1974: That Post-Championship Season–A Harbinger of Things to Come?

So, when the smoke clears from this year’s World Series, the Mets will have taken one step closer to an infamous distinction. The conclusion of the Fall Classic will vault the Mets into the top five of teams with the longest wait in between world championships. Along with the 2016 Series’ loser, you will have Pittsburgh (1979), Baltimore (1983), Detroit (1984) and then the Mets (1986) in the top five of teams still waiting for the next hoist of the trophy. While I believe the Mets have a legit shot at returning to and finally winning the World Series in 2017, their pathway back isn’t clear, at least from this vantage point.

I read and heard about several comparisons during the 2016 team’s six-week hot streak to a similar streak the 1973 Mets went on. Both teams were effectively buried by early August, only to rally around several returning injured players, some unlikely effective starters and a red hot bullpen; riding said combo all the way to the post season. A poor managerial decision (1973) and a flat slider (2016) doomed both endeavors before they reached the ultimate goal. One of the beauties/curses of baseball is that there is always next year. The 1974 team was built on the premise that the winning version of the previous year’s squad was the true team. A 71-91 record proved that theory to be wrong. I believe that Mets GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins could make the same assumption about the 2017 team, based on their own predilections of what a 25-man roster should look like.

The Anderson regime began with his pronouncement that he was opposed to lengthy second generation contracts that awarded players for what they did for previous teams. To his credit, he has mainly stuck to that premise, the only real departure being the contract he gave David Wright. While we all applauded Alderson’s early stance on these types of deals, I do wonder how happy any of us would be to see a lineup like this on Opening Day:

1. Curtis Granderson, cf
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, ss
3. Yoenis Cespedes, lf
4. Lucas Duda, 1b
5. Neil Walker, 2b
6. Jay Bruce, rf
7. David Wright, 3b
8. Travis d’Arnaud, c

That lineup depends on Alderson completing two of his top orders of business in the offseason, securing Cespedes and getting Walker to take the Qualifying Offer. But look at that lineup again. With the exception of Wright and Cespedes, there are six players with one-year deals, which has to be attractive to both Alderson and his bosses the Wilpons. Alderson’s track record reveals his commitment to power, which in theory at least, this lineup has in abundance. Plus, there is the half-myth of improved performances when playing for next year’s contract. It sets up the rest of the roster as well. Juan Lagares becomes the late inning defensive replacement, Brandon Nimmo takes over the Alexandro DeAza role and Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes act as super utility men, playing all over the infield (and perhaps in the case of Jose some outfield). From Collins’ standpoint, he gets his beloved left-right-left march through the batting order and he also gets to tinker with Reyes and Flores.

I am not condoning this lineup idea (at least not entirely) but I can see this as a distinct possibility. More on this shortly.

At first glance, it is appears that the reason the 1974 Mets didn’t repeat was their poor offense. That is partially true. They scored 40 less runs in ’74 than in the previous year and their slash line comparison from 1973 (246/315/358) to 1974 (235/311/329) does show a decline. But it was the bullpen and overall the failure of the pitching staff to maximize the paltry offensive production that they did get that sunk the 1974 Mets. They blew 40 leads in 1974 and won only 17 of the 53 one run games they played in (their 1973 counterparts won 31 one run games). One needs look no further than one Frank Edwin McGraw for the main culprit in the demise. The 1973 hero had a terrible 1974, with only three saves in 38 appearances, pitching to a 1.44 WHIP and a poor walk-to-strikeout ratio. In an early example of how historically inept the Mets medical staff has been, a cyst on his should was misdiagnosed and he was shipped off to the Phillies after the ’74 season. The cyst was removed,McGraw returned to form and soon, to the World Series with the Phils.

All of that personal angst aside, the Mets received solid bullpen work in 2016 from Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed. The latter has my vote for the 2016 Mets’ MVP. But for a variety of reasons, mainly overuse, I wonder just how much the Mets can and should depend on either pitcher. They need a substantial reinforcement here. Maybe not the Kenley Jansen fantasy that someone wrote about recently, but perhaps something along the lines of a Tyler Thornburg or a Brand Hand, although the former could cost the Mets dearly. They could bring back either Jerry Blevins or Fernando Salas (or both), but neither of them are probably suited for constant and multiple late inning appearances. The other likely options Josh Smoker, Hansel Robles and Josh Edgin, should not be considered for post-7th inning duty. And I wouldn’t be so fast to project any of the starting pitchers for a late inning role either.

I am not buying the line about the Mets having an excess of starting pitching. I think Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom will be fine at the top of the rotation, but from there it gets a little dicey. I wouldn’t count on both Steven Matz and Matt Harvey being 100% by the end of Spring Training. Harvey’s injury is serious and Matz seems to be always nicked up. Pencil in one of them for the #3 spot and hope. A lot of noise has been made about a return engagement for Bartolo Colon. We’ll take it at face value for now, at least until big Bart starts asking for a multi-year deal. Right now, my #5 starter is Robert Gsellman. Talk about a guy who came out of the woodwork. I realize this is Mets Today, but Gsellman passes the eye test, IMO. I am less sanguine about his running buddy Seth Lugo. Lugo’s peripherals and his minor league numbers are somewhat off-putting. Maybe Lugo’s curve lands him a spot in the bullpen. The final piece of the puzzle is Zack Wheeler, who not having thrown a pitch in a big league game in two years, probably needs to spend some time in AAA Las Vegas first.

It all starts with Cespedes. Like him or not, he is the lynchpin to the offseason. After a disastrous sophomore season, the Mets should be eyeing a long stint in Vegas for Michael Conforto. If Cespedes departs, his slot in the field goes to Conforto. With Cespedes, Duda and Bruce become second-tier sluggers, and in the case of Bruce, a potential trade candidate should the right offer occur. Otherwise, they become more vital components, which is a very disturbing thought. With Cespedes, they probably can pass on Walker if he refuses the QO, relying instead on Reyes, Wilmer and September hero TJ Rivera at second. Without Cespedes, they may need to gamble on a big deal with Walker, probably not daring to hope that the Reyes-Wilmer-TJR troika can produce a serviceable performance at second and pick up the power slack. Without Cespedes, they might not have the pieces they need to secure that lockdown reliever.

On the flip side, maybe change is good. Cespedes departs, the Mets pass on Walker and trade Bruce. They get a little faster, a little younger and a little less reliant on the 3-run homer. Maybe the pitching stays healthy and the bullpen stays solid and Daniel Murphy comes back to earth. Standing pat didn’t work in 1974. Maybe it won’t work in 2017 either. Like I said, it’s hard to see from this vantage point. What do you see from yours?


The Last Mortgage Payment?

Just about anyone who has been a Met fan for more than six seconds has seen the clip. Mookie Wilson’s dribbler tying up Bill Buckner behind the first base bag and then rolling into the grass in right field. Meanwhile, Ray Knight rounds third and scores the winning run –barely beating third base coach Bud Harrelson to the plate. The Mets improbably win Game Six of the 1986 World Series. Two nights later they finish off the Red Sox and capture their second and to date their last, world championship. I know, I was there.

Let’s go back to that fateful Saturday night at old Shea. The Mets trail the Red Sox three games to two and have watched in disbelief as the Sox plated a pair of runs in the top of the 10th inning. The Mets had romped through the 1986 season, winning 108 games, survived a tough Houston Astros challenge in the NLCS and where heavily favored to beat the then still-cursed Red Sox in the Fall Classic. October 1986 was to be culmination of a five-year process that started with the franchise as the laughing stock of baseball and culminated with this superb season. That all seemed lost on October 25 with the Mets down two runs in the 10th and with their first two batters making outs. Everyone knows what happened next.

The improbability of that comeback has been dissected over and over since then. So why not again? In this version, the ghost of Casey Stengel, a kind of baseball version of Dickens’ Jacob Marley, appeared to owner Fred Wilpon and GM Frank Cashen before the bottom of the 10th and told them he could get it fixed, but it would cost’em. Maybe he told Fred the swap was for his first born son (that would be Jeff), but Fred, ever the canny real estate negotiator, instead settled on a 30-year mortgage. The document was quickly drawn up and signed. In a twinkling the Ol’ Perfessor vanished and the ball went between Buckner’s legs.

Then the 30-year payment plan began.

There has been Dwight Gooden’s drug rehab, Terry Pendleton’s homer, Mike Scioscia’s homer, Lenny Dykstra for Juan Samuel, Bobby Bonilla, Jeff Torborg, the rape scandal, the Worst Team Money Could Buy, Dwight Gooden’s second drug rehab (and subsequent rebirth in the Bronx), the Generation K fiasco, the Kenny Rogers walk, the 2000 Subway Series, the Beltran Strikeout, two collapses, Jeff running the team, Jerry Manuel, Jason Bay, a Ponzi scheme, Lucas Duda’s errant throw and finally Conor Gillaspie. Maybe Fred should have agreed to Stengel’s first offer.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of that fateful night.

In my mind, the Mets enter the offseason with two burning objectives. The first is to ascertain that Yoenis Cespedes stays a Met. He is this era’s Daryl Strawberry or Mike Piazza; the centerpiece of the batting order around which everything else hangs. I get the sense that everyone in the Met hierarchy from Jeff all the way down to the lowliest clubhouse attendant, understands Cespedes’ importance to the team. Unlike the acrimony that surrounded Strawberry’s 1990 departure, both Cespedes and the Mets seem to appreciate each other. I am somewhat confident that he will be back next year.

The other task is to trade and replace Jeurys Familia. Yeah he’s saved over 90 games in the past two years, but he has coughed up some doozies, last year’s World Series and this week’s Wild Card game being chief among them. He has now twice choked in the clutch, an unforgivable sin anywhere, but especially here. Given the recent haul teams like the Yankees, Phillies and Braves have gotten for their closers in the past few years, I’m betting the Mets could find similar gold for Familia. As to the new closer, Addison Reed could be one alternative, as could one of these suddenly surplus rotation arms. They could pick up a veteran for a stopgap. A bit more improbable, but not entirely impossible would be last year’s #1 draft pick Justin Dunn. He was Boston College’s closer, so the experience isn’t entirely new to him.

The Mets should enter 2017 deeper and more experienced than any Met team that I can remember. Thanks to some unlikely late-season heroics, they have an apparent surplus of capable players and can assemble a 25-man roster of players that can handle playing in New York. By most accounts, they still have a few more good pieces on the way as well. They have a manager, who love him or hate him, has proven equal to the challenge of a pennant chase and a front office that while making a few missteps here and there, has been willing and able to add the necessary components. The Mets window of contention is still open.

It’s been 30 years, so maybe the mortgage on the 1986 championship has finally been paid in full. For all our sakes, let’s hope so.


So you wanted to root for an underdog…

Underdog Mets

Of course you did. You’re a Mets fan. You were aware of the other options, from the pinstriped team across town crowing about their 26 or 27 or 28 championships to the new hotness of the moment such as the 2008 Rays or the 2013 Blue Jays or the 2015 Padres. But each time you were reminded that there were more and better baseball teams beyond Queens, you said, “No thanks,” (or something less equanimous) and kept following the Mets. You have your reasons. I’m not going to try to list them all. But at this point, after the frustration and embarrassment and despair of 2007-2014, I feel pretty sure of one of them:

Because long odds make a victory that much sweeter.

This isn’t how 2016 was supposed to go, of course. 2016 was supposed to be Mets fans’ reward for keeping the faith from the Tom Glavine game in 2007 through the runs-free summer of 2015. In 2016, the Mets were supposed to be great, and only the possible also-greatness of the Nationals was supposed to keep the Mets from being *gasp* front runners.

MetsToday readers polled between April 7-11 predicted these win totals for the 2016 team: 101, 94, 93, 92, 92, 90, 90, 89, 88.

But these are the Mets. They don’t just make you earn your fan satisfaction decade by decade. They make you earn it year by year, month by month, sometimes day by day.

So of course Cy Young hopeful Matt Harvey fell apart mechanically and psychologically and had a rib removed. Of course Jacob deGrom frayed a nerve, and Steven Matz grew a new elbow bone, and clapping our hands three times and saying “Ya gotta believe!” didn’t heal David Wright‘s spine. Of course the Mets burned through plans A and B at most positions on the field.

A funny thing happened, though: plans C and D stepped up.

2016 WAR by position:


A) Travis d’Arnaud 0.0
B) Kevin Plawecki -0.1
C) Rene Rivera 0.4 (first game April 30)


A) Lucas Duda 0.3
B) Eric Campbell -0.7
C) James Loney -0.3 (first game May 31)
D) Wilmer Flores 0.6


A) Neil Walker 3.8
B) Kelly Johnson 0.3 (first game June 11)
C) Wilmer Flores -0.1
D) T.J. Rivera 0.7 (MLB debut August 10)


A) Asdrubal Cabrera 2.7
B) Matt Reynolds 0.0 (MLB debut May 17)
C) Jose Reyes 0.1


A) David Wright 0.5
B) Ty Kelly 0.1
C) Wilmer Flores 0.6
D) Jose Reyes 1.1 (first game July 5)


A) Curtis Granderson 1.5
B) Brandon Nimmo -0.1 (MLB debut June 26)
C) Jay Bruce 0.3 (first game August 1)


A) Yoenis Cespedes 1.7
B) Juan Lagares 0.5
C) Michael Conforto 0.2
D) Justin Ruggiano 0.2 (first game July 30)
E) Alejandro De Aza 0.1
F) Curtis Granderson 1.5


A) Michael Conforto 0.6
B) Brandon Nimmo 0.0
C) Yoenis Cespedes 1.1
D) Ty Kelly 0.6 (MLB debut May 24)

A third-choice catcher, fourth-choice third baseman, fourth-choice first baseman, and sixth-choice center fielder? This is the stuff of “poor us” teams, not playoff teams.

With Neil Walker lost for the season, along with two of the Mets’ top 4 starting pitchers (Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz), it’s gotten even crazier during the stretch run, as second base plan D T.J. Rivera and rotation plans F and G Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have taken on vital roles.

Mets fans, this isn’t what you hoped for, but doesn’t it feel right somehow? Doesn’t embracing an underdog feel like second nature at this point? Wouldn’t watching a team full of established stars dominate the competition feel strangely alien? Don’t you yearn more to see a gritty over-achiever overcome all odds?

This is your team.

Let’s go Mets.


Let’s Go Cubs! Wait, What?

The Chicago Cubs are the Mets’ newest best friends down the stretch.

After last night’s game I am going to make a dangerous assumption and state that the Marlins are dead. So of course, they’ll go all the way!

Seriously though, that leaves the Cards and Bucs left as the last teams standing in the Mets’ way. Enter the Cubs. They play the Cards 6 more times and counting tonight’s game, they have the Bucs four more times. Here’s to 7 Cub wins!

The Cards and Bucs also play each other 6 more times and the Pirates have the Nats for three in Washington. The Mets only have 6 tough games left, all with Washington.

So it CAN happen. But WILL it?

In the words of the immortal Bob Murphy: “Fasten your seat belts!”


Can Conforto and Nimmo be “the rabbits?”

So I am watching last night’s series finale against St. Louis and I am thinking that the Cardinals are really a mess right now. At that moment Ron Darling, who to my mind at least, is the realist of the three TV booth guys, makes a similar remark. Moments later a Cardinal infielder boots a grounder, opening the floodgates in what turned out to be a 10-6 Met win.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I have a hard time believing that the final Wild Card standings on October 2 will look the same as they do on August 26. I don’t really believe in either the Giants or the Cards and I think that one, if not two of the three teams bunched up behind the two staggering leaders might be able to pull a rabbit out of their hat and secure home field advantage for a one-game play-in.

For the Mets, those rabbits could be Michael Conforto and/or Brandon Nimmo, both of whom are destroying PCL pitching right now. It would be a delicious and ironic twist to a season that has had more ups and downs than a Disney rollercoaster if this maligned duo could somehow ignite the fuse that rockets the Mets back into the playoffs.

First off, I hate the fact that the Mets AAA team is located in Las Vegas. And this isn’t because I live in an International League city either (well not entirely). The hot, dry air plays havoc with pitchers and makes sluggers out of guys like Eric Campbell (363/493/593 in 2015), Johnny Monell (324/389/469) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (324/381/667). The fact that the first two are back in Vegas this year, while Kirk (I never want to type his last name again) is slashing 214/327/405 with Milwaukee ought to give you a good idea of the artificial environment and how much different it is from the big leagues. So, Nimmo is at 344/418/533 for Vegas, while Conforto, having suffered two demotions to baseball’s version of Siberia, is slashing 423/480/748. What is the difference between these two and the aforementioned trio as well as other Las Vegas superstar hitters such as Josh Satin or Zack Lutz?

Well for openers, both are former first round picks, making them “real” prospects. Big deal, so were Stan Jefferson and Shawn Abner, you might say. Well, with an exception here and there, both Nimmo and Conforto have essentially outhit these other players at the major league level already. Both may have suffered, especially in Conforto’s case, from being pushed into a major league role before they were fully ready. Their current lines at Vegas are a hopeful sign that the lessons have been learned and they can be recalled on September 1 and actually contribute.

And why not? The Cards are a shell of their former shelves, the Giants and Pirates have been rudderless since the All-Star break and the Marlins are racked with injuries. Only the Mets, it seems can count on a late infusion of talent to help them with a late push. The schedule favors the Mets down the stretch and hey, stranger things have happened.


Matz Shoulder and Elbow Issues Directly Related

New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) follows through on a pitch against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Yankee Stadium on Aug 3, 2016.

Steven Matz has been pitching nearly the entire season with an elbow issue — going back to the forearm tightness he experienced way back in early May. The forearm tightness evolved into a bone spur in his elbow, and, most recently, shoulder discomfort developed. Mets management and team doctors would like you to believe the shoulder and elbow problems are not related, but that is absolutely, positively, not the case.


The No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day

What a difference a year makes. Last August 1 the Mets had just acquired one of the best hitters in the game, had seen a long-time organizational player shed tears over the prospect of leaving and most importantly, were in the process of sweeping a moribund divisional leader, propelling themselves (and us) into a memorable and long post season run that would last all the way to November 1.

This year?

Let me count the ways I hate the Jay Bruce trade. First there’s Bruce the player. He doesn’t really do much well. He’s slow, he has occasional power, he strikes out too much, doesn’t get on base enough and is a bad fielder. Some of his inflated offensive stats can be attributed to playing in the Great American Ballpark. In his defense, he is having a pretty good year so far. The Mets have been historically bad this season with RISP, so perhaps he helps.

Then there’s the trade itself. The Mets acquired Bruce for second baseman Dilson Herrera. As recently as last winter, the Mets were calling Herrera the second baseman of the future, which apparently justified letting the 2016 NL batting champ Daniel Murphy go. What made them change their minds and trade Murphy’s heir apparent for a player who doesn’t hit as well as Murphy? Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt recall the distain heaped on the Mets Front Office prior to the incredible hot streak they went on in late July. This type of shenanigans certainly recalls some of the bad old days of Met Front Office follies–short sided player moves, shoehorning square pegs into round holes and dealing under (while entirely denying) financial restraints.

Speaking of financial restraints, there is also a grim foreboding about next year baked somewhere in this move. Does the arrival of Bruce signal the eventual departure of Yoenis Cespedes? Bruce has another year on his deal, Cespedes can opt out this winter. I shudder to think of an outfield next year of Bruce in right, the suddenly unreliable Michael Conforto in left and the depleted Curtis Granderson in center. It could happen.

The Mets also brought back Jon Niese from Pittsburgh in a trade for Antonio Bastardo. One of the best names in Met history, Bastardo just never clicked here. I wonder what kind of reception Niese is getting in the clubhouse after he made a few pointed comments about his teammates on his way out last December.

Finally, the Mets lost to the Yankees (of all teams) in 10 innings last night 6-5. Channeling his inner Wilmer Flores, AAAA player Matt Reynolds hammered a three run homer off the entirely ineffective CC Sabathia, giving the Mets a brief lead that the otherwise reliable Addison Reed coughed up two innings later. The Mets dynamic bullpen duo of Reed and Jeurys Familia suddenly look very vulnerable.

And that is probably the most foreboding sign of them all.

Baseball Instruction from OnBaseball
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