With Michael Conforto coming off the disabled list, there was a question where he should hit in the Mets lineup. Traditionalists wanted to see him in more of a classic RBI spot in the lineup like third or clean-up. Sabermetrically inclined fans who saw Conforto as the best hitter on the team wanted him to hit second in the lineup.
His manager, Mickey Callaway, decided to bat Conforto leadoff. It was the right decision.
Recently, teams have ever so slowly been moving away from the classic leadoff hitter. It’s not longer about speed and stolen bases. Now, it’s about the ability to get on base, and it’s about the ability to drive in runs when the lineup flips over. Teams who have constructed their lineups as such have had success recently.
The 2015 Mets went to the World Series with Curtis Granderson (.259/.364/.457, 26 homers, 70 RBI) as their leadoff hitter. The following year, Callaway’s Indians went to the World Series with husky first baseman Carlos Santana (.259/.366/.498, 34 homers, 87 RBI) as their leadoff hitter. The reigning World Series MVP is George Springer (.283/.367/.522, 34 homers, 85 RBI). Each one of these players were top three on their team in OBP, homers, and RBI.
With few exceptions like Bobby Bonds and Brady Anderson‘s steroid fueled 50 homer 1996 season, these types of hitters typically hit in the middle of the lineup. Now, teams, especially analytically driven teams, have rethought that model, and they want these types of hitters atop the lineup.
Conforto is one of these types of hitters.
Before tearing his posterior casule, Conforto was hitting .279/.384/.555 with 27 homers and 68 RBI. Like Granderson, Santana, and Springer before him, he was top three on his team in OBP, homers, and RBI. Also like that trio, Conforto did his damage from the leadoff spot.
One thing that was lost with Conforo was how much he found a home in the leadoff spot. In the 68 games he had led off for the Mets last year, Conforto hit .279/.386/.555 with 20 homers and 45 RBI. That was good for a 149 wRC+. That’s higher than the 54 wRC+ he has batting second or the 137 wRC+ he has batting third.
Really, Conforto is at his best when he is leading off. That extends to leading off games where he hits .305/.397/.712 or leading off an inning where he hits .282/.373/.554.
In theory, Conforto should bat second. Given his ability and his 2017 stats, he’s the best hitter in the Mets lineup – even better than Yoenis Cespedes. However, part of his being the best hitter in the Mets lineup is his being in a spot in the lineup he is most comfortable and produces. So yes, Conforto should even hit leadoff whenever Brandon Nimmo cracks the lineup.
Given his skill-set, how successful teams have been using similar hitters atop the order, and how he thrives in that spot, Conforto should be the Mets leadoff hitter.
So far this season, Seth Lugo has been arguably the team’s most impressive pitcher. Yesterday, he made his season debut, and he completely dominated what may prove to be a decent Philadelphia Phillies lineup.
Lugo would need just 22 pitches to dispatch the Phillies. Of those 22 pitches, 19 were for strikes. Mind you, not all of those pitches were in the strike zone. It wouldn’t matter much as all of his pitches were moving and fooling Phillies batters who actually swung at six pitches outside of the strike zone. Ultimately, Lugo would strike out four of the six batters he faced, and the two who put the ball in play made weak contact.
The dominating performance has rekindled a debate over what exactly Lugo is.
On the one hand, Lugo has earned the right to be a part of this rotation, at least until Jason Vargas comes off the disabled list. We have also seen Lugo have success in the rotation. Remember, he and Robert Gsellman were key parts of the late season 2016 rotation which helped pitch the Mets to the first Wild Card. For his part, Lugo was 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA and a 1.149 WHIP as a starter that year.
With numbers like that, Lugo should be in the rotation. However, that success did not carry forward into last year with Lugo having an injury and his posting a 4.76 ERA in his 18 starts. The biggest culprit for that is Lugo has allowed opposing batters to hit .297/.350/.422 off of him the third time through the order.
Those inconsistency as a starter and the struggles the third time through the lineup are reminiscent of Andrew Miller.
For years, Miller wasn’t the relief ace he is now. Instead, he was a top pitching prospect who was one of the key pieces the Marlins obtained when they traded Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers. Only problem is Miller never pitched like the top pitching prospect he was. Instead, he struggled as a starter going 20-27 with a 5.70 ERA and a 1.732 WHIP.
Many of us don’t remember that because that was seven years ago. Since that time, he has moved to the bullpen full time where he has gone from intriguing arm to Yankees closer to ALCS MVP. Instead of the “bust” he was once known as, he is now known as perhaps the most feared reliever in all of baseball.
He doesn’t need that third or even fourth pitch to help him get through the lineup a third time. No, he just needs a devastating fastball/slider combination to mow through opposing lineups for one, two, or maybe even three innings.
Looking at Lugo’s career to this point and his performance last night, that’s who he is. He’s the National League, the right-handed, and the Mets version of Andrew Miller. And who better to unleash Lugo in the bullpen but Miller’s former pitching coach and current Mets manager Mickey Callaway
In the bullpen, we have seen Lugo be able to ramp up his fastball to the mid 90s. In a shorter relief appearance, he can unleash curveball after curveball after curveball. With each curveball he throws, he can make the opposing batters look quite foolish much like his first signature moment when he struck out Anthony Rizzo swinging on a curveball with so much movement it hit Rizzo’s foot.
Really, every time the Mets have looked for Lugo out of the bullpen he has just impressed. Even with Lugo doing everything he could do to prove he should be in the rotation, the Mets need him in the bullpen. After all, when you have a weapon as good as Miller in your bullpen, you make sure you use him in your bullpen.
It’s been a few years since Matt Harvey was Matt Harvey. However, there was hope we would see him again because now the Mets had Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland. That was not only the tandem who you wanted to help fix a pitcher, but they also believed in Harvey. Their belief was enough to convince the Mets not to consider trading him. That faith was something to help give the Mets fans faith in him and the team again in 2018.
For one night, we saw a glimpse of Harvey being a very good pitcher for the Mets yet again.
No, it was not quite vintage Harvey, but he was real good. Instead of pumping it up to the high 90s to near triple digits, he was living in the lower 90s. It didn’t matter because it was a good moving and well located fastball. Put another way, it was good enough to generate a number of swings and misses. Really, he had all of his pitches working for him including his change-up which looked like a real weapon for him.
However, in some sense this actually was vintage Harvey. Through his 86 pitches, he walked just one and struck out five. He limited the Phillies to just one hit and no runs. Like vintage Harvey, he got no run support.
For a while, it looked like it was going to be the Phillies who plated the first run. AJ Ramos was in immediate danger after a Cesar Hernandez bunt single and a Carlos Santana walk. Ramos bore down getting some luck on a hard hit liner hit by Aaron Altherr right at Todd Frazier, and he struck out Rhys Hoskins.
Callaway then went to Jerry Blevins in the sixth inning because that was the moment it called for his LOOGY to get the biggest out of the game. Blevins did just that by getting Odubel Herrera to pop out.
Having weathered the storm, the Mets offense began to go to work against Ben Lively. Before the sixth, Lively had actually matched Harvey zero for zero. However, in the bottom of the sixth, he would be done in by his control and his defense.
Lively put on Yoenis Cespedes by plunking him. Initially, it looked like Lively was going to stop a rally from building as he got Jay Bruce to hit what should have been a double play ball. The only problem for the Phillies is third baseman Scott Kingery stayed home at third. With no one there to field a throw, the only play was at first.
With the previous snow out, the Mets decided to skip Seth Lugo in the rotation. With him stretch out to start, and with him having no obvious chance to start over the upcoming week, he was in great position to pitch multiple innings. Lugo did just that by mowing down the Phillies. In his two innings of work, he struck out four of the six batters he faced. The two who did manage to make contact didn’t get it out of the infield.
That left Jeurys Familia his old familiar spot in the ninth inning looking to save a close Mets game. It wasn’t an easy one. A leadoff walk to Altherr quickly turned to first and third with one out. Kingery battled, but he eventually fouled out with Wilmer Flores making a nice play by the dugout. That led to a game ending ground out, and Familia saving the 2-0 win.
One of the things which really stood out in the game was the difference between the Mets and the Phillies choices for manager. Callaway seems in charge, and he has the Mets playing good baseball. More than that, his bullpen management tonight was phenomenal. Gabe Kapler has been a mess, the Phillies are failing to be in position to turn double plays, and the Phillies are now 1-3.
It certainly doesn’t hurt Callaway and the Mets when Harvey is pitching this well.
Game Notes: Jose Reyes got the start making him the last Mets position player to make a start this season. After drawing a walk in his first at-bat, he was thrown out in his stolen base attempt. Frazier had another good game going 2-4 with a run, double, and an RBI.
If you break it down, the Mets clearest path to the postseason is for the team to win at least 60% of Noah Syndergaard‘s and Jacob deGrom‘s starts. These are the Mets c0-aces, and they are the surest bet each time the Mets go through their rotation. Assuming they make 30 starts a piece, and the rest of the rotation pitches at least .500, the Mets will win at least 87 games, which should be good enough for one of the two Wild Card spots.
While wins are not pitcher dependent, there is usually a correlation between a pitcher pitching very well and his team having a chance to win the game. More often than not, if a pitcher is going to dominate the opposing offense, you are going to see your team win games. Overall, while you may not see Syndergaard or deGrom walk off the mound with the “W,” you may see the team have one once the game is over, and that’s what matters for this discussion.
We have seen both starters accomplish the feat. Back in 2015, the Mets were 20-1o (67%) in games started by deGrom. In 2016, the Mets were 19-12 (61%) in games started by Syndergaard. This isn’t to say it will happen. Rather, it suggests it is possible, and it looked all the more possible in their respective starts.
Still, for the formula to work, the rest of the rotation has to pull together to give the Mets at least a combined .500 record. With the injuries and struggles the past few seasons, that is far from a certainty.
Steven Matz‘s first start had to give you some reason for concern. Yes, he was squeezed by CB Bucknor, but the home plate umpire was not the reason why Matz was leaving pitches up in the hitting zone. Bucknor was just reason why Matz walked three and needed 89 pitches to get through just four innings.
Normally, you say Matz can only go up from here, but that would ignore how the Mets pitching performed in 2016 and 2017.
Where Matz failed, the Mets now need Matt Harvey to step up. Perhaps more than anyone Harvey has symbolized the Mets rise and fall and hopefully their rise again. There was hope with the Mets when Harvey returned in 2015. His ineffectiveness and further injury was a part of the 2017 despair.
Now, Harvey has a manager in Mickey Callaway and pitching coach in Dave Eiland, who believe in his talent. Neither wanted to see Harvery traded, and they gave him one of the top four spots in the starting rotation. Purportedly, they found and fixed the mechanical issue Dan Warthen has been talking about for years and had not been able to fix.
Is Harvey really fixed? We don’t know, and until Harvey puts together a significant number of good starts together, there will be doubters. Understandably, there may be doubters long after that.
What we do know is the Mets need to piece together wins in the games Syndergaard and deGrom do not pitch. Yesterday, Matz didn’t step up to prove he’s the next guy. Jason Vargas won’t pitch for a while, and there are questions after his second half last year. Seth Lugo won the job out of Spring Training, but there are issues about his long term viability in the rotation with his inability to go three times through the order.
That leaves Harvey, and that is why in many ways, the 2018 season truly begins today.
After how great Opening Day was for the Mets, you’d think the only change that would be made was starting Jacob deGrom. It would’ve been justified with the Cardinals starting another right-handed pitcher in Michael Wacha. That’s not what happened.
In Game 2 of the Mickey Callaway Era, we’re learning this is not a manager who is one for maintaining the status quo. Rather, this is not someone afraid to upset the Mets Home Run Apple card. He’s going to make an informed decision, and he is going to run with it even if it is unpopular.
And because of that, before first pitch today, he was quite unpopular.
Asdrubal Cabrera, the only Mets Opening Day starter to not get a hit was moved from cleanup to leadoff.
Callaway had a sound basis for his decisions. Wacha has reverse splits, and these players hit left-handed pitchers better. deGrom has a high fly ball rate, and Lagares is the best center fielder in baseball. And yet, despite all that, Callaway opened himself up for criticism.
Those critics were silenced immediately as Cabrera led off the bottom of the first with a double. He would eventually score on a Todd Frazier two RBI double.
— New York Mets (@Mets) March 31, 2018
On the day, Cabrera was 3-5 with a run, the aforementioned double, and an RBI. With that performance, he more than justified his manager’s decision.
Lagares and d’Arnaud would as well.
In the fourth, d’Arnaud would hit the first homer by a Mets player this year. Overall, he was 1-3 with a run, walk, homer, and an RBI.
Yoenis Cespedes would hit the second of the season with a fifth inning blast.
Lagares would also shut everyone up going 2-4 with a run.
Even with deGrom struggling to find it, he still allowed one run on four hits while allowing just one walk and striking out seven over 5.2 innings
The end result was the Mets dominating the Cardinals again. For the second time in as many days; the Mets chased the opposing starter, and they tacked on runs against the opposing bullpen.
For a second straight game, the Mets bullpen looked good.
Swarzak was the only issue on the day and not just because Matt Carpenter homered off of him to pull the Cardinals within 5-2. The real issue was Swarzak left the game with a strained oblique.
This led to Callaway, a former American League pitching coach, having to make a double switch. Yes, it may be overblown, but Willie Randolph did have an issue with it early in his career.
When Callaway made the switch, it was Jeurys Familia coming in for the four out save. It was a throwback to how he was used in 2015. Fortunately, Familia looks as great as he did then.
With that power sinker back in the high 90s, Familia is unhittable. He was unhittable striking out two and recording the save.
So again, Callaway pushed all the right buttons, and the Mets won another game. In the future, these decisions may not work out as well as it has in the first two games, overall, with Callaway making informed decisions like this, they will work out more times than not.
If that happens, Mets fans will give him the benefit of the doubt because the Mets will be winning games and heading to the postseason.
Game Notes: Callaway joins former Mets manager Joe Frazier to begin his managerial career by winning the first two games of a season. No Mets manager has won three straight games to begin their career.
Frazier’s first inning RBI double was the first of his career.
Much is made of the Mets having the best Opening Day record among all 30 Major League teams. That record expanded to 37-20 in what was Mickey Callaway‘s first game as the manager of the Mets. Considering the Mets have had more losing than winning seasons in their history, we know those good times do not keep rolling on throughout the season.
Looking throughout Mets history, as the excitement of Opening Day fades, so does the Mets record. In the 56 year history of the Mets, the team’s record in the second game of the season is 28-28 (.500).
The record does get a little dicier from there. In those previously famed 36 wins, the Mets have followed them with defeats in 20 of those games (.444).
When it comes to the Cardinals, the Mets are now 6-2 against them on Opening Day. The Mets are also 2-6 against them in the second game of the season.
When looking through the Mets managerial history, there have been 12 managers who made their debut with the Mets on Opening Day. Of those 12 managers only Joe Frazier debuted with the 1976 Mets by winning his first two games. That year, the Mets would finish 86-76. That would also be the last year the Mets would have a winning record until 1984.
Frazier and the Mets would start the 1977 season going 15-30, and Frazier’s managerial record would drop to 101-106. Of course, a large part of that was his losing both Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman, both of who were traded the previous season in the “Midnight Massacre.”
As an aside, Frazier, Willie Randolph, and Yogi Berra are the managers to begin their Mets managerial careers on Opening Day to have a winning record in their first season as manager. Willie’s and Yogi’s Mets both lost the second game of the season. Unlike Frazier, both Willie and Yogi would take Mets team to the postseason in their second season as the Mets manager.
Of course, past is only prelude. It is not determinative of what will happen in the future. Just because the Mets won their opener, it does not mean the Mets have just a 44% or 50% chance of winning that game. Really, with the Mets sending Jacob deGrom to the mound, you’d have to believe the Mets odds of winning are much better than that.
Having watched the Mets win on Opening Day, it seemed like this was a different Mets team. It felt like this was a team that is going to surprise us this season and really set themselves apart from Mets teams from years past. That’s part of the fun of Opening Day. Who knows how long this feeling will last? Perhaps, we will find the answer later today.
While being a Mets fan may come with some trials and tribulations, the one day Mets fans are typically happy is Opening Day. Heading into today’s game, the Mets were 36-20 all time on Opening Day, which is the best Opening Day winning percentage in Major League history. As a result, the Mets are usually 1-0, and their manager looks like a genius.
Today, new Mets Manager Mickey Callaway looked like a genius.
When you looked at the Opening Day lineup, you knew immediately this was no longer Terry Collins‘ Mets. The lineup not only had the Mets best hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, batting second, it also had Noah Syndergaard batting eighth and Amed Rosario batting ninth. If you were skeptical of the decision, the Mets quickly put you at ease.
Kevin Plawecki reached on a one out walk, and he remained there after Syndergaard struck out. With two outs and the lead-off hitter behind him, Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez challenged Rosario with fastballs. Rosario shot a single up the middle putting runners one first and second with two outs.
Brandon Nimmo did what Brandon Nimmo does, and he drew a walk. Cespedes came up with the bases loaded, and he delivered with a two out RBI single, which at the time gave the Mets a 3-2 lead. And with that, Callaway looked like a genius.
Frankly, it’s easy to look like a genius when everyone plays as well as the Mets did today.
Nimmo set the tone getting hit by the first pitch of the game and eventually scoring on a Jose Martinez throwing error on what could have been an Asdrubal Cabrera double play grounder. Instead of an inning ending double play, the Mets scored a first inning run without getting a base hit. That’s what happens when you draw nine walks in the game.
Speaking of Nimmo, he was brilliant today. He went 2-3 with two runs, a walk, and the aforementioned hit by pitch. With Michael Conforto reportedly being much closer to being ready to start his season, Nimmo is going to need more games like this to stay in the starting lineup.
So will Adrian Gonzalez. The veteran was coming off a horrific injury plagued 2017 season where the Dodgers not only didn’t miss him as they won the pennant, it seemed they didn’t even want him around. Nor did the Braves for that matter, as after a trade, they are paying him almost $22 million to play for an NL East rival.
Between that, his terrible Spring Training, and his soft line out to short in his first at-bat, helooked done. He wouldn’t make another out on the game going 2-3 with a run, double, two walks, and an RBI.
In situations like this, you want your players to make the decision about who should sit and who should play to be extraordinarily difficult. Based on Nimmo’s and Gonzalez’s play, Callaway’s decision will just be that.
Overall, the Mets offense and unconventional lineup was humming. The team scored nine runs on 12 hits highlighted by a five run fifth where they not only chased Martinez, but also former Mets prospect Matthew Bowman.
Every Mets starter, save Syndergaard, reached base at least once safely. Cespedes and Rosario were the only ones who did not draw a walk. However, when Rosario is attacking first pitch fastballs to the tune of a 2-4 day with two runs and two RBI, you don’t mind his over-aggressiveness at the plate.
About the only negative on the day was seeing Yadier Molina homer. That just brought back too many raw emotions from 2006. Some of that sting was taken away with Molina suffering the indignity of Jay Bruce stealing a base off of him.
With Syndergaard, you had some real reason for excitement. He became just the second Mets pitcher to strike out 10 on Opening Day. He needed just 85 pitches to get through six innings. Yes, he would give up the two homers, but overall, he seemed poised and ready to have a dominating 2018 season.
Speaking of dominating, the Mets bullpen came out and completely shut the door on the Cardinals. Robert Gsellman, Anthony Swarzak, and Jeurys Familia combined to pitch three scoreless and hitless innings. Gsellman was the most impressive striking out the side in the seventh. This bullpen performance will make you forget about the Cardinals getting Greg Holland over the Mets for one day.
And for this one day, Gonzalez is rejuvenated, the bullpen is lights out, Callaway is a genuis, and the Mets are the best team in baseball. Sure, it seems that way almost every Opening Day as a Mets fan, but at least for tonight, let’s just believe this will carry on well into October.
Game Notes: A number 10 was placed on the back of the mound to honor the recently deceased Rusty Staub. Syndergaard joined Pedro Martinez as the only Mets starter to have a double digit strikeout game on Opening Day. This was the first time a Mets starter made back-to-back Opening Day starts since Johan Santana did it from 2008 – 2010.
As I do from time to time, we need a “completely serious” analysis and projection of each and every Mets player who is expected to contribute during the 2018 season. While there are many prjoection systems which claim to be fool-proof, there are none that will be this accurate about the Mets:
Sandy Alderson – The other 29 GMs in baseball will be left in complete hysterics when Alderson is calling around for a right-handed reliever to help boost the team’s chances to making the postseason.
Mickey Callaway – The writers will overwhelmingly vote him as the National League Manager of the Year. The most cited reason for giving him the award will be the fact he didn’t insist on playing his worst players or forcing his players to play through crippling injuries.
Dave Eiland– Multiple Mets pitchers will hug him for actually fixing their mechanics and for listening to them when they say they’re hurting.
Tyler Bashlor – When someone notices how similar his name is to the ABC reality show hit The Bachelor, they’ll say how “The Bashlor” is handing out strikeouts like they’re roses. We should all hate that person.
Jerry Blevins– Until he eats a sandwich, the socks given away in his honor will hang around his ankles
Bryce Brentz– He’s going to be the guy who has one or two at-bats this season, and someone is going to invoke his name as a former Met to try to sound like he knows more about the Mets than you know anything.
Jay Bruce– After a four home run game, all Mets fans will want to talk about is when he is going to move to first base.
Asdrubal Cabrera – After a slump, Callaway will move Cabrera down in the lineup causing Cabrera to bring his kids to the clubhouse and have them ask why Callaway doesn’t want them to eat.
Jamie Callahan– His wearing #43 will serve as a constant reminder that not only was he part of the return for Addison Reed, but also how the Mets turned quality MLB players into six right-handed relief prospects. That will be the worst possible sequel to I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Yoenis Cespedes – After an MVP caliber first half, he will feel like he has earned just one game of golf as a reward during the All Star Break. He will immediately be vilified.
Michael Conforto – After a huge cut and a swing and miss, Conforto will wince for a moment thereby causing a passionate Mets fans behind home plate to have a heart attack. This will led to a call for the netting to be filled in and for fans to have to watch the game on a tape delay.
Travis d’Arnaud– During a remarkably healthy season, he will finally be forced to catch Syndergaard, who had spent most of the seaosn with Plawecki as his personal catcher. On the first pitch of the game, Syndergaard throws a 101 MPH fastball which immediately shatters d’Arnaud’s hand.
Jacob deGrom– After a slump, he’s going to look to grow his hair out. Once he realizes his hair cannot possibly reach it’s old length during the 2018, he’s going to grow a really long beard and change his entrance music to “Legs” by ZZ Top.
Phillip Evans– When he cashes in his check for his postseason share, Evans will fondly remember that April pinch hitting appearance.
Wilmer Flores – He will be in such hysterics during his struggles in his first game in the outfield his crying on the field in 2015 will look like a case of the sniffles.
Todd Frazier– It will take many Mets fans a long time to come to grips that Jersey Boy Todd Frazier does not use a Bruce Springsteen song as his walk-up music. That point will finally come when they realize Frank Sinatra is from Hoboken and not NYC.
Robert Gsellman – As he continues to wait in Las Vegas for his opportunity to get back to the Majors, he will eventually care what Sandy Alderson thinks of him.
Matt Harvey – He’s going to pull a reverse Ben Affleck by going from The Dark Knight moniker to Daredevil. He will earn that name by following Eiland’s instructions to throw inside with such reckless abandon to the point where people start to question if he’s gone blind.
Juan Lagares – After once again injuring his thumb on a diving attempt, the Mets will finally realize Lagares’ injures were the result of him literally using a gold glove to try to play center. While they found the answer and solution for the thumb injuries, they will still be perplexed on how to fix his hitting.
Seth Lugo– We won’t know if people keep referring to the hook with him because of his incredible curveball or because of how Callaway won’t let him face a lineup for a third time.
Brandon Nimmo– Despite putting up great numbers, the Mets will inform Nimmo they unfortunately have to send him down to Triple-A due to a temporary roster squeeze. When he’s still smiling through the ordeal, they will force him to seek psychological counseling.
Kevin Plawecki– On a day when the Mets are getting blown out, the frustrated Plawecki will use the last of his six mound visits to derisively tell his pitcher he can pitch better than this. The pitcher will remind him he has a better batting average than Plawecki.
Jose Reyes– One day, he will hit a triple and score on a mad dash to home plate. He will have that old Reyes smile, and it will electrify the crowd. It will also cause everyone to forget that he is one of the worst position players in all of baseball.
T.J. Rivera – After he comes off the disabled list, he’ll deliver in the clutch for the Mets and his teammates will honor him as the player of the game. The Mets will make sure he’s not standing in front of Plawecki’s locker when they take a photo to tweet out.
Hansel Robles– Many will credit him with the discovery of extra terrestrials by his discovery of a UFO in the Vegas night. Years later, Robles will sheepishly admit all he was doing was pointing up at another homer he allowed.
Amed Rosario– To the surprise of us all, Rosario will strike out looking when the pitcher throws him a pitch which he was surprised at and was not ready to swing at. Entire belief systems will be shattered.
Paul Sewald– After having spent a year with Terry Collins, he’s going to be the player most comfortable with having no defined role in the bullpen. However, it will be an adjustment for him not having to warm up multiple times per game.
Anthony Swarzak – The jokes about not knowing how to spell his name will get old by mid-April. The jokes will be rediscovered in August when more fans tune it to a Mets team that is a surprising contender. The jokes will continue to not be funny.
Noah Syndergaard– He will continue his “Twitter Feud” with Mr. Met. It will be discussed ad nausesum during nationally televised games. America will think it’s amusing only fueling the spat even further and giving no hope to Mets fans who have long since found this to be unfunny.
Jason Vargas – When Reyes introduces himself, Vargas will remind him they were teammates in 2007. Both recall that season and will agree it never happened.
Zack Wheeler– He will be converted to a reliever, and in a surprise to us all, he will lead the league in saves. In a surprise to him that league will be the Pacific Coast League.
David Wright– He will apologize and sheepishly admit the Mets crown was an embarrassingly bad idea. He will try to come up with a way to rectify it, but no one will listen to his ideas on the topic anymore.
As Mets fans, we obsess over the Mets, and we magnify each and every flaw in our favorite team’s roster. We see a team overelying on an aging player with a bad back in Adrian Gonzalez instead of going with their optimal lineup and defensive alignment. We see a pitching staff unable to stay healthy. We see the same thing with many of the position players. As a result, we may not be as excited about the 2018 season as we would normally be.
What is interesting, at the same rate, we do not look as in-depth into other team’s rosters to see their very same flaws. Specifically, we do not look at the Washington Nationals roster are really identify how that is a very flawed team at the moment, and just like in 2015, they may very well be a team ripe to be knocked out of their perch. Here’s why:
Over the past few years, Max Scherzer has emerged as quite possibly the best pitcher in all of baseball. He’s a virtual lock for a Top 3 spot in the 2018 Cy Young voting. After him ensues a group of question marks similar to what we see in Flushing.
Stephen Strasburg is great, but that is only when he stays on the field. He has only thrown 200 innings in a season once, and that was four years ago. While not quite as catastrophic as the injuries we have seen with the Mets pitchers, he continues to get nicked up, and he is usually good for at least one stint on the disabled list.
Gio Gonzalez may have had a bounce-back year last year with his finishing in the Top 10 of Cy Young voting, but the advanced numbers suggest he’s due for a messy regression. Last year, Gonzalez led the league in walks, and his strikeout rate continued its four year downward trend. Really, he was a large beneficiary of an unsustainable .258 BABIP and 81.6% stranded rate. That’s why his FIP was 3.93 and xFIP was 4.24.
Behind them Tanner Roark is coming off a disappointing year that saw him have a career worst 4.67 ERA, 1.335 WHIP, and 3.2 BB/9. For the fifth starter, the Nationals will start with the unproven A.J. Cole, who had a 5.20 FIP in 11 games for the Nationals last year.
Key Regression Candidates
One of the reasons why the Nationals had a great year last year was they had a numbers of unexpected career years. Heading into the 2018 season, the Nationals will be reliant on those players duplicating those dubious numbers.
First, there was Michael Taylor who shocked everyone by hitting .271/.320/.486. For Taylor to replicate that season, he is also going to have to go out there and repeat his insanely high .363 BABIP. For Taylor, it was not just at the plate, but in the field. Heading into last year, Taylor had a -7 DRS in 1287.0 innings played. Last year, he had an 8 DRS in 940.1. Even with him approaching his prime, it’s hard to believe Taylor is a truly transformed player.
Ryan Zimmerman seemed to bounce-back from two poor offensive seasons, and the injury plagued Nationals star put up a Zimmerman season of old. Like with Taylor, we did see those stats were BABIP fueled. For his career, Zimmerman has a .307 BABIP, but he had a .335 BABIP last year.
And while they were only brought in to be bench players, the Nationals are relying Howie Kendrick and Matt Adams, two players who had tough 2016 seasons, to repeat their strong 2017 offensive seasons.
After having microfracture surgery in the offseason, Daniel Murphy is going to start the season on the disabled list. It is expected he is going to be available mid-April, but that is only if he suffers no setbacks. And even if he does return and hits the way we all know he is capable of hitting, Murphy, who has never been a strong defender, may find himself even more limited in the field.
There is also a legitimate question what type of player Adam Eaton will be a year after having surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus. This isn’t comparing apples to apples because they are much different players, but in his first year back from his own torn ACL, Kyle Schwarber struggled mightily last year.
Also, Anthony Rendon is a bit injury prone. He has only played 150+ games in just two of his five Major League seasons. If he should suffer an injury, the Nationals may be in trouble because this offense is not on the same solid footing it was last year.
The Nationals have one of the worst catching situations in all of baseball. Matt Wieters is not only bad at the plate (81 OPS+ since 2015), but he continuously ranks as one of the absolute worst pitch framers in all of baseball.
Behind him is Miguel Montero, a player the Cubs released after he complained about how his pitching staff holds on runners. For his part, Montero has just a 90 OPS+ since 2013, and his pitch framing abilities had a noticeable drop last year.
There were many reasons why people do not believe in Dusty Baker as a manager. Really, you need not look any further than his decision to bat a completely washed up Jayson Werth second in a do or die game. That’s an indefensible decision from your manager.
However, while his strategy may have left much to be desired, Dusty was always able to control a clubhouse. Remember, this was the guy who inherited the mess Matt Williams left behind. Dusty had to manage a team who had both Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon. Dusty made it work because that’s what he does.
Now, despite the Nationals winning the division in consecutive years in franchise history, Dusty has been replaced by Dave Martinez. For many, Martinez was an inspired hire, and he very well might be. However, he is also largely unproven, and as such he remains a question mark.
Ultimately, many will point to just how much better and deeper the Nationals are on paper. The team also has top prospect Victor Robles waiting in the wings, and he could be a complete game changer next season. Another major consideration is the Nationals bullpen looks poised to be their best in years. With everything put together, you see why many are picking the Nationals to be the National League representative in the World Series even despite the team having never won a postseason series.
Now, it’s entirely possible the prognosticators are right, and the Nationals are that good. That would surprise no one. However, at the same token, let’s not pretend the Nationals winning the National League East is a fait accompli. It isn’t because the Nationals are dealing with a much narrower margin of error most believe they are as the season begins. Ultimately, while they are the favorites on paper, this is a team who is vulnerable.
Even if they are vulnerable, it’s going to take the Mets to give them everything they got. This Spring, the Mets looked and felt like a different team under Mickey Callaway. Maybe, just maybe, that is enough to help push this Mets team over the top. It will be fun watching the next 162 games to find out.
Last night was one of those nights. You were forever going to tell people where you were. For me, I was sitting on my couch with a cranky baby and four year old. Why were they so cranky?
Well, because I’m me, an avid sports fan and idiot, I woke them up to watch the final few minutes of the Virginia-UMBC game. History was being made, and I wanted them to see something that never happened before – a 16 beating a 1. The final score was as startling as the upset itself with UMBC winning 74-54.
As an aside, Ralph Sampson and his UVA teammates can rest assured they are no longer the Cavalier team who is mentioned as the biggest upset of all time in college basketball. No, that 1982 loss by number one ranked Viriginia to Division III Chaminade will fall by the wayside – even if that was the much bigger upset.
But I digress.
Last night was one of those great moments in sports history, and you didn’t want to miss it. I know I didn’t want my boys to miss it.
It’s not too dissimilar when I woke up my oldest to watch the end of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. What’s funny about that game was instead of tuning in for the ninth, he was tuned into all the hysteria which included a miracle game tying three run homer by Rajai Davis off Aroldis Chapman, a rain delay, and Ben Zobrist‘s game and World Series RBI double.
For the first time in 108 years, the Cubs won the World Series. My son was watching it much like he was last night when a 16 seed beat a 1 seed for the first time in 136 tries (34 years).
It once again shows that the impossible can happen in sports. As a proud parent, it’s just proof positive that everything has been amazing since my son was born.
Speaking of amazing, the one thing he hasn’t seen is the Mets win the World Series.
Who knows? With Mickey Callaway at the helm, maybe things will be different. Maybe Michael Conforto being ahead of schedule is a good thing instead of the typical Mets unnecessarily pushing an injured player to play (see Beltran, Carlos).
Maybe, just maybe that’ll be the case instead of this being the typical Mets. After all, the Cubs have won the World Series and a 16 has beat a 1.
This could be the Mets years. Probably not.