In a losing season, teams can take away some valuable lessons. The New York Mets can learn plenty in October by observing the postseason teams.
Part of the reason baseball is such a beautiful sport is that it keeps changing. The game that’s been played professionally since the mid 19th century continues to evolve, and we learn more and more about it and how to play each year. This season we’ve seen teams try some new, unconventional tactics to win games. Take note, New York Mets.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash introduced a new position this season called “the opener” when he started Sergio Romo and planned to just have him face the tough hitters atop the Los Angels Angels batting order, then give way to another pitcher who is more of a traditional starter. When they were successful, they put Romo out again the next day and used the same strategy.
Since implementing this strategy, the Rays went on a roll and finished the season with 90 wins.
This prompted teams in the pennant race to give it a shot. The New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, and Milwaukee Brewers are teams that have had rotation troubles, yet have lights out bullpens.
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The A’s even gave Liam Hendriks the nod as the opener in the AL Wild Card Game, although it turned into more of a bullpen game, since there was no traditional starter following the opener.
Would this work for the Mets?
Obviously, guys like Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler won’t need any help in their starts getting through the tough parts of the order. However, Steven Matz could benefit from having a guy who can blow away the first 4 or 5 hitters in the lineup the first time around. Matz had a 7.28 ERA in the first inning in 2018, yet finished the year with an ERA under 4. If a guy like Tyler Bashlor or Drew Smith pitched the first inning to get through the tough top half of the order, then Matz can enter after and avoid the part of the order he isn’t comfortable facing.
The bullpen market is going to be huge this offseason. Notable relievers on the free agent market include Jeurys Familia, Craig Kimbrel, Adam Ottavino, Cody Allen, Kelvin Herrera, and Andrew Miller. It’d be wise of the Mets to snag a couple of lockdown relievers, they’ll come in handy down the stretch.
The Brewers have one of the best offenses in baseball, and a probable MVP candidate in Christian Yelich, who hit out of the number two spot in the order. It’s been a trend around baseball to have the best hitter hit second. But what would this mean for the Mets?
The Mets don’t really have a hitter that’s clearly the best in the lineup. Maybe one of Jeff McNeil, Amed Rosario, Brandon Nimmo, or Michael Conforto will step up, but right now it’s tough to say what order they should stack those guys up.
Personally, I’d love to see Nimmo at the top with his ability to get on base. Maybe that number two hitter isn’t on the team yet.
Let’s also take a look at what the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Brewers have done with their offensive depth. These teams have about 12 or 13 guys capable of being in an everyday lineup and go beyond platoons to create a winning formula. Even the Brewers were able to go into their tiebreaker game with guys like Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, Eric Thames, and Curtis Granderson on their bench. The Cubs in the Wild Card Game had guys like Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber on their bench.
These great teams turned into super teams at the trade deadline. They each knew they’d play in October, so they started preparing early for high-pressure postseason games.
The Dodgers improved their infield depth by acquiring Brian Dozier and Manny Machado, allowing them to use Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor only in situations where they’re very likely to be successful. The Cubs’ acquisition of Daniel Murphy allowed them to do the same with guys like Ben Zobrist. It even allowed them to use a pinch runner for Anthony Rizzo if they needed to in a close game since Murphy could play first.
Now, the Mets infield will most likely include Todd Frazier, Amed Rosario, and Jeff McNeil. We can assume that Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo will be in the outfield every day. Adding some insurance would go a long way.
Having too many good players is a great problem. Marwin Gonzalez is on the open market this winter and has been a great utility man for Houston on winning teams. Josh Harrison is also available, and don’t forget our old friend Asdrubal Cabrera. I’m sure more names will be available at next season’s trade deadline as well.
A new GM will be key for the Mets, the game is evolving before our eyes and a new face in charge is necessary. If healthy, the Mets have a rotation that will stack up against anything else in baseball. There are multiple young hitters that showed their potential down the stretch, and there’s a huge free agent class that can fill all of the team’s needs.
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There may be hope for this team next year after all, but it all depends if they are willing to adapt to the new game.