by Paul West
The sky isn’t falling at Citi Field just yet, but clouds are forming over the defending National League Champion New York Mets.
The offense that, since last year’s trade deadline, has been one of the most dangerous in baseball…now can only score when someone hits a home run, which is decreasingly often. The Mets are terrible with runs in scoring position; David Wright‘s back continues to be a problem, and it may or may not be the cause of his woeful .222 batting average. Lucas Duda seems increasingly stressed out at the plate, as he alternates chasing breaking balls out of the strike zone and watching hittable pitches pass right through his hitting zone. Wilmer Flores got off to a slow start, then went on the disabled list last week with a hamstring injury. Curtis Granderson is batting .200, with a .290 on-base percentage…from the leadoff spot. Travis d’Arnaud, as feared, is on the disabled list once again, and his return is not expected in the near future.
The Mets’ starting rotation, who began the season widely accepted as the best in baseball, has been stricken by one ailment after another. Matt Harvey, once the team’s ace, now seems guaranteed to precipitously decline somewhere around the fifth inning of each start–even in his stronger outings. He insists that he feels fine, but he also openly admits that he’s struggling to understand his pitching woes. Jacob deGrom is putting up good numbers, but his fastball velocity is noticeably down; more troublingly, when he gets a batter to two strikes, he no longer puts them away with ease. Batters are able to extend at-bats against him this year, in a way that only elite or unusually scrappy ones were able to do last year. Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz have been excellent, but both have recently been examined for arm discomfort. And Bartolo Colon only seems to be good against mediocre teams, while looking increasingly hittable against legitimate contenders. The net result is that the Mets’ bullpen is called upon to pitch multiple innings seemingly every night. The only reason closer Jeurys Familia isn’t currently arm-weary is because the Mets have six of their last seven games; during the Mets’ hot streak earlier in the month, Familia was called upon to pitch three games in row twice in two weeks.
Meanwhile, the National League East no longer looks like a weak division. Aside from the 10-30 Atlanta Braves, four of the teams in the NL East are above .500–and all four of them are separated by a mere 3.5 games, with the Mets currently in third place. The Washington Nationals came into Queens and took two of three from the Mets, with Mets postseason hero Daniel Murphy hitting a home run during Harvey’s worst career outing.
It’s still early in the season, but once again, the ghosts of seasons past seem to be stirring to life. This is a different Mets team than they had in 2006, when they were clearly the best team in the National League; for starters, this team has already secured the pennant that the 2006 team fell short of due to injuries and bad luck. But the Mets aren’t sneaking up on anyone this year, the NL East is no longer weak, and the Chicago Cubs are roaring through the first third of the season. The last week in May is no time to panic…but the clock is ticking, and it’s time for the Mets to turn things around.