The Annual Tease
Yesterday’s double header split was a small, concentrated example of how the Mets have teased us over the last few years.
They blew out the Washington Nationals, a preseason favorite to win the NL East, 11-0, in what was nearly a perfectly played game, then lost the nightcap 2-1 in typically frustrating fashion.
In Game 1, the Mets put together good defense, timely hitting, and shutdown pitching to blow out the Nationals. Daniel Murphy had a career game, hitting 2 home runs and driving in a personal best 5 RBIs. As for pitching, the Mets got a stellar start from a ghost. Jenrry Mejia made his first start of the season, and pitched 7 shutout innings, walking none and striking out 7. He pounded the strikezone with his cutter all game, and Nats had no answer.
It seems like eons ago since Mejia was rushed up to the major leagues (to be not much more than a middle reliever) in 2010. The former prospect made 33 unspectacular appearances that year, including 3 starts, before succumbing to a bevy of injuries that included a blown-out elbow. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011, and has been slowly working his way back, fighting off more setbacks along the way. He made 5 appearances last year (3 starts), but yesterday’s game felt like a new beginning.
Mejia came to the mound wearing number 58, as if he were once again a 20 year-old in Spring Training. His hair spilled out from under his cap, evoking the ‘do once sported by Pedro Martinez. He pounded the strikezone with a cutter worthy of Mariano Rivera, and the Nats had no answer.
Still only 23, Mejia may have rescued his future. In the short term, he at least kept himself in the big leagues for the foreseeable future. Terry Collins announced the Mets would be going with a six-man rotation, primarily to keep Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler from throwing too many innings (Collins figures on 70-75 more innings from each pitcher).
In Game 2, the Mets almost predictably gave Harvey only 1 run of support following their Game 1 outburst. This time, Murphy was among the goats, committing an error that led to the Nats’ tying run. Harvey, having now evolved into a sure thing on the mound, threw 99 pitches in 8 innings, walking 1 and striking out 7. The only run he allowed was unearned..
In the bottom of the ninth, the usually reliable LaTroy Hawkins committed the sin of falling behind a powerful hitter, and Ryan Zimmerman deposited the get-me-over fastball over the right field fence to walk the Nats off.
The Mets had 8 hits and 3 walks, but stranded 10 baserunners as a team – that old, familiar song.
Still, there’s reason to be hopeful after their season seemed to be spiraling out of control.
Since they were a season-low 15 games under .500 on June 15, the Mets have gone 22-15 – the best record in the NL East in that span. That’s about a month and a half of winning baseball.
As I wrote back on May 16th, there were several players who were underperforming, and based on their career trends, due to improve. Since then, players like Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner have regressed to the mean (in a good way), Marlon Byrd has established himself as the cleanup hitter the Mets needed, Eric Young Jr. has provided a boost, and Zack Wheeler, while maybe not living up to expectations just yet, has gone 4-1 with a 3.72 ERA since his recall.
Now of course, we’ve seen this tease before.
In 2009, the Mets had a winning record as of June 28th. They’d end up in fourth place with a 70-92 record. In 2010, they were fighting for first place until a 2-9 west coast road trip derailed them in July. The finished that season 18 games back of first with a 79-83 record. In 2011, the first year we realized the Wilpons were broke and it was time to rebuild, the Mets surprised us by hovering around .500 for the first half of the season, before falling back into their familiar fourth place home. 2012 gave us even more of a shock as the Mets found themselves only 4.5 games back of first at the All-Star break. But once again, they slipped dramatically in the second half.
Once could even argue that the collapses of 2007 and 2008 were a tease – the result of teams that were built around offense and a pitching staff that was at once aging and unproven.
This year, the Mets waited until July to tease us. We were forced early on to lower our expectations and look ahead to the future. But now we are being baited into thinking that the future is arriving. And with the NL East looking very weak, a seed of thought that this might be another 1973 creeps into our heads.
We’ve felt this way before, but is it just an illusion again? As a Mets fan, hope feels like a drug – a temporary high that we know won’t last, but we fall into its grasp nonetheless.
Realistically, the Mets have to be something like 20 games over .500 the rest of the way to get into the playoffs (I’m not going to do the calculation – you get the point). But there are potential positives we can take away from this season no matter what the outcome – a strong finish by Harvey and Wheeler, the healthy return of Jon Niese, Travis d’Arnaud‘s Queens debut in September.
The foundation is developing, the framework is being constructed, and the house is taking shape, but we’ll still have to wait to see the finished product.