by Paul West
For a team that, if the season ended today, would be in the Wild Card game, the New York Mets‘ season has felt like a one hell of a roller coaster ride. When the season began, the Mets’ primary x-factor was the health and durability of its starting rotation, which threatened to be historically good if intact. But as of the All Star break, the health of not just the Big Four, but a good portion of the starting lineup, has been an issue.
Matt Harvey, the man whose arrival helped bring credibility back to the Mets’ playoff aspirations, has at at times looked like the rotation’s weak link–until the underlying source was finally revealed to be thoracic outlet syndrome, and he underwent season-ending surgery. Jacob deGrom has battled diminished velocity, and Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard have dealt with bone spurs in their pitching arms, and Syndergaard left his last start with arm fatigue or shoulder fatigue, depending on which reports you believe. This has led to a concerning amount of usage for a bullpen that’s performed beyond the expectations of many, but has begun to show signs of wear and tear–except for closer Jeurys Familia, who hasn’t blown a save opportunity all season and just made his first All-Star team.
Meanwhile, at some point or another–sometimes, all at once–two thirds of the Mets’ Opening Day lineup has been felled by injury. Travis d’Arnaud, who showed promise down the stretch last season as a source of middle-order power, spent weeks on the disabled list with an ailing throwing shoulder. Lucas Duda, who last year had cemented his perception as ligitimate major league power hitter, is gone indefinitely dues to a stress fracture in his lower back–this after battling through what was simply reported as ‘back stiffness’ for a while, to the tune of mounting frustration and disappointing power numbers. David Wright, still the face of the franchise despite declining on defense due in part to his battle with spinal stenosis, was lost in mid-June to season-ending neck surgery which has him in such a physically precarious state that he’s not medically cleared to sit in the dugout. Curtis Granderson briefly missed time due to a calf strain; Yoenis Cespedes has battled various tweaks and strains all season and is currently dealing with a strained quad; and Juan Lagares missed a couple of weeks with torn thumb ligaments. Michael Conforto, the wunderkind who exploded onto the scene last summer, struggled so mightily that he was sent back to the minors to clear his head and recenter himself.
One might reasonably argue that it speaks well of the Mets that they’re still in playoff position.
There have been stretches where the Mets have looked like the multidimensional juggernaut that won the 2015 National League Pennant; there have been stretches where it’s seemed like they could only win a game if the score was 1-0. The Mets hit home runs in bunches, but for most of the season it’s seemed like they can only score via the longball–and those longballs often come with nobody on base. The Mets are near the bottom of the major leagues in runs per game, home run flurries notwithstanding, and while they’re third overall in team ERA and fifth in quality starts, every start feels like an exercise in breath holding. In a turn of events nearly no one would have predicted in spring training, the Mets are being widely discussed as being in need of another starting pitcher.
Again, the news isn’t all bad. The Mets are 47-41, and they still hold the second Wild Card position in the National League. The addition of line-drive machine James Loney and the well-timed offensive explosion (which, actually, is a continuation of his strong second half from 2015) of folk hero Wilmer Flores have helped breathe life into the offense of late. Then there’s the controversial return of Jose Reyes, who’s hit the ball well upon returning to the top of the Mets’ lineup as he gushes with enthusiasm at being “home” and expresses a willingness to do whatever manager Terry Collins asks of him. The Mets have even begun to show signs of small ball lately, taking extra bases and hitting singles and doubles with runners in scoring position. Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera have been a breath of fresh air on defense, and are quietly one of the most reliable double play combinations in the league–and both have hit the ball well. D’Arnaud has begun to hit the ball harder since coming back from the DL; and Cespedes has batted .302 with 21 home runs and 52 RBIs, earning an All-Star nod despite the array of injuries that have nagged him all year.
The Mets appear to be potential buyers as the trade deadline approaches, but what they’re shopping for is still up in the air. A number of starting pitchers are reportedly going to be on the market in the coming weeks, including the Rays’ Chris Archer; the problem is, the Mets’ 2015 deadline deals have depleted their resources in terms of tradable prospects, and they don’t want to leave their farm system depleted. It seems unlikely, based on the current market as well as some indications from GM Sandy Alderson himself, that the Mets will make another blockbuster deal involving a position player. All things considered, the Mets’ best move might be to pick up a long reliever for the second half, to take pressure off of a bullpen that’s performed admirably and a rotation whose health seems constantly in question. Conforto is currently tearing it up in the minors, returning to the form that made him look like a future centerpiece; and Duda, while still not close to coming back, will eventually provide a return of the explosive–albeit streaky–slugger that helped open things up down the stretch last year.
The Mets go into the second leg of the season with many blessings to count, and several questions that require answering. They come out of the break in Philadelphia, where they’ve gotten into the habit of putting up football scores, while the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates play each other, ensuring one of the two will lose on every day of the coming weekend. Despite the rumblings from the more panicky elements of the Mets’ fan base, there’s still more than enough cause to believe.