Friday, April 7, 2023

Protect Your Sanity

No matter how often they insert the word "nightmare" into an article, it's too early to lose your mind over the 2023 New York Mets.

First off, let me assure you that I, too, am a bit demoralized by the Mets' awful showing in Milwaukee. I won't pretend otherwise. The team essentially failed to show up for the first couple of games. Then, when they had the chance to salvage one before heading home, the Mets coughed up the final in a very disheartening manner. Baseball season is so long you're guaranteed to be disgusted with the team you root for at times. However, it does suck a little more when it happens so early in the year. But hey, we're back in the win column today.

Of course, in the highly competitive media market in which the Mets exist, pushing the panic button when things are going badly is a fairly common occurrence. There was a piece by Mike Puma in the New York Post on Wednesday that referenced the word "nightmare" both in the title and the first line of the piece (refusing to link to it). I get it. Words like "nightmare" and "disaster" grab attention and generate clicks. Clicks sell ads, and those ad sales prolong this time when there is still content to be found that's not sitting behind a paywall. I suspect that won't be the case for much longer.

Still, at times this sort of constant Chicken Little act, running on a loop, endlessly screaming that the sky is falling, seems like an attack on the sanity of fans. Traditionally, Mets fans have borne more than their share of the brunt of this constant negative bombardment. The club had been so poorly run by Fred and Jeff Wilpon for so long that insecurity naturally festered within the fanbase. It wasn't hard to imagine the worst happening when it so often did. Important decisions were often based on shortsighted financial considerations, with frequently disastrous consequences.

Steve Cohen has undoubtedly done a lot to change that, but, as a beaten dog continues to bear the mental scars from a previous owner who mistreated him, many Mets fans like myself carry a deep-seated pessimism within our psyche that is only one short losing streak away from rising to the surface. When you are simultaneously being bombarded from the outside with some over-the-top negativity, it's tough to avoid falling into the trap.

I won't pretend there is nothing to worry about for the 2023 New York Mets. They're an old team. The lineup is still a bit short in the middle of the order. As currently constructed, the bottom of the order is a definite weakness. Eduardo Escobar and Tomás Nido are a combined 3-36 on the year, with Escobar, in particular, just looking completely lost at the plate.

Injuries have piled up, with Justin Verlander and José Quintana missing from the rotation right out of the gate. While everyone seems hopeful that Verlander will return soon, Quintana won't pitch for the Mets until July at the earliest. The Mets have also had bad luck in their bullpen, with Sam Coonrod, who has experience and enjoyed a promising spring, out for months. The news was worse for prospect Bryce Montes de Oca. The "Wild Thing," with devastating stuff when he can get it over the plate, needed Tommy John surgery, the second of his career.

All is hardly lost with the pitching staff, however. David Peterson and Tylor Megill are capable backup options in the rotation, which the Mets never possessed in the bad old days. In the bullpen, the Mets have gotten good work out of project Dennis Santana — even if he faltered this afternoon by allowing a couple of free passes and a longball, proving why he is a project rather than a sure thing. The Mets also have hopes for Stephen Ridings, currently on the IL, as he comes back from some shoulder problems. The Mets still have some guys in Syracuse who can potentially contribute to the bullpen this season.

The point is that there are options, unlike the old days when the Mets would call up Quad-A-type pitchers who would get absolutely shelled in the majors. The key will be finding guys who can contribute, something that good clubs generally do. It hasn't been all sunlight and rainbows with the bullpen in the early going, but it's not yet time to despair. 

Losing catcher Omar Narváez — likely for a couple of months — was a tough blow. On the other hand, that gives Francisco Álvarez an extended chance to prove he belongs in the big leagues. Will he seize the opportunity? Unknown, but the Mets could use some power at the bottom of their lineup. Álvarez can make them a lot better if he can figure things out.

Meanwhile, the continuing struggles of Escobar can open a door for Brett Baty, who probably should have been here already. The Mets seem to have dodged a bullet when Baty's thumb injury in a minor league game turned out to be not too serious.

Look, there really are years when the sky truly is falling. I remember 1987, with the Mets coming off the World Series win and still looking like the best team in baseball. But that spring saw Dwight Gooden go into rehab for the first time. Bob Ojeda, who had been the glue in the Mets' rotation the previous season, missed most of the year with arm problems. Gary Carter, at age 33, was essentially done as a great player offensively. Ray Knight and Kevin Mitchell were elsewhere, thanks to some dubious decisions by Frank Cashen.

But the Mets got really good offensive years from Daryl Strawberry and Howard Johnson. Newcomer David Cone pitched well for them. Despite everything, the 1987 Mets were in the thick of it. It looked like they just might do it. But then, in September, Ron Darling tore a ligament in his thumb trying to field a bunt. It just wasn't to be for the Mets that year. They watched the playoffs from home.

As I noted in my last post, there are reasons for hope and concern with the 2023 Mets. Some years, like 1987, the hits just keep coming and, eventually, the sky really does fall. That might happen this season. Who knows at this point? But don't buy into the whole "nightmare" thing just yet.

Be well and take care. Get a good night's sleep, full of good dreams. Let's go Mets!

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