Such a title may lead you to believe this article will be full of blind, unbridled optimism. Truly it is hard to think in these terms after a 7-17 month that is still trudging on. This article is indeed optimistic, but it is not blind optimism. It has a leg, even two, to stand on.
Forget all the off-field drama, especially of the last couple days. As hard as it is to believe, the New York Mets are about to turn a corner. Unbelievably, but not inexplicably, this team truly is *this* close to contending, even this year.
May 16, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy (28) at bat against the Washington Nationals during the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s start by clearing the air on the offense. We knew coming into this season the Mets would struggle to put up runs. The New York bats, while dismal, were not unexpectedly so. This team was not going to win on the backs of big boppers.
If this team was going to win, it would do so on the strength of starting pitching. Fortunately, for the most part, the staff has met and even exceeded expectations. The Mets come into tonight’s game third in the National League in quality starts, sporting 34 in 50 games. Their quality start percentage of 68 ranks just below Atlanta’s 72 percent. Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese, and Zack Wheeler have quality start rates over 70 percent, and Bartolo Colon isn’t far behind. Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero have just one non-quality start between their 6 outings. Only one regular starter (Mejia) did not consistently give New York the chance to win, but he’s found his home in the bullpen.
Speaking of that bullpen, that supposedly wretched set of arms that has spiked up team ERA, its worst days are behind it. Gone are the geriatric trio of Jose Valverde, Kyle Farnsworth, and John Lannan. Here to stay are Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia, and Carlos Torres. Vic Black is back and presumably better than ever, as is Josh Edgin. Daisuke Matsusaka has proved to be capable reliever and spot starter. When Dillon Gee comes back, one more quality, young arm (most likely deGrom) will move to the ’pen.
If it had been the arms and not the bats underperforming, there would be much cause for concern. But the pieces we expected to be in place are doing exactly what they are supposed to. The pieces that aren’t performing, while disheartening, can’t be disappointing.
So, you may ask, if things aren’t as doom and gloom as they’re made out to be, how do the Mets actually turn this corner they’re approaching? It’s really quite simple.
Apr 27, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee (35) pitches against the Miami Marlins during the first inning of a game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
As far as pitching goes, stay the course. The rotation will continue to keep New York in the game more often than not, even if it takes Dillon Gee a bit more time to come back and if Noah Syndergaard needs more reps in the minors to get his arm to full-strength. With the dead weight in the bullpen gone, the Mets should get more consistency from their relievers. If Mejia turns out to be the closer we want him to be, the ninth inning finally becomes a lock. And lest we forget, if the wind blows just right, Matt Harvey could be back in play at full strength come September (though I think we all hope he errs on the side of patience).
Apr 20, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Teammates mob New York Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson (3) after winning the game against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. Mets won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
As for the offense, all it needs is *one more* consistent bat. Take just one of those five double plays from Sunday afternoon away and New York wins. We aren’t asking for much. Just for one more guy to get hot and stay hot. He may come from this current lineup, he may come from the outside via a trade. But if he comes, we’re right back in it.
It seems a lot worse, but the Mets are 22-28, last place in the NL East but just six games behind the first-place Braves. If everything plays out as described above, we could still have another 1973 on our hands. Am I expecting a pennant this year? No. All I’m asking is for you to avoid throwing in the towel on 2014. There’s still some exciting baseball to be played in Flushing. And some of it, if you can believe it, will be played by the home team.