Monday, April 18, 2022

The 2022 Mets Continue to Impress

Despite adversity, the Mets have enjoyed a very positive start to the 2022 campaign, but bigger tests lay ahead.

First, the New York Mets finished a successful road trip by taking 2 of 3 from the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. While we, of course, continue to acknowledge that it's still very early, it was still a significant accomplishment for a team that went 30-51 in road games last season. Then the Mets came home to honor Tom Seaver (long overdue) and play the Diamondbacks. While it could have gone a bit better against Arizona, I enjoyed watching their heads-up win on Sunday. It felt like the sort of game they would find a way to lose in previous seasons.

This season, the Mets are setting a different tone than they did last year. That feels significant. Although they played pretty well early in 2021, they were dependent upon great starting pitching, which ultimately did not hold up in the dog days of summer. It's different so far this year. The Mets are scoring runs, leading to a couple of wins in games that weren't well-pitched. That rarely happened last season. It's helped them overcome a bullpen that has been erratic in the early going. Hopefully, there's time for those relievers to make some adjustments because the schedule ahead is demanding. That bullpen is going to be tested.

Now that the Diamondbacks have departed, next up for the Mets is a 4-game series against the San Francisco Giants. After a stop in Arizona on their next road trip, it's on to St. Louis, where the Cardinals are always tough. Then the Mets come back home to face the Phillies and Braves. Next up is a road trip to Philly and Washington, then the Mariners and the Cardinals come to Citi Field. After that is a road trip to Colorado and San Francisco. Early June features a western trip against the Dodgers, Padres, and Angels. There's not a lot of slack in that schedule. If the Mets don't play well, they can easily be buried by it. We've seen promising seasons go that way before.

One thing that the Mets have going for them with the demanding schedule is having Buck Showalter running the show rather than Luis Rojas. Buck is not a perfect manager — no such creature exists — but he is in charge in a way that Rojas just wasn't. That will make a difference.

As for the bullpen that Showalter manages, our concerns from the spring have not been alleviated. They were directly responsible for the 2 losses on the road trip, and they made things "interesting" in a couple of others. The Mets' bullpen can easily be exposed by San Francisco and some of the likely playoff teams they'll be facing in these upcoming series. I plan on writing in some depth on the bullpen soon, but things are looking a little scary early on.

It hasn't been all bad for the Mets' relief corps. Edwin Díaz has been fine in the early going. Drew Smith continues to impress, accomplishing the difficult task of making me look smart. Thanks, pal. Chasen Shreve is enjoying success as a multi-inning reliever and could wind up with more high-leverage innings as the season goes on. Adam Ottavino hasn't been terrible but doesn't seem to have Showalter's complete confidence in the early going.

On the negative side of the ledger is Seth Lugo's difficult start. Again, it's early, but even Gary Cohen has asked Ron Darling during telecasts if Lugo's early struggles are something we should worry about. I'm not writing Lugo off, but his drop in velocity is a bit concerning. It's not just the fastball, either. It's going to affect the sharpness of his bread-and-butter breaking balls. Fans who have been around for a while might remember Steve Trachsel returning in 2006 from back surgery. Trachsel lost some mph off the fastball and also saw his curveball become less effective. Trachsel wasn't good in that 2006 season, but he somehow managed 15 wins. Hey, life isn't fair.

The Mets front office was clearly counting on a bounce-back from Seth Lugo when they neglected to add another premium reliever to the bullpen mix. It could very well happen. As the weather warms, Lugo could build up some arm strength and rediscover his best stuff. Drew Smith might finally stay healthy for an entire summer and become a dependable late-inning reliever. Trevor May should come back soon and help stabilize things.

But I have a growing conviction that Billy Eppler will regret trading Miguel Castro for Joely Rodríguez. Castro was talented, if at times erratic. Rodríguez looks like the sort of pitcher you can find on the waiver wire all summer. In fact, it wouldn't shock me if that's where he ends up when the rosters go down to 26 on May 1. It's hard to picture Rob Zastryzny or Álex Claudio pitching less effectively, and they wouldn't have cost the Mets anything. Both are in Syracuse now and could get a major league shot in the not-too-distant future.

Anyway, more on that soon. There's a big series against the San Francisco Giants, now beginning Tuesday afternoon with a doubleheader thanks to Mother Nature. It will be an excellent early-season look at where the Mets are right now. I remember last season's 6 games against the Giants well. The Mets managed to take one game at home, got blown out in the opener in San Francisco, and lost the other four games by a combined total of 5 runs. Yet somehow, the games didn't feel quite that close.

Last year, the Giants won 107 games — 30 more wins than the Mets totaled. There was a bit of luck involved, as with any successful season. But the Giants played really good baseball, too. Winning baseball. Seeing how the Mets beat Arizona Sunday — by doing little things right — gave me hope that the 2022 Mets are better equipped to compete with teams like San Francisco. The idea is that you don't beat yourself and take advantage of mistakes by your opponent.

For as much as the Mets wish to model themselves after the Los Angeles Dodgers, they can learn an awful lot from the Giants. San Francisco has really made itself into an organization that is masterful with pitching. Whether it's a guy like Logan Webb, who they drafted, or Kevin GausmanAnthony DeSclafani, and Alex Wood, who they brought into the organization and "fixed," the Giants are a model for any team that hopes to be good.

Of course, the Giants field a solid team behind these pitchers. It's not a lot of big names, particularly since Buster Posey has hung up his cleats, but they win. San Francisco is 7-2 so far this season, including a 3-1 record in 1-run games. They'll be a good test to see just how far this Mets team has progressed from last year's club.

Please be well and take care. Let's go Mets!

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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