Reflections

It was supposed to be the pitching staff that teams dream of.  A rotation of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Zach Wheeler, and Matt Harvey would dominate the National League and a handful of American League teams during the 2017 regular season culminating in a championship for the Mets.  Of course a lot depended on the health of these pitchers.  Wheeler had completed his recovery from Tommy John surgery but was shut down in Mid-August of 2016 with a flexor strain.  Matz had some bone spurs cleaned out last September ending his ‘16 season.  Harvey had missed half of last season after he underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, and even deGrom had his ulnar nerve moved in order to reduce irritation in the elbow.  But really, when thinking ahead toward the 2017 season last winter, what could go wrong?

Well just about everything.  And that was just with the starting staff.  The bullpen brought another host of issues into 2017 but the pen’s problems were compounded by the fact that Mets starters could not pitch deep into games.  It was a snowball effect that unwound this season early on making Mets fans wonder what the hell the front office thinking was.

If you don’t think that Sandy Alderson didn’t screw up last winter by not getting some help for the starting staff and bullpen then ask yourself why he traded off all his top players this summer for nothing but pitchers.  (It was just reported that Alderson will remain with the Mets next year.)  For the second time in franchise history, the prospect of a dream-team starting rotation fizzled exponentially.

I compare this current group of Mets underachievers to Generation-K as they came to be known.  I’m referring of course to Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, and Paul Wilson.  All three were heralded to be the next Seaver/Koosman/Matlack during the mid-1990s.  But it never happened.  Pulsipher missed all of 1996 and 1997 with a torn ulnar nerve.  Isringhausen suffered a host of injuries in 1996.  He missed all of ’98 recovering from Tommy John surgery as well.  Wilson too, plagued by injuries never contributed for the Mets.  Generation-K was a dismal failure and is often the go to metaphor when overzealous claims are made regarding young pitching phenomes throughout baseball.  Ironically the Mets finally sustained success in the late 90’s without really having a true ace on the pitching staff.

You realize of course that the rotation of deGrom/Thor/Wheeler/Matz/Harvey have not once started five games consecutively—ever!  Any notion that this will finally happen next season must be completely thrown out the window.  Simply put if Alderson and the Wilpons do not spend to bolster the rotation, you might just want to reconsider those season tickets.  Consider that heading into the off season there still are many questions surrounding these four of five starters.  Certainly deGrom has legitimized himself as the true ace of the staff.  While Syndergaard may be a more dominant pitcher than deGrom, the lat injury that occurred at the end of April that basically ended his season creates some concern regarding 2018. With correct baseball oriented conditioning, Noah should be okay. We’ll see.

Will Wheeler ever be completely healed?  He has been shut down this season because of a “stress reaction” in his right arm whatever the heck that means.  Matz had surgery to move the ulnar nerve to reduce irritation in the elbow.  It’s the same surgery deGrom had last season.  But will Matz’s surgery produce the same positive result that it did for deGrom?  Then of course there is Harvey.  Is his career over or does he need to figure out his command all over again?  Are you willing to let the Mets roll the dice and hope Matt can become the Dark Knight again, that all these pitchers can live up to their potential?

One would hope that deGrom and Syndergaard will be healthy and anchor the staff.  Those two could be a one-two punch envied in all of baseball.  Of the three left plus Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, you would think that one of those five will be able to be a third of fourth starter.  (Sorry, I’m still not a believer in Rafael Montero regardless of his more recent successes.)  Beyond that anything would be gravy.  Therefore Alderson is going to have to go out and get a couple of reputable starting pitchers.  There are a number of free agent pitchers that will be available after the World Series concludes this fall.  The question is will the Mets make an effort to sign a couple of them or will they roll the dice again and hope for the best.  Advanced tickets sales will depend on the answer to that question.  As the saying goes—“fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”.

The Mets really do not need to spend a lot of money on offense.  As long as Yoenis Cespedes trains in a more baseball appropriate way, he will solidify the lineup.  An outfield of Cespedes, Lagares (because he’s the best center fielder on the team) and Conforto is formidable.  Or perhaps Nimmo until Conforto comes back.  Dominic Smith and Ahmed Rosario are looking to be the players as advertised.  Asdrubal Cabrera has been hitting and playing third base very well.  He’s an economical solution if the Mets pick up his option and want to spend on pitching.  Mike Moustakas is going to be a very expensive proposition and that money will be better spent on pitching.  Also there are enough in-house options to man second base.   A catching duo of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki might be as good as what will be available on the market.  Plawecki is a better hitter since coming back from AAA and that seems to have motivated Mr. d’Arnaud.  The Mets offense was not the problem this season.  With a good pitching staff, they scored enough runs to win.  Currently the Mets are sixth in the majors in homeruns and number one in the NL.  They are tied with the Dodgers in RBI at seventh, the difference being that the Dodgers pitched and the Mets didn’t.  I’m not saying the Mets offense is going to make anyone forget the Yankees’ Murderous Row of the late 1920’s but they produced enough offense to at the very least be in a wildcard position.

Here’s another indication of pitching being the primary culprit in 2017.  Of the 152 games played this season so far, the Mets scored four or more runs in 97 of them with a record of 60-37 (.619).  That’s very good and it’s the best split you can find regarding this forgettable season.  However, when scoring three runs or less in 55 games the Mets are 5-50 (.091) OUCH!  The number of games where the Mets starters and pen could not hold a slim lead is too daunting to recount.  The numbers speak for themselves.  Most teams have losing records when scoring three runs or less but winning only five of them is very bad.  This is a stat I have been harping on all season.  Why stop now?

Last season the Mets won the number one wildcard.  In games scoring three runs or less their record was 22-56 (.282).  Not great but 22 is a lot better than 5.  Add 17 wins to this season’s record and the result is an 82-70 mark and today the Mets would be tied with St. Louis 1.5 games back of the second wildcard.  That would certainly make for a more exciting final week instead of the reality that lies ahead.

Ask a GM what are the three most important aspects of baseball and he will respond (all together now) pitching, pitching, and more pitching.  Clearly in 2017 the Mets simply did not have nearly enough pitching to take them to the playoffs.  Chalk up another losing season in Mets history, merely the 31st in 56 seasons—simply  dreadful.

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