Thursday, June 30, 2016

Outliers

I'd been on vacation for the past several days, and out of any sort of range of being able to see any of the Mets games over the past 5 days. In fact, a brief internet outage prevented me from hearing anything about Tuesday's game until Wednesday's game was almost underway.

I see I missed very little.

I'll try to sum up my thoughts right now in brief, but I, like most Mets fans, don't feel very good right now. Yes, it still feels like 2015 and the Mets could snap themselves back into place and into contention, but as it sits right now, I don't know where the savior is going to come from. The Mets could at least rely on whacking around some lousy teams for a while last year to keep them afloat, but this year, they've struggled against Atlanta, they're behind the Fucking Marlins in the standings altogether (and I assure you nothing would be more galling to me than getting assed out by the fake team) and they just got their doors blown off by the Nationals.

And, if all that weren't bad enough, here come God's Gift to Baseball, 2016, the Chicago Cubs, the team that's been annihilating everyone in their path for months, and, I'm quite certain, itching to stick it to the Mets after what happened last October. I'd been toying with going to Friday night's game, but I kind of have the feeling I may want to skip this one. Maybe tonight will dictate my behavior.

Regardless, the problems with the Mets right now just feel more insurmountable than they do last year. When the offensive issues hit, the Mets tried to weather it as long as they could and then made some moves. This year, it seemed like it wouldn't be the same case, considering Cespedes was here, and Neil Walker would be an adequate enough replacement for Murphy, and sure, Walker and Cespedes and Cabrera have all played well enough. But that hasn't solved the problem. Again, the Mets came into a season with a team predicated on starting players performing to their expected levels. Not everyone has done that, and nor could they have been expected to. Larger issues, the Michael Conforto dilemma, Lucas Duda missing extended time, Kevin Plawecki's failure to ascend to name a few, magnify the offensive issues. The pitching, so talented and yet so fragile, has looked alternately amazing and miserable. And now there's bone chips or bone spurs or whatever in two of their elbows and while everyone insists everything's fine, the results seem to indicate otherwise.

But more than anything, the killer instinct isn't there. I know it's one of those weird intangible buzzwords that people like to talk about but there's something to it. How many times late last season were the Mets dead in the water only to rally and kick the other team in the teeth? Hell, they did it to Washington so many times they basically ran half their bullpen out of town. That's not happening now. Now, when they get behind it seems like the game's over, and that's really a horrible way to feel about a team.

By the end of 2008, I'd become convinced that the Mets of that era were simply good enough to contend, but not a championship team, and that 2006 was the anomaly. When they fell into the abyss in 2009, I was proven right, although I can't say I'm at all proud of that. I'm not going to go and say that what happened last year was the anomaly for this era of the Mets. If it was, that would be an embarrassment, because this thing should be shaping up to be the Golden Age of the Mets. This could still happen. Teams overachieve, as the Mets probably did in 2015, and then regress the following season after the league catches up before launching to the next level the following year. Then again, teams overachieve and then take it one step further the following year, too.

Point is, it's too soon to say that 2015 was a fluke, especially since the 2016 season is barely half over. But it doesn't look especially encouraging right now, and I'm not sure I can see where the fix for this team is coming from, and maybe that's what's most frustrating about this season to this point. They've proven, at times, that they're as good as they looked last season. But they haven't sustained that level and right now they're not even approaching it. People are already dropping out on this team and when you have a fan base that's as fragile as this one, it's not especially surprising.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Infernal Struggle

The 1985 New York Mets finished 98-64, which stands as the 4th best record in club history. They finished in 2nd place, 3 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals, and in those days, 2nd place meant that you got to go home and sit on your thumbs after the final day of the regular season.

One reason that they managed this was because their record for the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that went 57-104, was 10-8, and it was a difficult 10-8 at that. A better performance against a 104-loss team would have likely meant a different outcome for the season. One year later, the Mets did a much better job in cleaning Pittsburgh's clock to the tune of a 17-1 record. Oh by the way, the Mets won the World Series that year.

Right now, the Mets record against the Atlanta Braves, who might be lucky to match the '85 Pirates 104 losses is 6-5. And those 6 wins haven't exactly been easy. In fact, the 6th win, which they managed to pull off tonight, was downright horrifying.

Oh, sure, things looked great after 4 1/2 innings, because the Mets trashed Aaron Blair and ran out to an 8-0 lead, the sort of performance the Mets really should have been putting forth against the Braves all season. They had guys on base, guys getting hits with men in scoring position, and a coup de grace 3-run Home Run from James Loney.

And then Steven Matz, who may or may not have an elbow issue that he may or may not be telling the truth about had a complete meltdown in the bottom of the 5th and 8-0 turned into 8-6 real quick. Whatever the issue is here with Matz, he clearly wasn't the same pitcher after sitting in the dugout rubbing his elbow or his forearm during an lengthy Mets inning in the top of the 5th, and the Braves jumped all over him, knocking him from the game a few outs shy of being able to qualify for a win. Whether this is the harbinger of more injury issues, I have no idea but after a stretch in which I was ready to anoint him as the NL Rookie of the Year, he's come back to earth significantly.

On the other hand, Hansel Robles has, at least for this week, been the Mets savior.  Called upon to clean up the Matz Mess, Robles finished the 5th and for good measure pitched the 6th and 7th innings too, throwing all of 21 pitches after his 65-pitch effort on Tuesday night that saved that game. Again, like any reliever, Robles will run hot and cold but it looks like he's heating up again, and when he's going well, he looks really, really good.

So then after this, it looked like the Mets, who'd stopped hitting after they got to 8, were going to hang on, and when Collins went to Jeurys Familia with 2 out in the 8th, it seemed like they were bound and determined to hang on. Familia's no stranger to going more than an inning but it's still kind of a scary proposition. He didn't do anyone any favors by giving up a hit to Tyler Flowers and hitting Erick Aybar to start the 9th inning. With imminent disaster staring the Mets right in the face, Chase d'Arnaud came up, stood in front of his brother and bunted...badly. Wilmer Flores then tried to catch the popped-up bunt...badly. A surer-handed 3rd baseman might have caught the ball outright, but Flores dropped it. However, in dropping the ball, Flores unwittingly shit a diamond because he then essentially duped Flowers and Aybar from running at all, and further disaster turned into a Double Play. Because that's exactly how it was drawn up. d'Arnaud then stole 2nd off his brother, but Jace Peterson struck out to end the game, except that the ball got away from Travis d'Arnaud, far enough that it seemed like Peterson might actually beat it out. But Travis' desperation heave was somehow corralled by a diving Loney and after a brief replay the game was, in fact, over and the Mets had, in fact, won.

Whew. I know winning isn't easy but really, the Mets didn't need to make this game quite so difficult. On the other hand, I suppose I should just be happy that the Mets aren't getting swept again.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ugh

The Mets managed to once again shit the bed in a June game in Atlanta this evening. After leading most of they way, generating a meager amount of offense against Matt Wisler and after weathering a rather middling performance from Matt Harvey, the roof fell in on them in the last of the 8th inning as Addison Reed gave up a 2-run Home Run to Adonis Garcia, turning a 3-2 lead into an irritating and irritable 4-3 loss.

Really, what's most mystifying about all this is the fact that the Mets have lost 4 straight games to the Braves, a team that they should be pounding into submission. Last season, the Mets did a pretty good job of handling these lousy teams and that's one of the primary reasons things turned out the way they did in the end. This year, that hasn't been the case. They've had a hard time with the Braves lately, and there's really no good reason as to why this has happened. I'm stumped.

Nobody seems to have exemplified this specific issue more than Harvey, who just seems to have a thing with the Braves more than anyone else this season. At least it's not the fake-ass Marlins, but it's just as annoying. Harvey has faced the Braves 4 times already in the first half of the season and each time it seems like he's had to battle uphill the entire game. Whether it was giving up Home Runs to Mallex Smith, or giving up 4 straight 2-out doubles, or getting raked over the coals by ancient A.J. Pierzynski, he just has no answer for any of this.

Still, he departed this game with a lead, thanks to single runs in the 2nd, 3rd and 5th, and thanks to a pair of clutch defensive plays from Michael Conforto. Conforto's throw home to nail Emilio Bonifacio to end the 7th inning was a real thing of beauty, and even more beautiful when you consider that this is usually the sort of play that would land Travis d'Arnaud back on the DL...except that he for once emerged unscathed.

And you start to think that once again the Mets will weather their way through a 1-run late inning lead...and then Addison Reed went splat on an 0-2 slider to Adonis Garcia that clearly didn't slide and wound up in the left field seats. And with one inning left to de-stun themselves, well, you know how it went from there.

So...yeah. I don't think any team with any sort of grand aspirations should be losing 4 games in a row to a team pushing 50 losses less than halfway into the season. But somehow they have.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Agony Of Victory

At this late part of the evening, it's easy to look back on this afternoon's Mets victory and just enjoy it. For a while there things seemed to be awfully Pyrrhic, what with the postgame news of Noah Syndergaard's elbow and Yoenis Cespedes' wrist, and whatever was going on with Zack Wheeler, but it seems as though everything is reasonably OK on all fronts.

The afternoon affair, of course, meant following, vaguely, at work, so I can't say I know an awful lot about what happened, but I know it was a back-and-forth affair that seemed to be like basically every other game the Mets and Royals have played against each other over the past year. The Mets score early, they get a Home Run from Asdrubal Cabrera, and an RBI hit from James Loney, and then the Royals dink and dunk Syndergaard to death and when he gives up a Home Run to Lord Cheslor Cuthbert, the game is tied. Maybe it wasn't quite in that order, but it happened, so we'll just go with it.

For as shaky as the Mets bullpen has seemed at times, they still manage to lead the Majors in Bullpen ERA, but they still don't have the flair of the Royals bullpen. So in a tie game in the later innings the game still feels like it's tilted Kansas City's way, but Matt Reynolds reached out and knocked his first Major League Home Run off of Joakim Soria in the last of the 6th inning to put the Mets back in front 4-3, and damned if that didn't hold up for the remainder of the game. In spite of being mostly gassed after working 8.2 innings on Tuesday night, Jerry Blevins, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia held the line, stepping on the Royals throat and allowing them 1 hit over the final 3 innings to close out the victory.

So, the Mets sweep this abbreviated two-game series from the Royals. If they'd managed this sort of result several months ago, maybe we'd be feeling different right now. Hell, if they hadn't gotten swept by the miserable Braves last weekend maybe we'd be feeling different right now. But you just take what you can get at this point. At least for once everyone is in one piece for one day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Plan C

Tuesday night was, as the calendar fell, my 11th game of the season at Citi Field, and an important one at that, as the Mets had lost the last 4 games I'd been to, each one a more horrible slog than the one before it. I'd figured that the scheduled starting pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, would be helpful in ending this streak. But the Mets intervened in the middle of the day by dropping, rather innocuously, word that Syndergaard would be pushed to tomorrow, and Bartolo Colon would pitch tonight.

No matter, I hadn't seen Colon yet this season, so perhaps he could bring me some luck. Or perhaps my other half might bring me some luck, as she made the trek to Flushing with me for the first time this season ("I'll go when the weather warms up," she said. Have I mentioned she's not the sadist I am when it comes to this stuff?)

Of course, Colon lasted all of 4 pitches in this game, as his last one was whacked back at him by the whimsically-named Whit Merrifield, directly off his thumb. Not that you could tell the severity of it from my perch in section 513, but it didn't look great and, well, it spelled the end of his night.

So...now what? I go from Syndergaard to Colon to...Hansel Robles?

I've had a bit of love/hate with Robles this season because he still pitches like he did last year, which is that sometimes he looks really good, and sometimes he looks really terrible, and there tends to be no in-between. Lately, he'd been more terrible, so let's just say I felt a bit dubious when he emerged from the bullpen with 1 out in the 1st inning, and even more dubious when he gave up a hit to Alcides Escobar. But it turned from there. Robles struck out Eric Hosmer, Travis d'Arnaud, back from Purgatory, threw out Escobar attempting to steal, and the Mets just took it from there. Robles probably earned back some of the luster he'd lost with his effort this evening. Put in an impossible spot, Robles somehow managed to make it all the way to the 5th inning, mostly on what I have to imagine was guts. I figured he'd be done after the 3rd.

It took 5 relievers in total, but somehow, the Mets managed to hold down the Royals in a game that seemed to be heading down a path similar to a majority of the games these two teams played last Fall. The Mets took an early lead off Ian Kennedy thanks to a Home Run from AsdrubAl Cabrera and, later, a Home Run from Yoenis Cespedes, and that was it. The Mets opportunities were constantly snuffed out by Royals Outfielders running down fly balls that appearEd Headed for greatness, and as such the slim lead the Mets had remained slim throughout the game. This didn't bode well. Of course, Royals batters would get hits, and constantly had men on base, and they were doing their usual annoying thing of fouling off multiple pitches and making me squirm uncomfortably. They appeared primed to break through in the 5th, when Robles finally ran out of gas and gave up a run on a single by Tyler Eibner, one of those Social-Studies-Class-Kids. Erik Goeddel then came in and gave up a frighteningly long fly ball to pinch hitter Kendrys Morales, but it died at the warning track and landed in Granderson's glove. A rare opportunity where the ball didn't fall for the Royals.

You could, I suppose, make the argument that this is a vastly reduced Royals lineup, without hell-raisers like Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon or Ben Zobrist, but then again, the Mets are pretty reduced too. Whatever the Royals threw at the Mets, Robles, Goeddel, Jerry Blevins, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia weathered and the Mets managed to come away with the 2-1 victory.

So, the streak has been broken. I'm not sure if this means I now have to bring my wife with me to every game (she would probably object), or if the Mets have to lose their starting pitcher after 1 batter, or there needs to be a drunken idiot running onto the field, but at least I don't have to carry around a losing streak any further. At least not until the next one.