Going into the 2020 season, Edwin Díaz entered the delayed season as the Mets’ closer, but he held the position on very unstable ground after his disastrous 2019. We all knew his leash was short, and as it turned out, that leash was exactly one blown save long. In just the second game of the year, Díaz surrendered a game-tying homer to Marcell Ozuna to blow the save and saw the next several save chances go to Seth Lugo instead.
Díaz’s next appearance a few days later probably didn’t inspire much more hope in Luis Rojas, either. Trying to keep the deficit to one run against the Red Sox, Díaz faced five hitters, walked two, hit one, and allowed a single. He struck one batter out, but Rojas had to call on Paul Sewald of all people to clean up Díaz’s mess. It was starting to look like another nightmare campaign for the 26-year-old, who was getting bumped further and further down the pecking order in the bullpen.
Díaz pitched in mostly lower-leverage situations from there, and he wound up doing something that seemed almost impossible after that outing against Boston: he found himself. Beginning on August 2, the fireballer went on a run the last two months that mirrored something out of his days in Seattle. He tossed 23.1 sparkling innings, putting up a 1.16 ERA over that span while striking out an astonishing 45 of the 97 hitters he faced. The previously homer-prone Díaz have gave up just one homer in that entire stretch, though he still did walk 11.3% of hitters, which is higher than you’d want for a high-leverage reliever.
With Lugo moved to the rotation in mid-August, Díaz starting picking up save chances again. He did blow two of his first three opportunities in the month of August, but in both of situations he was deployed in the middle of innings into tough spots with little wiggle room. He converted all four of his save opportunities in September.
With that performance down the stretch, the Mets appear confident in Díaz to take on the closer duties from the start once again this season. The team lost out this offseason on relievers like Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand, and Trevor Rosenthal, who all seemed intent on getting closing gigs, because of their unwillingness to supplant Díaz from that position. One can assume he will have a longer leash this time, especially with Lugo out for at least the first month of the season.
There’s obviously quite a bit of risk in Díaz because of what we saw in 2019, but he has looked phenomenal this spring, and his struggles in 2019 can be attributed to an uncharacteristic home run spike that seemed to be caused by the slicker baseball flattening out his slider. That problem vanished last year, and with a reportedly deadened baseball in 2021, it seems less likely to crop up again.
Additionally, Díaz also credits some of his success last year to his decision to return to the entrance song he used in Seattle: “Narco” by Timmy Trumpet and Blasterjaxx, which he will be using again this year. He genuinely believes the song helps him get focused and pumped up, and it’s not hard to see why. Legend has it that Díaz chose to go back to “Narco” right after a certain sage who also happens to be authoring this article personally advised him to do so at FanFest last January. Nobody can ever say for sure that he made the change because of me, of course, but you also can’t prove that he didn’t.
Anyway, it’s tough to remember because of how the rest of that year went, but Díaz had a run in 2019 to start the year that nearly mirrored his 2020. In 22.0 innings, the closer had a 1.64 ERA while striking out over 38.9% of hitters as of May 28. Of course, he would go on to post an ERA of 8 over his next 36 innings to completely overshadow his brief success. When you add it up, though, Díaz has actually thrown more good innings for the Mets than bad, even though it doesn’t seem that way. He’s going to have to throw a lot more good innings this year if the Mets want to make a run at the division, because the bullpen is not built to survive him under-performing again.