What did we learn about the New York Mets over the weekend in their exhibition games with the New York Yankees?
No matter which way you slice it, 2020 has been one of the most tumultuous years in human history. But despite all the mayhem it has wreaked on both the sports world as well as on society in general, it sure was comforting for us fans to experience some familiarity and regularity for a change, as major league baseball came back into our lives this weekend. We thankfully got to see both the New York Mets and their cross-town rivals, the New York Yankees, square off in a two-game exhibition series to warm up before the start of a shortened season none of us thought may even happen just a few weeks back.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I certainly had a lot of questions coming into this season as far as certain players and how their respective fits would affect this New York Mets team in 2020.
Now while these two warm-up games can’t really tell us a whole lot of what we can expect from the Mets in a 60 game season, it did provide us both positive and negative glimpses as to what this team’s strengths and weakness areas may be as their regular season kicks off this weekend.
Last year the Mets bullpen and their inability to get batters out late in games to seal victories was their Achilles heel. In fact, it was probably their number one reason for missing out on the second Wild Card spot. But this weekend we saw solid performances and outings from newly acquired Dellin Betances and from our best relief option over the last two years in Seth Lugo.
Both men came in and pitched effectively late in Saturday and Sunday’s games, showing that as long as they can stay healthy, hopes of stabilizing a shaky and inconsistent Mets bullpen should be achievable for this coming year.
Staying on that theme, a once former reliable closer on this Mets pitching staff in Jeurys Familia also had an effective inning and two-thirds of relief as he came into the game on Saturday to relieve a sub-par performance by the starter Rick Porcello. Familia, who had been either the Mets top set up man or main closer from 2014 to 2018, really struggled in 2019 to find his rhythm. He gave up more walks per nine innings than he ever did before at 6.3 and left a lot more pitches over the plate for contact when he wasn’t walking batters last season. He finished with one of the worst ERA’s and WHIP’s for any regular reliever in the majors last year at 5.70 and 1.73 respectively.
Both his heavy sinking fastball and his nasty slider weren’t fooling batters or finding the strike zone in 2019 as they were in his previous seasons. But last Saturday Jeurys looked like the Jeurys of old. Coming into camp 30 lbs lighter and working on a wider grip on his off-speed pitches with Mets’ new pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, Familia found that same late bite on his slider and sinker away from righties as he once had back from 2014 to 2018. Yankees batters looked fooled constantly. Newly healthy Drew Smith also showed a lively fastball and off-speed pitches with decent movement in his lone appearance on Sunday.
If the Mets can form a consistent and solid back end of the bullpen consisting of Familia, Lugo, and Betances along with getting just average performances from the likes of Justin Wilson, Robert Gsellman, David Peterson, Drew Smith, and Brad Bach, they will be light years more effective in late innings of games in 2020 than they were last season.
Offensively, Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis both looked in midseason form over the weekend getting timely RBI base hits and making solid contact in several plate appearances. The Mets are going to need to rely heavily on these two for production if they want to have continued offensive success this season like they did in 2019. Brandon Nimmo also played a nice center field defensively over the weekend as he looks to solidify being their everyday starter in center.
Many of the Mets hitters looked lethargic either at the plate or in the field over the weekend. Now I know it’s only two games into Spring Training (or Summer Camp as it’s now called), but to not have timing even on flat fastballs coming right down the plate may be a bit disconcerting. We saw this on some at-bats from the likes of Robinson Cano, Yoenis Cespedes, and from Jeff McNeil in Sunday’s game. Nothing to get panicked over yet, just something to keep an eye on as we approach Opening Day.
In theory, all these at-bats in simulated inter-squad games should be helping to alleviate that rust but every player shakes it off in their own time frame.
Defensively the Mets looked way to sloppy and slow at times in the infield and the outfield. Dom Smith looked lost on a long fly ball of the bat of Gleyber Torres on Sunday night, taking an awkward route to the ball. Robinson Cano booted an easy ground ball up the ball to him on Saturday costing the Mets a few runs and then made a poor throw to first base on a similar play on Sunday.
Maybe it was due to lack of repetition or lack of focus since it was their first games back after a very long lay off. But whatever the cause, the Mets have to fix this going into the start of a 60 game sprint of a regular season. Regular season games are going to mean twice as much as they do if we were playing under normal circumstances and any unforced errors that shouldn’t happen will only put us further behind of making it to the postseason.
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Despite some of the hurdles and negative points the Mets showed us this weekend, it sure was good to see any form of professional baseball back on the field this weekend. Maybe despite all the troubles, worries and uncertainty 2020 has brought us – our team in Flushing can find a way to put that magical run together and make us forget that a pandemic was ever an issue to worry about to begin with.