Zack-Wheeler-response-to-Bryce-Harper story that's been making the rounds today has, lightly, a smacking of Jimmy Rollins in 2007 to it, so perhaps Zack Wheeler is trying to be a little prescient and stick a little starch into a rivalry that's been rather one-sided over the past few seasons.
I've never been much for wars of words; having been through it already between the Mets and the Phillies in (pick any year between 2007-2009) and having the Mets talk a lot and have it blow up in their faces is a bit tiresome. But maybe there's something to Wheeler and the Mets taking notice of Bryce Harper and the Nationals and the bit of arrogance they seem to be displaying. The Mets were arrogant, once, and after their run to the NLCS in 2006 and being a near-universal choice to go to the World Series in 2007, the Mets fell victim to their own hubris and instead ended up watching as the Phillies embarked on what turned out to be the Golden Era of their franchise. The Mets, to date, haven't recovered.
Now, the Phillies have returned to irrelevance, and it's the Nationals who proclaim themselves the Team to Beat. Bryce Harper, upon learning of the signing of Max Scherzer, proclaimed, "Where's my Ring?!" perhaps anointing the Nationals as the kings of Baseball before a game has even been played. Certainly, the Nationals look the part, boasting a starting rotation that's easily the best in the division and project to win more games than anyone else in the league. The Nationals also have this habit of really bludgeoning the Mets, particularly in recent years. The Mets were 4-14 against Washington in 2014 and since 2012, when the Nationals got good, I believe their record is something like 10-46 against Washington, or at least it feels that way. That includes winning all of 1 game against Washington at home, and routinely sitting by as they come in to Citi Field and belting a dozen Home Runs in a 3-game series. So, why not anoint them as the Team to Beat?
Well, from the perspective of the Mets, and particularly from the perspective of Zack Wheeler, who's found himself on the receiving end of multiple National floggings, it's getting a little tired. Mets fans were already a little tired of seeing these clowns waltz in to our stadium and kick us in the teeth. The players are clearly tired of this too, and it's nice to see Wheeler display the chutzpah to go out there and say something about it. Of course, talk is cheap and now they have to go out there and back it up. Wheeler he wasn't brash enough to say that the Mets were the Team to Beat in the NL East, because they're not quite there yet, but he at least fired a salvo at the Nationals that was enough to say that just because things have been a certain way the past few seasons doesn't mean that that's going to continue.
The Nationals aren't the Phillies of 2007-2011. These Mets aren't the Mets of that era either, although at least one face remains from that time. In fact, if anything would posit a fair comparison, the Nationals are probably the Mets, the team that's on top, the team that's great and isn't afraid to let everyone know about it. The team with real hot dog—Harper—that many people don't like too much. The team that, when they lost in the postseason, many (mostly myself) found it enjoyable. They're the big, bad boys that are favorites to make the World Series. The Mets, right now, seem to be in the role of the Phillies. They're young and on the rise. They have a nucleus of pitching that's ready to strike and ready to interject themselves into the conversation as a contending team. They're the team that seems likely to hang around and hang around and then strike when the find a window. They're the team that, if you, or anyone on the team, would proclaim the Mets as the Team to Beat in the NL East, well, they'd probably get laughed at. Nobody on the Mets seems to be quite that brash yet, but internally, Zack Wheeler said what a lot of players seem to feel. They're not the same pushovers they once were. If Washington expects to win 14 of 18 from the Mets again, well, they've got another think coming. But now, they have to go and prove it.
But it's worth keeping in mind that everyone laughed at Jimmy Rollins when he said the 2007 Phillies were the Team to Beat, and look how that turned out.