by Paul West
Welcome to the long-overdue fourth edition of PDub’s Observatory, in which I offer observations on trending sports topics of the week…this week, specifically relating to the long-swooning Mets. As always, I hope you’ll find my informed warm takes to be of a reasonable critical standard.
Positivity is not automatically a negative
Some of the same folks lauding Pete as the man ‘carrying the team’ and ‘the only Met who should be speaking right now’ are the same ones who flooded Twitter with jokes and memes regarding his positivity while slumping. This is something you can’t have both ways; either you want the positivist to shut up, or you don’t, but you can’t suddenly declare him team spokesperson when you bashed him for saying he had faith in his squad. Also worth noting: positivity, self-belief, and positive feedback are absolutely good things. If you think the path to success has to revolve around obsessive negativity and the mockery of positive approach…that’s on you.
When the whole lineup is slumping, maybe the problem isn’t player-specific
Many things, physical and/or mental, can contribute to a slump. Good hitting and bad hitting can both be, as they say, contagious. Sometimes, a bunch of hitters in a lineup get caught chasing their tails–and one thing about hitting is that desperation is very bad for business. Anxious-to-break-this-slump is no way to stay calm with a full count, or avoid chasing pitches that are designed to capitalize on tension and anxiety. A good hitter, more often than not, is a relaxed hitter; and the Mets, collectively, have not been a relaxed team at the plate. But with all that being said, the Mets’ astonishing inability to hit with runners on base–especially juxtaposed with their ability to, at times, fill bases with potential runs–speaks to a problem of approach. There are situations in which bailing out for the big fly is a viable approach; and you could argue that there’s a small number of players whom this is viable as a general approach. The players of the latter example can only flourish a) surrounded by hitters whose threat potential is less limited b) at, or near, the bottom third of a generally solid lineup. But if the top six or seven players in your lineup seem to have a limited-outcome approach, it simply makes that lineup writ large easier to pitch to. Teams who hit situationally, and are a threat to put good pitches in play or find gaps instead of only fences–those teams are more stressful for opposing pitchers, because said pitchers don’t only feel as if they have to avoid multiple mistakes in an inning. A lineup of hitters who only hit mistakes, or whose contact only leaves the yard but never finds a gap, are easier to attack both in general and with runners on…because if you execute your pitches, one of them is bound to be an easy out in that particular at-bat. This makes pitchers relaxed and confident (see the first topic; relaxed pitchers are generally better, too), and has snowball effect of making them more likely to execute their best pitches as desired. The Mets need to learn two-strike approaches, and to swing for contact–in the form of the sac fly, productive groundout, or bases-clearing double–instead of all-or-nothing outcomes. This is a team with many players who’ve demonstrated, at some point in their careers, an ability to hit situationally or at least diversify their threat potential; when NObody is doing that, the problem likely isn’t just one of contagious slumps.
Believe it or not, the NL East isn’t yet out of reach
It feels as if the sky has fallen on the Mets’ 2021 season, and indeed it somewhat has. To enter a month up by a week’s worth of games, and be a week’s worth of games behind with a week left in that month…that’s an incredible drop. The thing is, if the Mets can sneak a game or two in the next few days, they enter a stretch in which they and the Braves basically trade places in terms of strength of schedule. After hosting the Giants this week, the Mets spend most of the rest of the season playing the Nationals and Marlins, both of whom punted at the deadline and have struggled; meanwhile, the Braves’ next three series are against the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers, and then they go into Colorado to face a Rockies team that’s tough to beat at home. Let’s say the Mets can make up three or four games in this three-week stretch; this would put them in striking distance with a couple of weeks left. In September, they go into Boston where they’ll get to use the DH–a real advantage for a team with several players best suited for the position; and they close the season with three games in Atlanta, during which they stand a chance of controlling their destiny. Francisco Lindor is coming back this week, Javier Baez is back as of today, and what if they get Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom back with only a few games to make up? If this seems like a far-fetched scenario, I remind you that the 2021 season has been full of dramatic turnarounds all over both leagues–and the Braves, themselves, nearly punted at the deadline. There are still five weeks left, and truth is often stranger than fiction. Especially in baseball.