March 04, 2013; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets pitcher Rafael Montero (74) throws a pitch against the Atlanta Braves in the spring training game at Tradition Field. Atlanta defeated the New York 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The Importance of Looking at the Big Picture


Before yesterday’s at times brutal to watch doubleheader sweep the Mets suffered at the hands of the Colorado Rockies (and themselves), this article was going to be about the Mets’ solid start.  I was planning to discuss the fact that unlike the last few years, the Mets may instead get a positive jolt player wise as the season goes on.  I wanted to talk about the feel good start to the 2013 campaign.  I’ll still be going over those thoughts, but I’ll say this first:

Last night’s loss was as excruciating as it gets.  After the Mets took an 8 to 2 lead, I wondered to myself how horrendous it would be if they somehow blew the lead and lost the game.  With it being Coors Field, and the temperature being 30 degrees, the thought didn’t seem all that insane.  Then, one by one, terrible things started to happen.

With the Mets leading 8 to 4 in the fifth, Mike Baxter broke in on what should have been an inning ending fly out.  Instead of being the third out, Baxter played the fly ball into a double, as the lead shrunk to 8 to 6.  In the eighth inning, the Mets twice made unthinkable errors on balls that should’ve been the last out of the inning.  First, Brandon Lyon botched a soft comebacker.  After Bobby Parnell came in for a potential four out save, he induced a grounder to Ruben Tejada.  The inning was over, but Tejada had other ideas.  Instead of throwing the ball to Ike Davis, he threw it five feet wide of the bag, allowing the tying runs to score.

After Tejada’s throw, I remained sprawled in a contorted position on my couch (this had been my good luck position), muttering to myself and shaking my head in disbelief.  After that throw, I knew the Mets were going to lose.  It was just a matter of how and when.  I got my answer in the tenth, when David Wright misplayed another potential inning ending grounder.  That opened the door for the single that gave the Rockies the win and sent the Mets and their fans to bed.

The loss was excruciating because of the blown lead, but what made it extra painful was the fact that if one of three routine plays had been made, the Mets likely would’ve won.  Those plays were the botched fly ball by Baxter in the fifth (allowing two runs to score), Lyon’s error in the eighth (allowing the inning to continue), and Tejada’s unreal error after Lyon’s failure (allowing the tying runs to score).  All of those miscues came with two outs.  Two of them led directly to four runs.

Still, a doubleheader sweep in frigid Colorado (as gross as it was) does not erase a 7-4 start.  It doesn’t make the Mets a punchline again.  It doesn’t damn their season to hell.  It’s two losses.  Nothing more, nothing less.

There are those who will use yesterday afternoon/last night’s outcome as an excuse to break out the familiar “LOLMets” refrain.  People will make jokes about the fact that the Mets played like the ’93 Mets while wearing the jerseys of their brethren from two decades ago.  Whatever.  Here’s where I transition to the Mets’ overall start and discuss the big picture…

Coming into the 2013 campaign, the Mets were pegged by most pundits as a team that would win somewhere between 66 and 76 games.  It’s early, but their current pace would leave them around .500.  Now, the Mets are a team whose construction is not without major faults.  The outfield is still in flux, their shortstop has apparently forgotten how to play defense, Ike Davis is again off to a slow start, the rotation has been beset by injury (and patched up by two unserviceable starters).  The bullpen is a work in progress.  However, there are a number of positives.

John Buck has been crushing the ball, Matt Harvey is becoming an ace, Daniel Murphy is off to a torrid start, and Scott Rice has been solid out of the pen.  With most realizing that 2013 is a likely transition year, it’s also important to look to the minors for players who will make an impact in 2014 and beyond.  When you do, you’ll see that Rafael Montero has been brilliant for AA Binghamton and Brandon Nimmo has been otherworldly for Savannah.

With Montero and Nimmo likely a year (though Montero could see a late 2013 callup) and several years away respectively, what will be the difference between the 2013 Mets finishing where the pundits expect them to, or finishing at or north of .500?  In my opinion, that will be decided by two things.  The first, is the  way the Mets deal with the back end of their rotation.  The second, is the influx of players from the minors between May and July, who could give this year’s team the push it needs to avoid another second half struggle.

The Rotation Issue:

With the recent weather the Mets have dealt with, the refrain among fans has become “Harvey and Niese and pray for snow.”  Regardless of his rough start, it’s way too early to lump Dillon Gee in with Aaron Laffey and to a lesser extent, Jeremy Hefner.  As far as Gee, I’ll elect to use a 270 inning sample size from 2011 and 2012 that suggests he’s at least a solid rotation piece when the alternative is jumping to conclusions over the 14 innings he’s pitched thus far in 2013.  Laffey and Hefner are in another category.

It certainly appears that Laffey, 28, has neither the stuff or the control to be even a mediocre contributor at the major league level.  Coming into the season, Laffey had the worst strikeout per 9 rate in baseball.  His career ERA is 4.40, but his WHIP is an unsightly 1.50.  In his two starts for the Mets, his lines have looked much better than he has on the mound.  Even with that said, he’s given up 14 hits in nine innings (an average of 13.5 hits per 9), while departing early and causing the Mets’ bullpen to be taxed on both occasions.

It’s unclear why the Mets refuse to replace Laffey, who will start on short rest Saturday, with Collin McHugh (who has a 0.50 ERA over three starts for AAA Las Vegas).  If the Mets hope to remain relevant, the sooner they remove Laffey, the better.  With Shaun Marcum expected to pitch tomorrow on a back field and potentially be activated next week, Saturday may very well be Laffey’s last start.

Jeremy Hefner had a 5.09 ERA over 13 starts for the Mets last season.  So far in 2013, he’s 0 and 2 with an ERA of 6.00 and a WHIP of 1.77.  Like Laffey, Hefner is simply not major league caliber.  Hefner will likely be in the rotation (unless he’s replaced by McHugh) until the Mets call up Zack Wheeler.  If the Mets disregard potential Super Two status, Wheeler could be up with the Mets by early or mid-May.  If they don’t, he won’t make his big league debut until the middle of June at the earliest.

If Marcum is able to return next week and the Mets promote Wheeler before his Super Two eligibility expires, the rotation could go from a weakness to a strength quickly.  That’s not to say that Marcum will stay healthy and Wheeler will thrive.  However, the potential is there for both of those things to happen.  The potential of Laffey and/or Hefner becoming useful major league starters is close to zilch.

The Potential Minor League Talent Influx:

It was reported earlier this afternoon that Jeurys Familia has been promoted from AAA to take the place of Greg Burke in the bullpen.  Aside from Familia, who can provide a boost to the pen, the Mets have a slew of other players who could be promoted in the next few months.  Their presence on the roster could help give the team a second half push, if not into Playoff contention, at least to a .500 or better finish.

Last season, the Mets lost pitchers as the season went on.  This year, they’ll most likely be gaining at least one from the minors.  As is mentioned above, Zack Wheeler is on the cusp.  He may not come up and blow the doors off, but he certainly has the potential to.

John Buck is tearing the cover off the ball at the moment, but he’ll likely suffer from a regression to the mean.  When that happens, it will open the door for the Mets to call up catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud (who has had a solid start to the season in AAA) and insert him as the everyday catcher.  The Mets could then opt to use Buck at first base, or trade him to a contender.

Fans have been clamoring for Rafael Montero to be called up now.  Frankly, that’s insane.  Montero has been slicing through AA hitters, but he’s simply not ready.  It’s entirely possible that Montero will be promoted to AAA by June.  Once he’s there and succeeds over a string of starts, fans can start to dream about a callup.  If he continues to pitch the way he has thus far, a late 2013 arrival to the majors isn’t out of the question.

…to sum it all up, last night was awful.  There’s no other way to put it.  Regardless of the two losses and the ugliness of the second game in particular, the Mets are 7-6.  The remainder of the season has the potential to be both fun and exciting.  Beyond that, with the performances of Matt Harvey at the major league level, the success of the team’s biggest prospects in the minors (at all levels), and the money that’s coming off the books, 2014 is looking more and more like a true turning point.

Fans should enjoy 2013 (and hope the team surprises) while continuing to look at the big picture.  Two ugly losses in Denver yesterday didn’t change the direction of the franchise, nor would have two uplifting victories.  This is a marathon, not a sprint, both in terms of this season and as far as the reshaping of the roster is concerned.  Immerse yourself in it, but try not to lose your mind in the process.

 

 

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