Wednesday, October 7, 2015

2015 Mets: Wilder Than Wild, Part I

2015 is, of course, not over for the Mets, but I still feel I need to hand out my requisite letter grades for the regular season. The Postseason is a totally different animal and when all is said and done there could very well be some under-the-radar guys that end up being among the "Playoff Chosen," and I certainly have several candidates on the Mets who could fill that role.

There was a good deal of promise coming in to the season but of course after a raging hot start, the Mets ended up going flat for the better part of 3 months. But for the first time in what seemed like ages, the Mets actually made some mid-season moves that were designed to help the team now rather than later, and we all know what happened from there. They went on a run on August and carried it through September, riding that wave all the way to a Division Championship and a spot in the NLDS later this week.

The Mets used 49 players this season en route to their first 90-win year since 2006. In 2014, the Mets used 45 players to win 79 games and in 2013, 53 players mustered 74 wins. What this means, I'm not quite sure, but first, we'll examine the 23 position players the Mets used, and tomorrow, we'll visit the 26 pitchers that took the mound.

Travis d'Arnaud - B
I have a hard time grading d'Arnaud higher than a B, if only because he's proven himself to be invaluable to the Mets to the point where his inability to stay on the field consistently is a bit of a problem. When d'Arnaud was in the lineup, the offense was going pretty good, but he was out from mid-April until June, came back for 10 days, got hurt again and then was out until August. And when he was out, those were the swaths of time when the Mets really struggled offensively. Managed to get in 67 games and 239 ABs, which isn't great, but he made them count, hitting .268/.340/.485 with 12 Home Runs and 41 RBI, and if he could stay healthy, he's easily among the better Catchers in the NL. d'Arnaud isn't a superstar offensively, but he does what he does really well, which is that he gets hits to extend innings, really knows how to work a count and can pop a Home Run when it's needed. Defensively, he improved over last year, although that's not saying much. 

Kevin Plawecki - B
I'm giving Plawecki a bit of a friendly B grade here because he was sort of thrust into a position he wasn't quite ready to fill, that of coming up to the Majors, starting immediately and remaining the starter for an extended period of time. His bat wasn't quite as ready as his D, which was outstanding, but after a while he was a bit of a liability at the plate. Ended up in 73 games with 233 ABs, mostly in d'Arnaud's stead, and hit .219/.280/.296 with 3 HR and 21 RBI, so there's the evidence you need. Nonetheless, I give him the opportunity to improve.

Anthony Recker - D+
For the 3rd season in a row led the Mets in biceps. Unfortunately, that's not a useful statistic and in reality, Recker was pretty bad even for a backup. 32 games, hit .125/.239/.213 and the numbers look like that because he somehow managed to get more Walks this season (11) than he had Hits (10).

Johnny Monell - D
One of those guys who got playing time during the month the Mets were forced to start their "C" lineup just about every day. Also a walking Double Play. I know the numbers say he only hit into 5 DPs but it felt like 15 DPs and when you only have 48 ABs, that's a lot. .167/.231/.208. At best, organizational filler.

Lucas Duda - B
Duda didn't exactly build on his breakout season of 2014, but he didn't have a total regression back into terrible Lucas Duda either. In fact, and it seems mostly forgotten now, Duda broke from the gate this season like a house afire, hitting well over .300 through April, but as the injuries happened and the lineup around him thinned out, Duda was left with little to no protection and ended up getting into some bad habits, probably from trying to do too much, and the result was a month-long slump that kind of killed his season. He got hot again in August but then got sidelined by a back injury and that also screwed up his rhythm. Came back and was probably platooned more than he should have been because he's an important part of this lineup, he can probably handle lefties better than anyone will give him credit for, and when he gets in a good groove, he's as good a hitter as anyone on the team. 471 ABs, .244/.352/.486, 27 HR led the team, 73 RBI tied for the team lead.

Daniel Murphy - B-
To his credit, Murphy actually had a really good second half of the season all things considered, and rescued what was shaping up to be a total dud of a season for him. A Spring Training injury was the beginning of his troubles, and culminated in an April where he hit about .120 and was committing multiple mental and physical errors per game, which is a lot even for Murphy. He still had plenty of trademark Daniel Murphy moments over the remainder of the season but also several big-time hits, including the 9th inning Home Run on that Sunday in Atlanta. Walk year for Murphy and I'm not sure what will become of him from here but for a guy who was my #1 flog all season long I have to say I wish him well if he doesn't come back. 499 ABs, ..281/.322/.449, 14 HRs, 73 RBI tied Duda for the team lead. Not my pick to be one of the truly "Playoff Chosen" players on the roster, but I have a feeling some team is going to make a mistake against him at the wrong time and he'll end up with some iconic Mets Moment.

Wilmer Flores - B+
Folk Hero status aside, Flores for the most part justified my faith in him by progressively improving defensively as a Shortstop but also performing well offensively. No, he'll never be as good as some other Shortstops in the NL East, but he certainly acquitted himself well enough. Offensively, some of his defensive issues might have affected his performance at the plate, but he got off to a great start, and much like everyone else on the team slumped in the middle of the season, but after the trade that wasn't, and after he came up with what ended up being the Biggest Hit the Mets had all season, Flores got on a real roll in spite of the fact that he too ended up in a platoon situation. I know he's going to be jockeying for playing time with Tejada but if you want a good under-the-radar pick to become "Playoff Chosen," I think Flores is your guy. 483 ABs, .263/.295/.408, 16 HR, 59 RBI.

David Wright - C-
Much like I was going easy on Plawecki because of circumstance, I have to grade Wright tough because of circumstance. Yes, I know he couldn't have controlled the whole spinal stenosis issue and I give him credit for coming back from it. But if we're going to afford him the same Superstar treatment we've been lavishing on him for years, he needs to go back to having the Superstar seasons he had when he was younger, and I'm not sure he's capable of that anymore. The larger issue, however, is that when he goes down with an injury, and this has happened three seasons in a row now, the Mets simply don't have anyone even moderately adequate to take his place and it leaves a gaping hole in the lineup. 38 games and 152 AB, .289/.379/.434, 5 HRs, 17 RBI.

Ruben Tejada - B
For 3 seasons now everyone's been trying to run Tejada out of town on a rail but he's still here and he's actually managed to become fairly decent from a team depth perspective. Splitting time with Flores at SS, Tejada, clearly the better of the two defensively, performed just fine particularly when you consider expectations for him were basically none. 360 ABs, .261/.338/.350, 3 HRs, 28 RBI.

Eric Campbell - F
There's good depth and there's bad depth. Tejada is good depth. Eric Campbell is bad depth. There was actually a stretch early in the season when Campbell first came up and started filling in for Wright when he was getting some hits and drawing some walks, but eventually the league caught up to him and he was exposed for the Quad-A filler that he unfortunately is. That's all well and good, but again, the Mets ran into a lot of trouble when Wright was hurt because all too often, Campbell was the best option they had. And when Eric Campbell (173 AB, .197/.312/.295, 3 HR, 19 RBI) is your best option, well, you got problems there, chief.

Juan Uribe - A
Not so much because Uribe came in and performed so well, but because Uribe came in and made the Mets team depth (and team morale) about 1000% better simply by walking in the clubhouse. Hurt now and won't play in the NLDS which is kind of annoying because while Uribe has never been great by himself, he's the epitome of the "Playoff Chosen" guy and he's got the rings to prove it. 128 ABs, .219/.301/.430, 6 HR, 20 RBI.

Kelly Johnson - A-
Like Uribe, a Pro's Pro and exactly what the Mets needed from a depth perspective. Not somebody who was going to start every day and blow it up, but someone who was going to come off the bench and put forth a competitive AB. Or spot start once a week and come up with a couple of hits. Or hit a game-tying Home Run off Stephen Strasburg in a game of massive importance. 128 ABs, .250/.304/.414, 5 HR, 13 RBI

Daniel Muno - F
There's good depth, there's bad depth, and there's Danny Muno. Muno seemed to be the guy who would get called up when the Mets just couldn't figure out anything better to do. Accomplished very little at the plate (27 ABs, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .160/.160/.160 .148/.258/.185) and even less in the field where he proved to be a liability most everywhere he was placed.

Dilson Herrera - C
He's the future. Soon. Just not yet.

Curtis Granderson - B+
Nobody probably figured Granderson would spend the entire season hitting out of the leadoff spot at the beginning of the season. That didn't seem to be a role he was cut out for anymore. But that's where Collins put him, and Granderson, being the veteran he is, took it and ran with it and after a mostly unacceptable 2014, had a resurgent 2015 and looked very much like the kind of player we thought we were getting. Started slow but got hit in June and carried that wave most of the rest of the way. 580 AB, .259/.364/.457 and included a team-leading 91 walks and a paltry team-leading 11 steals to go along with 26 HRs and 70 RBI.

Yoenis Cespedes - A
Simply, a revelation. Cespedes arrived in the deadline deal that actually did go through, arrived in New York and basically put the team on his back. Outpaced the season's output of several of his teammates by time he'd been here 6 weeks and singlehandedly dragged the Mets back into multiple games that seemed lost. Whacked tape-measure Home Runs and hot dogged his way around the bases. Chain smoked before games, and maybe during for all I know. Gave no fucks whatsoever. 230 AB, .287/.337/.604, 17 HR, 44 RBI.

Michael Cuddyer - D+
Cuddyer was supposed to bring his .330 bat to New York but it seemed he left it in Colorado. Never really got going early in the season and his poor performance was a real drag on a lineup that needed someone to step up. Got hurt in July and was put in a platoon situation when he returned which actually seemed to help him somewhat, except that wasn't quite what the team had signed up for. .359/.309/.391, 10 HR, 41 RBI but his veteran presence could be of value going forward.

Juan Lagares - C
I'm not sure what we have with Juan Lagares anymore. I'm not even sure Juan Lagares knows what he is anymore. He dropped off badly from last season both offensively and defensively; although he can still run after a ball with the best of them, an elbow injury sapped his ability to throw from the Outfield and teams took advantage of this far too often. Offensively, ran hot and cold multiple times a week, so much so that he fell out of favor in a crowded Outfield situation and turned into a late-inning replacement, which wasn't quite what we thought we'd get at the outset. 441 ABs, .259/.289/.358, 6 HR, 41 RBI.

Michael Conforto - A
I give him an A for coming up to the Majors 13 months after being drafted and never playing above AA ball and hitting like he meant it. Not the main reason the team's offense turned around but he played a big part. The best part about this, of course, is that if he hit .270/.335/.506 with 9 HR and 24 RBI in 147 ABs as a 22 year old, what do you think he's going to do as he matures?

Kirk Nieuwenhuis - C
Nieuwenhuis was the Forrest Gump of the Mets. He hit .100 in April, they traded him to Anaheim, he was even worse in Anaheim, they cut him, the Mets bring him back, somehow he gets called up and then one random Sunday he becomes the first Met to hit 3 Home Runs in a Home Game. Then he turns back into Kirk Nieuwenhuis except for one night in September when he belts a game-winning Home Run off of Papelbon. You can take the .208/.282/.406 and throw it out the window. Those were the only 4 Home Runs he hit all season and you can't say he didn't make them count.

John Mayberry, Jr. - F
I feel a little dirty knowing that the Mets won their division in the same season that John Mayberry, Jr served as the team's cleanup hitter on multiple occasions. .164/.227/.318/DFA.

Darrell Ceciliani - C-
Short, sparkpluggy lefty hitter often confused with Muno but to his credit performed slightly better than Muno. Hit a Home Run once. .206/.270/.279.

Eric Young, Jr. - C
EY2 was brought back, although this time it wasn't necessary for him to play a regular role, which was just as well. Instead, he was brought back to be a late-inning pinch-runner and swipe some bases, but in limited use only stole 3 bases while getting caught stealing twice. Scored 9 runs without getting a hit, which could be the answer to some weird "Stump Gary" question except that what Mets fan would actually remember that?

Pitchers to follow!

Monday, October 5, 2015

More To Be Said

As is usually the case, I was on hand at Citi Field for the Mets final home game of the season. My presence at Closing Day has been a regular occurrence; I've been to 12 of the last 13. Usually, it's a little maudlin, a rather melancholy kind of day because I know it's the end of the long Baseball season, my final trip to Queens for the year, and truly the first sign that Winter is on its way.

But of course, this year, Closing Day was different, because it wasn't Closing Day. It wasn't the end of the season, it was the beginning of the next step. Fittingly, the weather felt an awful lot like Opening Day because rather than tipping their caps and fading out into the offseason, the Mets instead will continue, on to Los Angeles, the NLDS and then, of course, the first Home Playoff Game in Citi Field history one week hence. I'll be there, I know many of you, loyal reader, will be as well. Sunday's game was the Mets Love-in. That game on October 12th will be intense fury and white noise.

But, of course, that game is still a week away and before the Mets get there, they had to get the regular season over with, and it would have been nice to close out with a win to break the monotony of losing they'd done basically ever since they won the division 8 days ago. To do this, they sent Jacob deGrom to the mound, in his final tuneup for his Game 1 start on Friday. As Syndergaard and Harvey had done before him, deGrom followed suit by whipping off a brilliant 4 innings of work, holding the Nationals hitless and striking out 7 batters. A parade of pitchers followed him to the mound, including Bartolo Colon, Logan Verrett, Jon Niese, Addison Reed, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia. None of them allowed Washington much of anything. It probably helped that Washington was clearly in "Closing Day" mode and looked like a team that just wanted to hit the golf course. For a while, there was a No Hitter in progress, as incongruous as it seemed, because the Mets were basically throwing a different pitcher every inning and that crowd groundswell that usually accompanies a no-hit bid never really materialized. It wasn't until the 7th inning that Washington scratched the H column, and even then it was sort of debateable; Clint Robinson's smash snuck under Niese's glove (figures it was Niese to give it up was the prevailing thought) and then caromed off of Ruben Tejada's knee, and maybe on another day that's an error, but today was not that day.

Regardless, the Mets kept Washington off the scoreboard and therefore it was a matter of whether or not they could crack the scoreboard themselves. Outside of Curtis Granderson and a rogue Yoenis Cespedes double, nobody did much of anything. But, finally, in the 8th inning, the Mets broke through and fittingly it was Granderson, who was so resurgent this season and despite not really being cut out for the role anymore was exactly what the Mets needed in the leadoff spot in the order, popping out his 26th Home Run of the season and providing the Mets with the only run necessary to win this final game of the regular season.

Just as fitting was Familia closing out the game in the 9th inning, nailing down his 43rd Save of the Season to tie some other loafy closer for the Mets' club record. Perhaps nobody was more important to the Mets cause in this wonderful season than Familia, who was given an opportunity to be the closer and not just took it, but ran with it and went from being regarded as "Pretty good" to "Elite" and turned a potential issue, that being the loss of Mejia, and instead became the permanent solution.

So, this Closing day ends this chapter of the Mets season, but there's still more story to be told here. We started hanging our shingle here in this corner of the internet way back in 2007, when the Mets appeared to be a team of assassins and instead ended up assassinating themselves, and followed that up by a string of seasons in the wilderness before finally building themselves back up to get to this point. And even then, this 2015 Mets show seemed to be kind of uneven. The Pitching was ready to rock and roll from day one. The offense, of course, left much to be desired. But when a window was left open for them to hang around, management went for the kill and it paid off. For once, the Mets made a bunch of reactionary trade deadline moves and it actually worked out! The Mets went on a run, they beat the Nationals when it mattered most and they won the division handily and even reached the 90-win plateau with this final victory. And instead of tipping their caps and slinking off the field on the season's final day, the team lingered out on the field and saluted the fans. In one of those wonderfully spontaneous moments, as Curtis Granderson was being interviewed on the field, Terry Collins walked out towards Center Field. Jacob deGrom and Travis d'Arnaud followed. Pretty soon the entire team was following, taking that victory lap around the field and saluting the fans, most of whom, like me, had stuck by them through so many miserable seasons. It was a long road to get from there to here and for as much as we appreciate the 2015 Mets for finally taking The Leap, you get a keen sense that the players appreciate all us fans for supporting them, and for continuing to come out, even in situations that were mostly hopeless.

Yes, there is still more to say about the 2015 Mets. There will be playoff games and hopefully several more trips to Citi Field over the coming weeks. For the regular season, I managed to make it to 21 games, the highest total I've registered since another Pantheon Season, 1999. The Mets were 14-7 in those 21 games and much like they did in 2014, they did exceptionally well in the latter part of the season, winning the last 5 games I attended and 6 of my last 7.

Next for me, of course, is "National League Division Series Home Game #1," or so the ticket tells me. It's been 9 years since I've been to one of those games. It'll be good to be back.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Too Little, Too Late

If I were a Washington Nationals fan, after I finished reading the Political section of the Washington Post and cleared the dishes from my Breakfast nook in my posh Dupont Circle apartment, I might go for a jog down Connecticut Avenue. Afterward, I'll come back home and take another glance at that dog-eared copy of the Post to see Max Scherzer celebrating his second No Hitter of the season, and think to myself, "Where was that when it mattered?"

Fortunately, I am not a Nationals fan, and when it mattered most, the Nationals couldn't beat the Mets. The Mets battered Scherzer when they faced him in early September, and though he's handed the Mets the ignominy of being no-hit for the second time this season, it's far too late for it to make much of a difference. The same can be said for Gio Gonzalez in the early game. Yes, he held the Mets down and the Nationals won the game, but when it mattered, Gio was awfully pedestrian.

That being said, the Mets continue to not make a very good case for themselves going into the Postseason. This little cold snap that's blown over the offense has now turned into a 5-game losing streak, and they've scored 1 run in their last 3 games. This has, unfortunately, led to the Dodgers clinching the home field advantage for the impending NLDS, but again, I'm still not certain that this bothers the Mets that much.

On the upside, and if there is such an upside to being no-hit, at least I wasn't there to see it like I was last time. Instead, I only got to find out about it after the fact. In the Mets' defense, Scherzer pulled off the feat in another game where the Mets ran out their "D" lineup, as a majority of the regular starters sat out the frigid nightcap and those who played found themselves totally declawed by Scherzer. Additionally, when it comes to teams getting no-hit twice in a season, the Mets will in fact be facing a team in the NLDS that's pulled off the same feat.

On the upside, the Mets pitching looks ready to rock and roll. Noah Syndergaard stepped on Washington's throat in the early game and the Mets only lost when Addison Reed faltered in the 8th. In the later game, Matt Harvey finished off his regular season with a stellar 6 innings of work, striking out 11 and probably would have been the story of the game had he not gone up against Washington's Small Time Hero. But, such is life.

One more, this afternoon, and then the Mets will have to pull their shit together. A win today would be nice, though.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Lost Game

So, you know, I was all set to go charging out to Citi Field on Friday night to see the Mets' triumphant return home, where they would surely be greeted with the heroes' welcome they deserved as they began their season-ending series against Washington.

However, a day's worth of torrential rain fell here in New York and for sanity's sake, the game was called in the afternoon. This was just fine with me; in my younger days I would have thought nothing of sitting around through a 4-hour rain delay waiting for the game to start, but I'm now older and not quite as foolhardy. Based on how much it was raining, I was not looking forward to dragging my ass out to Queens to sit out in the rain and Citi Field's notorious jet stream.

So, instead of finishing my season with 22 games, I'll have to settle for 21. I can't go to tomorrow's Day-Night Doubleheader (my stance on those has not changed), but I'll be there on Sunday, assuming the rain stops by then.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Secret Ballgame

When a ballgame happens and nobody is around to see it...

Such was the case this afternoon, when the Mets and Phillies got together in front of a hearty gathering of about 4-or-500 close friends to wage a little game of the ol' Baseball. And if you blinked, you missed it.

I blinked.

See, I knew last night that they changed the time of the game, but of course after several weeks of looking at the remaining schedule and noting that the Mets didn't have any weekday afternoon games after Labor Day, I'd conditioned myself to thinking that they were playing at 7pm and didn't bother to check the game on to see what was going on. By time I did, it was already the 9th inning, the Mets were losing and everything was terrible.

Then again, I can't say I'm surprised. The Mets were kind of screwed before this game had even started. I believe I went to bed last night not having any idea who the starting pitcher was, since Steven Matz has come down with this random back injury that will probably develop into a case of Rayramirezitis, and since Logan Verrett was pitching in the Jon Niese spot, and since both Niese and Bartolo Colon are learning how to pitch in relief (something Niese has not quite warmed to just yet, on the other hand Colon seems ready to pitch whenever someone hands him a ball), there wasn't a real choice. Sean Gilmartin was the one who got the nod, and usually when something like that happens, it's phrased as "[Pitcher] and Staff." The kind of terminology used for 7th games of Postseason Series or rescheduled late-September games. Gilmartin pitched just fine over his 5 innings of work. Just, Jerad Eickhoff was better, probably because Eickhoff is better, although the fact that the Mets had their "C" lineup out there probably helped. Regardless, I don't know if the "A" squad would have done much better after last night.

I said last night that I can't get too worked up, and really I'm still not too worked up, but I don't like the fact that the Mets went into Philly, where they've been feeding the Phillies their lunch all season, and ended up getting swept. That's not really the statement you want to make at this point, and it's ended up costing them the slim lead they had over Los Angeles for NLDS Home Field Advantage. On the other hand, the Mets don't really seem fazed by going on the road; in fact after being a better home team when they were completely useless on offense, they have now spun this around to being markedly better on the road, when the spotlight of New York is off of them. And, quite honestly, I don't think their starting pitchers give a rat's ass where they're starting, just so long as they're starting somewhere beginning on October 9th.