The Mets looked like they had this baseball thing figured out the last time they played the Phillies, which was less than a week ago. Three close losses in Miami later, and Terry Collins’s team is back in its natural state of disarray, with fans wondering if the bullpen can hold a lead or if anyone can play third base effectively. It’s a long season, and we’ll probably go back and forth a few more times between the Mets looking competent and the team seeming lost. That’s how baseball usually goes. We can only hope that the spurts of solid play last a little longer than the other ones.
This recent malaise all started when New York outlasted Miami in a 16-inning marathon last Thursday night. One wonders if the Mets would have been better off taking a nine-inning loss instead of battling to the bitter end, but that’s only because of what happened over the next three days, when we watched our guys lose in dramatic fashion three straight times. The walk-off double by J.T. Realmuto on Friday night wasn’t even that big of a deal, but having Fernando Salas give up back-to-back home runs to blow an eighth-inning lead on Saturday was pretty frustrating. Follow that up with the weirdness that was Sunday, and you’ve got a heck of a weekend. Instead of succumbing to what looked like an inevitable no-hitter by the Marlins, New York battled back in the bottom of the ninth, stayed alive with an amazing defensive play by Yoenis Cespedes, and got all the momentum on its side before losing on a home run by J.T. Riddle.
So it was a rough weekend for the Mets, but the Phillies are in Queens for the first time this year, and they’re coming off of a couple brutal losses of their own in Washington. Here’s hoping the orange and blue crew can get back on the right track.
I’m not sure that Cesar Hernandez was supposed to be the long-term answer for the Phillies at second base, but the 26-year-old has been the straw that stirs their drink so far in 2017. Not only does he have a hit in 11 of his team’s 12 games so far (with multiple hits in six of those), but Hernandez has eight more runs scored and 13 more total bases than anyone else on the Philadelphia roster. The craziest thing is that he leads the Phillies with three home runs after hitting just six last year. That power might be a mirage, but if Hernandez keeps getting on base, he could improve on his excellent 2016 campaign that saw him hit .294/.371/.393 while playing great defense.
Phillies fans are hoping that Hernandez stays red hot at least until Maikel Franco gets on track. Despite his clutch grand slam against the Mets last week, the third baseman is struggling with a .561 OPS in the middle of Philly’s lineup so far.
The same problems that plagued the Mets at the start of the Miami series are still present four days later. Michael Conforto still isn’t getting enough at-bats as he continues to build his confidence with clutch hits, the third base position continues to be a black hole with Jose Reyes playing abysmally so far, and Yoenies Cespedes won’t stop hitting home runs. Oh wait, that last thing is good. We can keep that. But Mets fans aren’t going to stand for much more of Reyes staring at middle-of-the-plate fastballs or Conforto coming off the bench while Curtis Granderson struggles at the plate.
Tuesday, April 18: Zach Eflin
Important stats (2016): 63.1 IP, 31 K, 17 BB, 12 HR, 5.54 ERA, 5.48 FIP, 1.33 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (93 mph), slider (83 mph), two-seam fastball (92 mph)
After a pair of dreadful starts against the Mets and Cincinnati, Clay Buchholz has suffered a significant arm injury and could miss the remainder of the season. Of course, even if Buchholz was perfectly healthy, it might have only been a matter of time before the 23-year-old Eflin stepped up to replace him. The youngster is coming off a solid rehab start with Triple-A Lehigh Valley after having surgery on both knees last August. Called for the first time in June of 2016, Eflin was terrible in his first two and final three starts but very interesting in the six that came in between. Those included two complete games in which the right-hander threw just 192 combined pitches.
Mets starter, Zack Wheeler: Wheeler looked to be getting into a groove last Wednesday in Philadelphia before he loaded the bases in the sixth and was pulled right before Hansel Robles gave up that grand slam to Franco. With just two walks so far and an excellent ground ball rate to boot, Wheeler is doing a good job keeping his pitch count low, but he’s still not going to go deep into games due to his ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery. The series opener will likely be another test for New York’s bullpen.
Wednesday, April 19: Vince Velasquez
Important stats: 9.0 IP, 17 K, 7 BB, 3 HR, 9.00 ERA, 6.15 FIP, 1.89 WHIP
Favorite pitches: four-seam fastball (94 mph), changeup (88 mph), curveball (82 mph)
Just a couple of paragraphs ago we talked about how Eflin threw just 192 in 18 combined complete-game innings last year. That figure compares nicely with the 194 thrown by Velasquez in just nine frames this season. It’s like the 24-year-old right-hander is a three-true-outcomes guy in pitcher form; everyone facing him either walks, strikes out, or hits a home run. Even with a .325 BABIP against him in 2016, Velasquez wasn’t a bad pitcher, so he should be able to get his ERA under control if he’s able to cut down on the walks a little bit.
Mets starter, Robert Gsellman: Last Friday’s outing against Miami was a strange one for Gsellman. He started off by surrendering four runs in the first inning on just two hits, but then settled down with three perfect innings in a row before getting in trouble again in the fifth. Josh Edgin has to take some of the blame for the final three runs charged to Gsellman, but no matter who takes credit, it wasn’t a good start. Again we saw the the strikeouts and ground balls that we like, but the 23-year-old walked too many batters in bad spots.
Thursday, April 20: Aaron Nola
Important stats: 11.0 IP, 13 K, 2 BB, 0 HR, 3.27 ERA, 1.11 FIP, 1.36 WHIP
Favorite pitches: two-seam fastball (92 mph), curveball (78 mph), four-seam fastball (93 mph)
Nola was drafted out of LSU three years ago to be Philadelphia’s ace of the future, and he’s played the part well in his 35 big league starts. Last year was deceiving, as a high BABIP and low strand rate combined to inflate the Louisiana native’s ERA to 4.78 despite very strong strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates. Nola’s luck will turn around if he keeps pitching a high level, and he’s off to a great start in 2017.
Mets starter, Noah Syndergaard: Zero walks and zero home runs allowed make Thor a happy superhero, but pesky finger injuries have kept the right-hander from pitching too deep into games so far. In his initial outing, he was removed due to a blister, and his most recent start was limited by a torn fingernail. With the bullpen hurting right now, the Mets are hoping for seven innings or more from their ace on Thursday.
Last year’s Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez has already lost his hold on the coveted job due to seven runs allowed in fewer than six innings so far, but overall the bullpen has been decent. Both Hector Neris and Pat Neshak have made six appearances without giving up a run, and current closer Joaquin Benoit was looking solid before giving up the game-winning home run to Bryce Harper on Sunday. Okay, that last part was pretty bad, but Benoit should have a longer leash than Gomez due to his history as a reliable set-up man.
The Mets are two games away from getting Jeurys Familia back in the pen, and he ought to be put to work right away. Salas could certainly use a break after giving up two home runs on Saturday, and even Addison Reed faltered by giving up the game-winning home run on Sunday. Once Familia returns, there still won’t be too many right-handers for Terry Collins to trust, as the current bullpen has a strange even split between righties and southpaws. It might be time to give Josh Smoker a look as a regular set-up man after his splendid performance against Miami on Thursday. During the extended game, he threw three innings with five strikeouts, one walk, and one hit allowed.
Prediction: Mets win two of three.
How will the Mets fare this week against the Phillies?
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Sweep ‘em again!
Win two of three.
Win one of three.
Now entering Panic City.