn’t add one.
The Mets didn’t add to a bullpen who has been HEAVILY used. There are signs of overwork and fatigue with everyone but Aaron Loup. The front office opted to instead ride with pitchers like Anthony Banda, Yennsy Diaz, Geoff Hartlieb, and others of the same ilk in big spots.
Another important matter here is Chili Davis. His track record shows how players under his tutelage fall down this path. Despite that, they opted to keep him to start the season.
As an example of the Davis effect look at Kris Bryant. He went from an MVP to the absolute worst offensive season of his career. With Davis gone, he’s again improved to being Bryant again.
There’s another important point on Bryant. The Mets have punted on third base all year. They hoped for J.D. Davis to magically learn the position (he didn’t) or for Jonathan Villar to be a regular player (he’s been somewhat).
The Mets had the option to address the rotation, bullpen, third base, and the depth that includes non-playable players like Kevin Pillar. As we saw with the Braves, that didn’t need to be blockbuster deals.
Remember, the Dodgers current run was jump started by trading for Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. That option was on the table with the Twins looking to move Josh Donaldson and Kenta Maeda to the Mets.
Adding Donaldson and Maeda would’ve transformed the Mets and made them significantly better. However, the deal fell apart over money.
Therein lies another problem. Entering the season and at the trade deadline, the Mets treated the luxury tax threshold as a hard cap. They were unwilling to surpass it despite the very soft penalties for first time offenders. They were unwilling to surpass it despite a new CBA being negotiated this offseason which will likely change the threshold and penalties.
All told, the Mets front office just wasn’t willing to do what they needed to do to win the division. They failed to give a first place team what they needed to stay there.
In the end, they can point all the fingers they want, but at the end of the day, this team is a direct reflection of their actions, and when this team misses the postseason, they have no one to blame but themselves.
This was a big game, and Marcus Stroman reminded us all he’s a big game pitcher. He went out there and did all he could do to will the New York Mets to a win, but they couldn’t follow.
Stroman went a season high 114 pitches and seven innings. He struck out nine. He had a hit. He was great in the field.
"Don't do that against Stroman. He's just too good." pic.twitter.com/amx7T2DrKv
— SNY (@SNYtv) August 18, 2021
Unfortunately, he made just two mistakes. The first was hit for a two run homer by Tommy La Stella in the first. In the seventh, when Stroman was somewhat surprisingly back out there, Evan Longoria hit a solo homer.
That’s how the Giants built a 3-0 lead. The other reasons for the lead was the Mets did nothing against Logan Webb. Some of it was how good Webb was. Some of it was the Mets shooting themselves in the foot.
Since Conforto didn’t look to advance when Longoria made the play, he didn’t score on the error. Then, no one scored when Jeff McNeil hit into an inning ending double play.
In the fifth, a Mets two out rally ended when Brandon Nimmo hit a hard liner right at La Stella.
The Mets are on the board!
Pete makes it a one-run game 👀 🐻❄️ pic.twitter.com/XRidFbGxtB
— SNY (@SNYtv) August 18, 2021
After Aaron Loup pitched a scoreless inning, the Mets had their chance in the ninth. In that inning, we’d see what separates these two teams.
McNeil led off with an opposite field single. It got past the center fielder, but it was backed up by Lamonte Wade Jr. As a result, McNeil stayed at first.
McNeil moved to second but would not score. The game down to Kevin Pillar. In a very poor at-bat, he’d strike out looking to end the game.
The loss put the Mets deeper into third place and finally put them under .500. It doesn’t matter who is stepping up because as a team the Mets just don’t have it.