I wrote this a few days ago, so the part on Harley Buck is now a little bit out of date.
As I write this, the Mets are 18 back from the Braves in the East and 13 back from the Reds in the hunt for the second wild card spot. Somehow, 250/1 odds for the lovable Metropolitans to win the pennant seems like a good idea. Am I crazy? Probably, although the better phrase is probably "downright insane." Just hold on a second. Let me explain.
Everyone knows that the Mets are on the rise. I say everyone because there are two types of people in this world: those that watch the team and realize that their quality of baseball is increasing, and those that don’t watch the team but know that there is nowhere for the Mets to go but up. It’s a rock-solid assumption: the Mets are a garbage team with a garbage owner which usually translates into garbage on the field. Anyone who has experience with predictive modeling would tell you, "Garbage in, garbage out."
The thing is, though, that this team is actually starting to take shape. While I joke that I can probably make the team if given a tryout, I’m not too sure that’s true anymore. Unless I become a reliever. The standard analysis is a position-by-position explanation, but I’ll just briefly outline the reasons to keep believing. Something to keep in mind: these are the Mets. No matter how optimistic things may seem, even if fans convince themselves to put $20 on winning the pennant, they will find a way to screw it up. Then they’ll lure Tom Glavine out of retirement to give up 7 runs in two-thirds of an inning just for YOLOs and giggles. And trade Matt Harvey because his contract requires a renewal in four years. All the while, Carlos Beltran convinces Jon Niese that his face was more symmetrical with a large nose, pay for nose lengthening surgery, and convince the Mets to sign him to a mega-deal, thrusting Jon into the spotlight as the large-nosed face of the franchise for a season until he tears every ligament in his body and the Mets buy out his contract for no good reason. Suddenly, they’re stuck paying Bonilla money to plastic face over here for another 35 years of ineptitude.
Yes, Mets fans are jaded.
Anyways, let’s start with the pitching staff. The thing that sticks out to me is how young and promising each of these pitchers is. Harvey, Gee, Wheeler, Mejia, Niese is a rotation I would love to see going forward. Harvey is the only given, though. Wheeler, in his limited action, has shown flashes of brilliance. Gee, Mejia, and Niese are interesting, though. Dillon Gee entered the season also having shown flashes, but scouts never touted him as a top prospect, rather a stopgap solution to a long-term problem. In my mind, he’s the most underrated part of this Mets team. After a rocky start to the season, Gee has proven to be a reliable middle-of-the-order guy. Over his last several starts, Gee has upped his game to the next level, delivering a steady 6+ innings of one or two run ball, including August 14th against the hottest team on the planet. It wasn’t too long ago that his ERA was over 6, but that has been dropping like it’s hot since late May. The 12 strikeout game against the Yankees on May 30th turned his season around. Since, he has had only three poor starts.
Mejia has impressed me more than I’d care to admit. We have seen Mejia’s name linger in Mets headlines over the past three years, going from vaunted prospect to desperate reliever to ominously absent from public consciousness to a collective "Oh yeah I forgot about that guy!" to dominating big league hitters with stuff years in the making. Do you know what his ERA is? A powerful 2.22. Obviously it suffers from sample size issues, since this is only across 4 starts, but still. One of those starts was against the Dodgers, which legitimizes it enough for me. He’s also only 23 years old!
Last is Jon Niese, which to me is the trickiest of the three. Odd, considering that he has the most experience and numbers to go by. He has always held high promise and rhinoplasty. I would consider him a solid fourth starter with the promise of a good second. Not an ace, but a reliable veteran whose standard deviation is minimal. That is entirely qualitative, of course, but we’ll see. His name always floats around the trade deadline, which suggests that teams see value in him. I’m content with this question mark at the five spot in the rotation.
With the rise of a young pitching staff, Citi Field’s dimensions are starting to make a little more sense. The stadium has always been too large for our team, and we are finally seeing our boys grow up and fill it out alright. Well, except for you, Ike. For years I have criticized the Mets style of management entirely on the basis that they never seemed like they had a plan. They were buyers when it was convenient and they were sellers when it was convenient. However, now it seems things finally snapped into place. There is a rotation with a ton of growth ahead of it with a huge home field advantage.
The offense is coming into its own, as well. Marlon Byrd continues slugging, but he’ll be gone after this year both skill-wise and team-wise. Byrd aside, Eric Young has really added a whole new element to this team. Between Young and Juan Lagares, the Mets offense can now seem potent at times! "Potent at times" is a huge improvement from May’s "mediocre at best" and April’s "I cannot believe this is a professional baseball team." The Mets are going to have to find a way to make sure Wilmer Flores plays every day, even if it means bumping the perpetually struggling Ike Davis out of the lineup and shifting Daniel Murphy to first.
I want to acknowledge what may be the oddest storyline of the Mets season. Widely regarded catcher of the future Travis d’Arnaud has been tearing apart the minor leagues. He hasn’t just earned a roster spot on the major league level, he would be named starting catcher immediately. The holdup? Mrs. John Buck is pregnant with Mr. John Buck’s child. The Mets are reportedly waiting for his wife to go into labor before making the transaction letting d’Arnaud join the big leagues. This way, there’s a natural way to ease John out and Travis in. Newsflash: forcing Travis to continue mashing triple-A pitchers while John plays distracted because his wife is already overdue is not the optimal way of doing it. I can’t believe I even have to make this argument right now. Excuse me, Mr. Alderson, this is what you should do. Let John be with his wife. He is expecting a child any single day now. Take him off the active roster. Bring up Travis. How has nobody proposed this yet? This "natural call up" is outright ridiculous. Stuff like this isn’t always natural. Just ask A-Rod.
Do I really think the Mets can do this? Absolutely not. However, I plead to everyone still reading: don’t turn off your television yet. There’s a point in every Mets season that you turn your focus to football. Stay strong for a little longer! There are currently two NL Central teams occupying the wild card spots that still have plenty of games to play against one another. They can’t both make it, right? The other teams to jump: Arizona, Washington, and Colorado. That’s doable. And somehow winning a few series? Not likely, but certainly better than 250/1.
Maybe I’m delusional (yes). Maybe I’m downright insane (probably). But hey, ya gotta believe!
I guess there’s always football.