Two short months ago, the New York Mets were a popular World Series pick. Today, on June 5th, at 24-31 they sit in 4th place in their division, a whopping 11 games behind the first place Nationals. So where did it all go wrong? The obvious answer is pitching. Entering spring training New York believed their starting rotation could be the best in baseball, an assessment they were not alone in, yet two months into the year only the Phillies own a worse team ERA. Offensively, even without Yoenis Cespedes the Mets are scoring 4.89 runs/game a total management would have signed up for in a heartbeat in February, but injuries and underperformance from every level of the pitching staff have made wins more elusive than they should be. A telling statistic, the Mets have already lost three games this season in which they scored seven runs or more, something that happened only twice all of 2016. So can the Mets rally and make themselves a factor in a postseason race, or is their ’17 season over before it ever really got started? The short answer is yes. A visit to online team forums would try to convince you otherwise, but you heard it here first, New York will make a run. And here are five things that will help facilitate it.
1) The return of Steven Matz and Seth Lugo
Entering spring training, you may have heard whispers the Mets had too much starting pitching – something any baseball purist would tell you is simply impossible. Yes, New York had seven guys for five rotation spots, but before even leaving Port Saint Lucie, FL Steven Matz and Seth Lugo were already on the disabled list, and when Noah Syndergaard went down in April, guys like Sean Gilmartin, Rafael Montero, Tommy Milone, Adam Wilk, and Tyler Pill were starting games in Queens. Matz and Lugo both completed rehab assignments this past weekend and are slated to rejoin the club’s rotation next weekend in Atlanta, a development that will have a positive trickle-down effect on the whole pitching staff. The left-handed Matz has struggled to stay healthy his entire career, but he owns a 3.16 lifetime ERA with an 8.7 K/9, and (most importantly) he is a legitimate big leaguer. Lugo burst on the scene as a rookie last year to turn in a 2.67 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 64 innings, and his dominance for Puerto Rico in the WBC would lead you to believe that was not a fluke. The man most affected by the pair’s impending return is righty Robert Gsellman, who appears ticketed for the bullpen, and while the sophomore has struggled a bit early in 2017, he would represent an upgrade to most right-handers the Mets have in relief. He would also give manager Terry Collins a dynamic weapon in the middle of games. Smile, Mets fans, Neil Ramirez’ days may be numbered.
2) Getting Yoenis Cespedes back
Like Matz and Lugo, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is getting close to returning from a hamstring injury, something that should make an already formidable Mets’ offense into a downright dangerous one. The Cuban sensation is without a doubt the Mets most potent weapon, and his mere presence makes the team more difficult to pitch to. Like the returning pitchers, the return of Cespedes will have a trickle down affect on the bench, where any given night Terry Collins will have a dangerous left-handed threat (one of Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce, or Lucas Duda) available.
3) Calling up Amed Rosario
The Mets have put off promoting one of the best prospects in the entire sport, but they simply won’t be able to delay the inevitable much longer. The 21-year-old shortstop is hitting .346 with an OBP % just under .400 with ridiculous .889 OPS in AAA Las Vegas, leaving little doubt that he is ready to compete at the game’s highest level. Most scouts agree Rosario can win multiple Gold Glove awards, and his defense would undoubtedly help a struggling pitching staff even if he starts slow offensively. The Mets are surely conscious of the super-two deadline (Usually around the second week in June, but not a concrete date on the calendar), and may be hesitant to ruffle the feathers of the veterans Rosario’s arrival will affect (Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes), but the fact of the matter is the youngster is forcing their hand. New York has immense respect for Cabrera, a gamer who is unquestionably playing through pain, but it is also clear the former all-star is not playing nearly as well on either side of the ball as he did last season, and a move to third base where his lack of mobility wouldn’t be as glaring may actually serve him well. Reyes played well down the stretch for this team last year but he’s hitting just .190 and don’t forget, the plan all along was for him to be a utility man this year with David Wright at third base. With Reyes on the bench, he, Wilmer Flores, and T.J. Rivera would give the team serious double switch flexibility late in games, and legitimate pinch hit options.
4) Improved relief
This is where the Mets are struggling the most right now. With closer Jeurys Familia sidelined for the long term, Terry Collins and Dan Warthen simply don’t trust anyone they’re handing the ball to on a nightly basis besides Addison Reed and Jerry Blevins. Rookie righty Paul Sewald had quietly shown potential for several weeks before his unbelievably horrendous implosion Friday night against Pittsburgh, and while Fernando Salas has had stretches of decent performance, he’s also given more than his share of games away. Josh Edgin is a left-handed specialist who is pitching much better against right-handed hitters, and Josh Smoker and Neil Ramirez arguably don’t belong in the Major Leagues. Fans have been screaming for the Mets to add external help, but that is not necessarily the only way to improve the club’s relief corps. When Matz and Lugo rejoin the rotation, Robert Gsellman’s right arm should provide the team’s bullpen with a much-needed boost. Gsellman’s hard sinker is a dynamic weapon, and his peripheral numbers should be much better when he’s only facing hitters once in a game. New York has righties Hansel Robles and Erik Goeddel in AAA, both of whom have enjoyed success in the big leagues, and any stretch of strong appearances should earn either one a plane ticket from Vegas to JFK. In any potential trade, teams will attempt to make the Mets overpay due to desperation, so they should also be monitoring the waiver wire where just this week former Met Bobby Parnell became available, in addition to veteran Ernesto Frieri.
5) The National League is littered with underperforming teams
As bad as the Mets have played, and let’s be honest, it’s been ugly, it is important to note that as a whole the National League has not been very good. Yes, unfortunately division rival Washington has been the class of the NL, but no team has established themselves in the Central as all five squads are separated by only four games, and while Colorado, Los Angeles, and Arizona have all gotten off to strong starts in the West, both the Rockies and Diamondbacks are unproven teams and it remains to be seen if they can keep it up over the course of the next few months. Teams like Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco are all in the same boat as the Mets, wondering what has gone wrong early in 2017 and trying to figure out how to fix it.
So believe, Mets fans! It’s what you’ve been taught to do, isn’t it? Yes, these first two months have felt like a never-ending nightmare but it’s important to remember that help is coming, and at some point, you have to have faith that this team is just too talented to continue to falter.
Justin Mears, Baseline Times MLB Contributor