Friday, October 16, 2015
The New York Mets are good now
To some, that headline will seem obvious: These New York Mets, after all, beat the Dodgers in the NLDS (despite a blown call that cost them their starting shortstop and might have cost them Game 2 of the series) to advance to the National League Championship Series after cruising past the heavily favored Washington Nationals to win the NL East by seven games.
But if you were watching Wednesday night’s game among Mets fans — in your local bar, online, or perhaps even in your own living room — you might have thought the 2015 Mets were a 110-loss team that somehow reached the postseason only after 21 other clubs up and forfeited, and that the Mets just lucked their way into two wins in the series against the Dodgers to set up the decisive Game 5.
In the early innings of the contest, with ace starter Jacob deGrom struggling with his command, a certain significant portion of the club’s fanbase seemed ready to pack it in for the winter. On their way, they blamed pitching coach Dan Warthen for not checking on deGrom sooner, and blamed manager Terry Collins for not yanking deGrom in the second inning, and blamed slugger Yoenis Cespedes and franchise player David Wright for struggling, somehow, against Zack Greinke — a Cy Young candidate who finished the regular season with a 1.66 ERA.
No baseball team has ever been perfect from top to bottom, and so if you stare at any club long enough while you’re conceding defeat, you won’t have to strain to identify some potential bugaboos. Maybe it was the loss of Ruben Tejada’s defense, maybe it was catcher Travis d’Arnaud’s game-calling, maybe it was the soft underbelly of the team’s bullpen, maybe it was the training staff or the advanced scouts or the nutritionists or the psychologists.
And, heck, maybe some of those represent real deficiencies for the Mets — all teams have them, after all. But for as hard as it may be for some people to believe even after the club went 90-72 in the regular season, the 2015 Mets are, in fact, a good team, the type that sometimes reaches the LCS and one, certainly, with about as good a chance as any other still standing to go on to win the World Series.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy carried the Mets’ offense in the series against the Dodgers, while guys like Cespedes, Wright and Lucas Duda slumped. Murphy managed two homers off Clayton Kershaw in the series and a game-winning blast off Greinke in Game 5 — astonishing feats all. But there’s no real luck involved there, beyond the simple way fortune always dictates certain parts of any baseball game or series.
Murphy got hot because Murphy is a good hitter, like most of the hitters in the good lineup. It’s not often a team is going to see its entire lineup all clicking at the same exact moment, but teams with enough offensive depth can trust that at least a couple of guys will be hitting well at any given time. It so happened that Murphy and Curtis Granderson were those guys for the Mets in the NLDS. Maybe it’s two different guys come the NLCS.
And deGrom, despite his early command issues, settled into his start on Thursday to give the Mets six strong innings and earn the win, not because anyone got lucky by leaving him in but because deGrom is an excellent pitchers and excellent pitchers can still get outs even with something less than their best stuff. When deGrom finally did exit after the sixth, the Mets turned the ball over to Noah Syndergaard, another very good pitcher, and then Jeurys Familia, yet another very good pitcher.
At least some of the anguish that loomed over the fanbase on Thursday comes from conditioning. It’s practically a Pavlovian response from Mets fans who watched the team collapse in 2007 and 2008 and crumble from 2009-2014: Someone sings the national anthem, someone throws a baseball, and sadness follows.
And some of it, too, must be cultural: The Mets exist in a state of tormented juxtaposition with the club across town, the one that loves to bandy about its 27 World Championships. No one becomes a Mets fan expecting excellence — that’s what the Yankees are for.
But there’s nothing intrinsic to the Mets that makes them losers — not even their reluctance to spend like a big-market club. No matter what their owner says, they are not snakebitten, as “snakebitten” is not a real thing.
The Mets, right now, are in fact a good baseball team. There are issues, no doubt. But they’ve got a roster deep enough that they can field 6-7 good to great Major League hitters on any given night, and they’ve got a whole pitching staff full of guys who throw high-90s heat with great control and mind-boggling breaking stuff.
And though it’s not worth looking too far into the future now, with the Mets set to kick off a best-of-seven set against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field on Saturday, that pitching staff — and the capable front office responsible for compiling and developing it — sets them up to be good for several years to come.
It might not be an easy thing to grasp, given how hard the club stunk for the better part of the last decade, and given how frequently the Mets have been made a punchline. But it’s a true thing nonetheless: The Mets are good now. It’s kinda weird.