Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Challenge of Surviving June

Since I last posted here, the New York Mets managed to play one of their three scheduled games against the Atlanta Braves this past weekend and the first game of the Arizona Diamondbacks series last night. Putting aside the uncharacteristic offensive explosion Saturday night, it was still going to be difficult for them to win games against Atlanta with a Triple-A offense. I guess we can hope that the Mets are in better shape to play these games later on, but the number of doubleheaders they'll be playing in June and July is going to be tough, also. This year was supposed to be the year that we at least made progress towards returning to a normal baseball season, but the injuries and postponements have got in the way of that journey. Last year's extreme abnormal pandemic season has given way to the year of endless injuries.

Still, the Mets enter the first day of June 6 games over the .500 mark. I'd probably be pretty disappointed if you told me that would be the case back before the season started. However, given the scale of the injuries and lack of production by key players Francisco Lindor, Dom Smith, and James McCann, it seems almost miraculous to be a few games above the breakeven mark.

Thanks to his big game Saturday night, McCann has raised his Slugging Percentage to .307. I mean, that's not good, but it's still 8 points better than Lindor's. Out of every Met with more than 50 plate appearances on the season, Tomás Nido has the highest slugging % at .491.

Watching five home runs leave the park for the Mets in that game Saturday almost felt like an out-of-body experience for me. The Mets hit 2 more HR last night and added 4 doubles. Power has been very much a missing commodity for the 2021 Mets. Both Lindor and Dom Smith have rediscovered their power stroke over the last couple of games. Here's hoping that those games are the start of a return to what we expected from the team this season before it began.

As I mentioned in my last post, the Mets are about to enter a tough part of their schedule in a month that has traditionally not been kind to them. Last year, of course, the baseball season hadn't even begun in June. As Tim Britton documented in his piece in The Athletic, June was the month that exposed the 2018 and 2019 Mets as pretenders rather than contenders. Between the upcoming schedule, lingering injuries, and the continued struggles of Francisco Lindor, there's legitimate worry that something similar might befall the club this time around, too.

The good news is that reinforcements are working their way back. Taijuan Walker enjoyed a triumphant return Saturday. Pete AlonsoKevin Pillar, and Seth Lugo returned for last night's game. Alonso made a huge contribution, and Pillar got a hit in his first chance.

Other players should return as the month progresses. All that do will undoubtedly help the cause. If James McCann can continue to hit, that would help a lot, too, even if Nido continues to perform well. Having two effective and well-rested catchers will definitely be a good thing, particularly since there is no real depth behind them.

Perhaps Lindor will finally turn his season around. His home run off of a fastball on Saturday was a hopeful sign, as was his opposite-field double last night. Still, things have looked hopeful for him before, only to revert to continued hopelessness at the plate.

Dom Smith has also looked much better as of late. Perhaps he has found his extra-base stroke and will return to being the hitter we all hope for. I also hope to see Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis return later relatively soon. Here's hoping they stay in the lineup this time around. They were really the only two Mets producing offensively early on, but they've only combined to play in 35 games between them so far this year.

The starting pitching will undoubtedly pose some problems in June. Southpaws David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi have been shaky at times in the early going, but no one is showing up to take their places in the rotation any time soon. Noah Syndergaard is out of the picture until at least August now, and Carlos Carrasco needs to get healthy, restart his minor league rehab ramp-up, and not get hurt again before he is back in the picture. If he even returns in June, it won't be until the end of the month. The way things have gone with the big right-hander so far, I won't be counting on that until I see it.

So the Mets will absolutely need Peterson and Lucchesi to pitch better, and the proliferation of doubleheaders this month will require more starters to step up and contribute. It remains to be seen what the Mets do with Lugo. If they decide to stretch him out, they will need to proceed very slowly with him. I'd prefer to see him in the bullpen, and that seems to be the plan currently. Jordan Yamamoto is completely out of the picture on the 60-day IL. Franklyn Kilome is off the 40-man roster and isn't pitching well. Sam McWilliams just got removed from the 40-man and will probably be gone. He wasn't starting games in Syracuse or pitching well, anyway.

Thomas Szapucki is one possibility for starting a game who is on the 40-man roster. Sean Reid-Foley has been a starter but has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen this season. Jerad Eickhoff is on the Syracuse roster. He got off to a rough start but has pitched well lately. He's certainly a possibility, but he's not currently on the 40-man roster. The Mets would have to drop another player to get him on. That might get easier as injured players return and the Mets shed some of the fill-ins they have no long-term plans for.

We are very likely to see the continued use of bullpen games and mixing and matching to cover some of the extra games in the schedule. I've been impressed at how well the club has juggled things so far this season. Flatly stated, the front office is just smarter and better than it's been in years. All of the new analytics hires have helped immensely, too.

I thought the Mets had a chance to be better defensively this season. They put a real emphasis on it in spring training, creating higher expectations for the players than they have recently. I also figured that they would shift more, given the emphasis on analytics that was always lacking during the Wilpon years. We've seen in previous years how other clubs have improved their defense without major personnel changes by shifting more.

However, in my wildest dreams, I didn't foresee the dramatic improvement I have witnessed over the first two months of play. Kudos to the players, coaches, and the number crunchers for what they have accomplished. It's been a blast to watch. Let's hope it continues throughout the season.

If you have a subscription to The Athletic, Tim Britton had a nice piece on all of the defensive shifting the Mets have added this season. Britton points out that it's unlikely the Mets will remain near the top of the league all year. Underlying metrics suggest they'll probably wind up around league average for the season with their defense.

Still, that's a huge improvement over what we've seen the last few seasons, and it's played a part in the success that the bullpen and the starting pitchers beyond Jacob deGrom have been enjoying. Outs are being recorded on balls that would have been hits last season. It's a lot easier to pitch when you have confidence in your bullpen.

Despite the nice 5-game streak, I'm sweating out this road trip. Those 4 games in San Diego, in particular, loom large. The Mets often don't fare well in San Diego when the Padres aren't very good. It's going to be a very tough series with the Mets still quite depleted while the Padres are, of course, an excellent club.

When the Mets return home after this trip, they face the Padres 3 more times, then 4 games against the Cubs. The Cubs may not have been expected to be very good this year, but they're 13 games over .500 and swept the Mets in Chicago.

As heartening as it is to watch the Mets win games without so many of their key players, their record against clubs currently above .500 is a dismal 2-12 on the year. Failing to improve on that is going to lead to a bad month of June for the club.

After the Cubs series, the Mets will be on the road against Washington, then back to face Atlanta and Philadelphia. There will be a doubleheader in all three of those series. Monday, June 28, was originally scheduled to be an off day before starting a road trip against Atlanta and the Yankees. Instead, they'll be playing a single makeup game in Washington. If the Mets are still in or even close to first place by the time they play the Yankees over the Independence Day weekend, they'll have proven themselves to be legit contenders.

************************************

In my May 23 post on Mets prospects, I mistakenly wrote that 3B prospect Mark Vientos received a late promotion to Double-A Binghamton in 2019. That was incorrect. Vientos played the whole season in Low-A Columbia, South Carolina.

That certainly makes it easier to excuse Vientos' early-season struggles in Double-A ball. He's been hitting better as of late. He's up to .231/.279/.410 on the year, with 5 Doubles and 3 HR in 86 PA. For a 21-year-old who skipped High-A ball entirely, that's impressive. It also probably points to some good work done by the Player Development Staff at the alternate site and in their late-year instructional camp last season. I have corrected the original post and apologize for the error.

************************************

I wrote a piece a while back criticizing ESPN for their terrible baseball telecasts. I also noted the generally awful coverage when FOX gets exclusive coverage for a game. What I find most irksome in these telecasts is the feeling that these networks feel the need to constantly interject what they consider entertaining at the expense of the game itself. I often find myself turning off the volume and listening to the Mets radio crew, which can be a bit jarring with the radio delay.

Saturday night's Braves game was on FOX. For the most part, Broadcasters Adam Amin and Tom Verducci did a solid job of covering the game. It was one of the better FOX/ESPN telecasts I have listened to in years. Still not nearly as good as listening to a Mets game on SNY, but credit where credit is due. I will continue to sigh unhappily whenever a Mets game winds up on FOX, but I will feel a bit better if these guys get the game rather than one of their lesser crews.

Now a complaint about last night's telecast. When the Mets are on the road, they still follow last season's protocol of picking up the other club's game feed. The Diamondback's feed was really bad last night, consistently not having the right camera shot to cover the game properly.

One particularly jarring moment came in the bottom of the seventh with 2 outs. Miguel Castro came in to pitch in relief of Trevor May. There were already two runs in, tightening the score to 5-2 with a man on second. Diamondback's 2B Domingo Leyba hit a ball over CF Mason Williams' head. Williams, a new Mets callup from Triple-A, made a terrific catch for the final out. Had he not caught the ball, it would have been 5-3 with a man on second and the tying run at the plate.

Arizona's crack tv crew gave us a long reaction shot of Castro after the ball was hit, before finally cutting at the last second to Williams catching the ball. It was awful coverage of a key moment of the game. And there were other times where their coverage was lacking. We could only hope that at some point this year, SNY starts sending their own crews out to road games. As far as I know, however, there are no plans to change that this season. At least for the near future, we can continue to expect coverage of Mets road games to be a step down from the coverage of their home games.

Please be well and take care.


 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Mailing It In

The title of this post has nothing to do with the way the New York Mets are playing. Sure, they've been up and down this past week. The...