Can 1973 Happen Again?

I’ve heard comparisons to 1973 regarding the 2017 Mets.  Look, they say, the Mets were terrible all season then stormed back in late August through September and won the National League East, defeated the Big Red Machine in the playoffs before losing the World Series to Oakland in seven games.  Anything is possible they say.  Well yes, anything is possible but that doesn’t mean it’s likely.  Never the less, let’s look back at 1973 and see what was going on after 75 games played by the Mets.

On July 3, 1973, the Mets had played their seventy-fifth game of the season.  They lost to the Montreal Expos by a score of 19-8 at Parc Jarry.  The Amazins found themselves 11 games back in sixth place with a record of 33-42.  By comparison, today’s Mets are 34-41, one game better, in fourth place 10.5 games back.  Why can’t the Mets right their ship and pull another “seventy-three”?

Here are some other interesting similarities. The ‘73 division leading Chicago Cubs had a record of 47-34, very close to Washington’s 45-31 record.  Also the rest of the division in 1973 was kind of like the division today.  Most teams were mediocre to bad.  Only the St. Louis Cardinals had a winning record other than the Cubs at two games over .500. They trailed the Cubs by 5.5 games.  Today, no one except the Nats has a winning record in the NL East.  The Braves are in second, three games under .500, nine games back of Washington.  One thing is clearly obvious, if you did not know the outcome of 44 years ago, looking at the standings today and then would lead you to believe the Mets were having two very bad seasons.  After 75 games, there still is a lot of baseball to play and anything can happen.

While I may have painted somewhat of a rosy picture, here’s something else to consider.  By the end of July ‘73, the once dominating Cubs sunk to just four games over .500 and were out of first place.  The Cardinals took over the division lead and the Mets were still wallowing in the basement of the NL East at 10.5 games behind.  By the end of August the Cubs had wilted to five games under .500 and the Cardinals had fallen to just two games over but still in first.  The Mets now in fifth place and still nine games under .500 had gained five games on the division lead and were only 5.5 games back of St. Louis.  The Mets still had a long way to go but the leaders of the division for most of the summer were fading fast.

On the season’s last day back in ’73, the Mets won the first game of a double header in Chicago and clinched the NL East by one game.  They did it with the worst record ever (up to that time) with just 82 wins.  The Cubs had sunk all the way to fifth place and St. Louis ended at .500. From the end of August to the end of the season, the ’73 Mets went 20-8 while the Cardinals went 13-15. The Mets stormed to an improbable championship and while their success should not be minimized, it’s fair to say it could not have happened without the collapse of the Cardinals and Cubs.

Another similarity the current Mets club has with the ’73 team is pitching.  Led by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack, the Mets pitching of 1973 was never a question.  Certainly the current staff led by Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zach Wheeler has the potential to be as formidable.  Therefore a number of things have got to happen for another 1973 to be possible.  Essentially Syndergaard and Wheeler have to get healthy and be the pitchers they can be.  Perhaps Matt Harvey can step in too once he’s healthy.  Plus and completely out of the Mets control is the Nationals.  They are going to have to play poorly down the stretch.  The fact is if the Nats play .500 ball the rest of the season they will end with a record of 88-74.  The Mets would have to go 55-32 to win by one game.  That’s a mighty tall order and one really dependent on Washington falling apart in a season where Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Steven Strasburg, Matt Scherzer, and Gio Gonzalez are having great seasons.

So while anything is possible, the probable is likely to play out.  The Mets should just focus on winning series and see where the chips fall.  I’m doubtful that when all is said and done, we will be marveling at another miracle in Flushing.

Time For Changes Even If Just For Show

How much more losing before the Mets higher-ups decide maybe a change at the helm is in order?  We can argue that the current state of the team is not the manager or the coaches’ fault.  However business is business.  If GE stocks were tanking as much as the Mets you can be sure heads would role on the board of directors.  It happens all the time.  Market conditions, politics, and other factors may all play a part in a company’s stock performance but rest assured the stock holders don’t care, they will want blood.

How can it be much different for fans who are asked to pay exorbitant prices just to park at Citi Field let alone get into the ballpark?  Clearly the Mets have become dysfunctional yet again for a lot of reasons.  Injuries, poor performance, age, what have you—it’s not one particular thing but something has got to give.  The Mets were expected to contend for a world championship this season.  Their ducks were in a row with a pitching staff for the ages but it has failed miserably.  In case you weren’t watching due to the late hour, apathy, or just plain disgust, the Mets have been outscored 30- 8 in an embarrassing three straight evenings by a team that used to call Brooklyn its home.  The LA Dodgers are flourishing mostly due to two prospects that are setting the baseball world on fire.

Stop believing that the Mets are going to get back into the race this season.  Make your October plans for pumpkin picking, hiking, and going to fall festivals.  Mets baseball come fall will not be on your calendar.  The Mets are so far behind the division and the wildcard they would need to become the super-miracle Mets to overcome this mess.

So why not change the manager now?  Why shouldn’t GM Sandy Alderson throw a hissy-fit and make a statement to the healthy players that remain in the clubhouse?  Look, Terry Collins is on the last year of his contract.  He’s done a fine job of taking care of the kids then actually getting them to the World Series.  But it’s high time that a change is made even if only symbolic.  Collins is not going to be the manager anyway come 2018.  Give the guy the rest of the summer off.  It appears he’s just as sick of this team as we are.

And by the way, Alderson has dirt on his hands too. While I wasn’t too upset that they let Daniel Murphy walk after 2015, hindsight shows that was a huge mistake.  I equate it to the Mets trading Kevin Mitchell after the Mets’ last world championship season.  The Mets began to degrade as Mitchel headed for an MVP award.  Same appears to have happened with Murph who just continues to rake for the Nats.

You wonder if Alderson’s conservative approach is also a problem.  If he had brought up Amed Rosario a week or two ago, maybe it would have sparked something in this team. Maybe not but who knows?  And now the Mets are so out of it, there really is no necessity to rush Rosario to the majors.

What about the communication and health monitoring in the Mets organization? Why did Alderson and company allow Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes that they just spent over 100 million on, lift ridiculous amounts of weight?  What was the purpose of that other than to guarantee injuries for both players?

I have always supported Alderson.  But lately I’ve begun to wonder about him and his approach to building a team.  He has ignored defense and small ball for power pitching and the long ball. I guess that’s fine if everyone can stay off the hospital gurney.  But if they can’t then I guess what you get is what we are seeing right now—a lousy baseball team.  After two post season campaigns in a row, how quickly we have been sent back to the doldrums.  It’s a hard job being a Mets fan.

The Unpredictable Draft

What do Dominic Smith, Andrew Church, Ivan Wilson, Casey Meisner, and L.J. Mazzilli have in common?

Give up?

They were all drafted before Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2013 MLB player draft.

Bellinger has become the fastest player in baseball history to reach 21 homeruns with his two bombs last night against Zach Wheeler in the first and second inning.  Now it would be unfair for me to trash the Mets for not drafting Bellinger over the picks mentioned above, none of which have made it to the major leagues.  Bellinger was the 124th overall pick so many teams missed him.  In fact Bellinger was the Dodgers fourth pick of the 2013 draft.

While Bellinger is setting records in the majors, where are the Mets five draft picks from 2013?

Smith is in triple A Las Vegas have a very good year.  He’s hitting .318 after last night’s loss to Reno.  Smith has 7 homers, 42 RBI, 18 doubles, and 1 triple.

Pitcher Andrew Church is at St. Lucie with a record of 5-5 and an ERA/WHIP of 4.33/1.35. In 79 innings he has given up 93 hits and 41 runs, walked 14 and struck out 43.  He’s not likely every going to be traded for Clayton Kershaw.

Center fielder Ivan Wilson last played at Columbia in 2016 then retired with a minor league career average of .209.

Casey Meisner, a right handed pitcher, was a beneficial pick in that he was traded to Oakland in 2015 for Tyler Clippard.  Clippard contributed much to the Mets 2015 run to the pennant.  Meisner continues to toil in Oakland’s class A advanced club in Stockton California.

Then there is L.J. Mazzilli, son of former Met Lee Mazzilii.  The young Mazz is hitting .257 spending most time in Binghamton with a handful of games in Vegas.  Mazzilli will never be a star in the majors and if anything he might be a useful role player much the way his father’s career ultimately ended up to be.

Of this group picked in ’13, clearly Smith has the biggest upside.  However, none will likely ever rise to the level of Bellinger.  It just shows how important scouting is and also how unpredictable it can be.  First round picks like Steve Chilcott may never pan out but then there’s a 62nd rounder like Mike Piazza who gets to the Hall of Fame.

Oh by the way, the Mets missed out on Aaron Judge that year also. Judge was picked 32nd overall by the Yankees.

Mets first five picks from 2013 prior to Bellinger being selected by Los Angeles:

Dominic Smith, 1B:  round 1, pick 11
Andrew Church, RHP:  round 2 pick 48
Ivan Wilson, CF: round 3, pick 76
Casey Meisner, RHP:  round 3, pick 84
LJ Mazzilli, 2B: round 4, pick 116

The Pulse of This Season

Taking the pulse of the Mets chances this season after 68 games, we find our heroes 10.5 games back of the Nationals for the division.  Also we find the Mets 12 games back of the wild card. Are you still a believer?  Well it’s going to take a lot more than belief for the Mets to reach the post season a third year in a row.

After 68 games the last two seasons, the Mets had identical records of 36-32. In 2015 after this mark, the Mets led the division by 1.5 games.  Last season, they trailed the Nationals by 6 games and the Dodgers for the wild card at just a game and a half.  Clearly the Mets were in very good striking distance the last two seasons but now the math says otherwise.  So as we did a week or so ago, let’s run the numbers.

If Washington plays one game under .500 the rest of the way (46-47) in their remaining 93 games, the Mets would need to go 58-36 the rest of the way to beat the Nats out by one game. That’s .617 ball.  It’s not impossible buy highly improbable.  The Diamondbacks and Dodgers, today with identical records of 44-26 trail the Rockies by one game.  As the number one and two wildcards, to catch them the Mets would have to play even better than what is required to overtake Washington.   If Arizona or LA, or both go .500 at 46-46 the rest of the way, they would end up with a win total of 90 for the season.  The Mets would obviously need to win 91 games by season’s end to be a wild card.  That would require a 60-33 record the rest of the way, a .649 clip.  That’s even more improbable then winning the division.

Of course one could argue that the teams currently in the lead could falter and the Mets would not have to win as many games as the scenario I presented.  True but what is the likelihood of that?  You would be banking on four teams (including the Rockies) to start losing dramatically for the Mets to gain an opening.  Plus the Mets have been a sub .500 team for the majority of the season.  What is going to change all of a sudden to correct that?  The Mets cannot seem to repel away from seven games under .500 no matter how they try.  Yoenis Cespedes returned this weekend, was brilliant offensively and the Mets sill lost the games he played in.  And with the club now facing the Dodgers in LA for four games with Clayton Kershaw on the mound tonight, they will certainly be worse off by the time they reach San Francisco at the end of the week.

Here’s the reality of the Mets future.  Nothing is going to change. They will end up with a losing season with the best case scenario being close to or perhaps a bit over .500.  Free agents Jay Bruce, Asdrubal Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Rene Rivera, Jose Reyes, and Addison Reed will be gone after the season.  David Wright will announce his retirement from baseball and Terry Collins will not be back.  This generation of Mets will have attained National League champions as their highest achievement and that ain’t bad.  But the next level will be reached by some new players, including more from the farm like Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith, and led by a new manager come 2018.

As I said, anything can happen but the prospect of salvaging this season is becoming less and less with each passing series.

Hope

There was something different about the game last night.  Considering the body of work so far this season, the Mets should have lost last night’s contest against the Cubs.  The Mets should have lost the rubber game and the series, dashing all hopes as the Mets continue this very rough stretch tonight against the Nationals.  But something peculiar happened.  In spite of all the indications that the Mets would lose Wednesday night, they won.  If anything it has to give us hope for the rest of the season.

Consider all the things that went wrong in last night’s game.  First, Michael Conforto sat out for the third straight night with back stiffness.  Yoenis Cespedes didn’t start because of his chronic heal condition.  Matt Harvey clearly didn’t have it, giving up two homeruns to start the game and by the third inning he couldn’t hit 90 on the radar gun.  In the third inning, after Juan Lagares singled, Neil Walker bunts perfectly for what looked like an infield hit but while running to first he grabbed his right hamstring, hobbling the rest of the way to first then to the dugout.  Yet another injured Met.  The Mets do not score that inning. Kyle Schwarber hits a two run homer on what looks like a batting practice fastball from Harvey in the fourth giving the Cubs a 4-1 lead.  Certainly by this point, it doesn’t look like it’s the Mets night.

But then things began to change.

The Mets had gotten a run back in the second on an error by Kris Bryant.  But still after Schwaber’s fourth inning bomb, the Mets trailed 4-1.  For the first 55 or so games, you could have mailed it in that this game would be another loss.  However, last evening good things happened.   In the bottom of the fourth, the Mets loaded the bases with one out.  With Harvey finished for the night because of a fatigued arm, and with a short bench made worse now that Walker was out of the game, Terry Collins was forced to pinch hit with Steven Matz.  An opportunity surely looked wasted regardless that Matz is a good hitting pitcher.

The first sign of good things to come was Matz singling on a ball to deep short and beating out the throw.  Still with one out, Juan Lagares hits a sacrifice fly to make it a one run game.  The Mets trailed 4-3.

The second sign of good things to come was Paul Seawald who held the Cubs scoreless the next two innings setting up the bottom of the sixth.  Curtis Granderson led off with a walk. After Jose Reyes and pinch hitter Conforto struck out, Lagares tripled over the head of centerfielder Albert Almora scoring Grandy with the tying run.  Harvey was now off the hook.  Flores struck out to end any further threat.

The next good thing to happen, believe it or not, was Fernando Salas.  He kept the Cubs at bay for two thirds of an inning before Jerry Blevins got the final out of the seventh and took care of Chicago in order in the eighth striking out two.

Going late in the game, one couldn’t help but feel that this might be a game the Mets let get away after they fought so hard to tie it up.  Curtis Granderson led off the bottom of the eighth and promptly deposited his 300th career home run into the right field seats to give the Mets a one run lead.  With the Mets ahead now by a single run, worry translated to could Addison Reed hold a one run lead in the top of the ninth?  After all, the closer has not had a stellar season so far.

But before worry could take hold, Reyes walked before pinch hitter Cespedes singled to right. Lagares’s liner snagged out of the air by Baez was almost a double play but Robert Gsellman, now running for Cespedes, got back to first base in time. It looked like his hair may have reached the bag before his hand.  With a full count on him, Lucas Duda went down and golfed an inside curve ball into the right field stands giving the Mets a commanding four run lead.  Three consecutive singles in a row gained the Mets another run and off they went to the bottom of the ninth inning with a nice 9-5 lead.  My how things have changed.

Reed started the inning, with much questioning as to why from the guys in the booth.  Sure enough, even with a five run lead, things looked dicey when the first two Cubs hitters, Jon Jay, and Schwaber  singled.  Reed got Baez to fly out to center then got Addison Russell to look at a third strike.  Almora singled before Anthony Rizzo who led off the game with a homerun hit the first pitch he saw to TJ Rivera at second who threw over to Duda. Put it in the books. Game over, what a great win for the Mets.  The most inspired win of the season so far.

Of course the Mets could roll out a big stinker tonight against the Nationals. That’s baseball.  But the good news is the Mets looked very sharp in a game that they would have surely lost just a few weeks ago.  The Mets passed another test, winning two of three to the Cubs.  The next test begins tonight when the Mets begin a four game set against the division leading Nationals.

The Mediocrity of Baseball

If the season ended today, the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Twins, Astros, Nationals, Brewers, Dodgers, Rockers, and Diamondbacks would make the playoffs.  Of the twenty remaining teams, only one has a record above .500.  The Angels are 35-34. The Orioles and Indians are at .500 and the rest are below .500.  The National League has not one team playing .500 or better that is not in playoff position. The Cubs at 32-33 are 8 games back of the second wildcard with the Mets following the Cubs at 30-34 nine games back.  To further add to the mediocrity argument, the Brewers and Twins have led their respective divisions with a record less than five games over .500. Only the Yanks, Astros, Dodgers, Rockies, Nats, and Dbacks have had truly dominant seasons so far.

The Rare Complete Game

Jason deGrom pitched the first complete game for the Mets since the last time he did so.  That was last season in Philadelphia on July 17 when he went nine in a 5-0 win.   In fact, that was the only complete game of the 2016 season for the Mets.

The complete game is a rare thing these days.  Pitchers are simply not trained to go nine innings.  Years ago, complete games were much more common.  Since and including the 2011 season, Mets starting pitchers have thrown 21 complete games including last evening’s gem by deGrom.  In 1969, Tom Seaver threw 18 complete games and number two starter Jerry Koosman threw 16.  That’s 34 complete games in one season from just too pitchers.  As a staff, the ’69 group threw 51 complete games.  Truly amazing and unheard of in this era of quality starts.  I want to emphasize I’m using Seaver and Koosman, two of the most remembered Mets of all time as an example.  Throwing lots of complete games was common throughout baseball, especially from the elite pitchers of the game.

Seaver tossed 231 complete games in his Hall of Fame career.  Cardinals and Phillies star Steve Carlton threw 254 complete games.  Greg Maddux whose career started in 1986 chucked 109 completes and Bartolo Colon who started his career 10 years after Maddux has thrown 36.  So you can see as the eras in baseball have progressed, so has the diminished number of complete games.  But why?

If I had a definitive answer, maybe I could write a thesis on the subject, correct the problem, and retire.  Not likely to happen.  One reason I believe is that there are more pitchers these days because there are more teams. There were only twenty-four teams in Seaver’s era vs. thirty teams today.   What that means is that pitchers that would have been relegated to the minor leagues back in the 70s are pitching in the majors today.  The talent pool is thinner and there just are not as many pitchers to go the distance.

Another reason is specialization.  With the advent of the closer and setup men in the last three decades, it became almost expected that pitchers just don’t throw nine innings anymore. There was no need.  And of course there is pitch count, a by-product of the Tommy John surgery era.  The common held belief and of course there is a lot of data to back it up, the more a pitcher throws, the more likely a pitcher will need surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament.  It was the surgery that saved Dodger’s pitcher Tommy John and has become so routine that parents of perspective MLB draft choices wonder aloud if their son should have the surgery proactively.  Thankfully surgeons collectively have responded to the request with a resounding NO!  But TJ surgery is another topic for another day. The fact is when we watch a pitching performance like the one that deGrom turned in last night, we marvel and enjoy.  But there was a time when it was no big deal except another win for our team.

More importantly for these current Mets, we now have seen a string of four games when Mets starters have yielded no more than one run. Since deGrom’s previous start when the Mets were drubbed 10-8, Mets pitchers have given up a total of 10 earned runs in six games for an ERA of 1.67.  Obviously I’m glad to see this sudden change in fortunes with the pitching staff.  However, I still think it’s a day by day proposition as the Mets still have a very tough schedule ahead.  I hate to get set up for a fall.

Great Weekend But…

Sure, it was great to see the Mets win three out of four games over the weekend.  It was great to see Yoenis Cespedes back in uniform cracking a grand slam to seal the victory in game one on Saturday.  It was great to see Robert Gsellman, the returning Steven Matz and Seth Lugo collectively give up one run each in their 7 innings of work (Gsellman pitched 6.2 innings).  It was great to see the Mets win a game when scoring three runs or less, 2-1 on Sunday, improving their record in that category to 2-17. Yes, it was a great weekend.

However, I’m not entirely convinced of anything.  Look, the Mets did this against the Braves, a young team rebuilding having their share of problems too.  Let’s see how the Mets do against the World Champion Cubs, the 2016 Eastern Division Champion and division leading Nationals, the 2016 Western Champion Dodgers, and the struggling but still tough San Francisco Giants.  If the Mets come out of the next four series in better shape than they are today (9.5 games back of the division, 9.0 games back of the wild card) then we’ll talk.  But until then, all this amounts to is a nice weekend.

The Texas Rangers swept the Nationals over the weekend.  I’m not sure that means much in their hopes of catching the Astros.  Bad teams have a good stretch once in a while and it’s not out of the question that all that happened for the Mets this weekend was a good stretch.

History proves that as a Mets fan it’s very easy to be skeptical.  They have dug such a deep hole for themselves, they will need to continue to play as they did this weekend until the All Star break just to get close to striking distance.  Sorry, I’m just not convinced.

Of course it’s better for the Mets that Cespedes, Mats, and Lugo are back and contributing.  The lineup is lengthened.  The bullpen will be rested with starting pitchers that can throw more innings.  But don’t forget, the team is still without Noah Syndergaard, Jeurys Familia, and David Wright.  Speaking of Wright, will he ever step on a field again in a playing role?

So for now, yes, it was enjoyable to see the Mets play extremely well for three straight games.  The next test begins tonight at home when the Mets begin a very difficult stretch through the end of June.