The New York Mets have now played exactly one-third of the 2020 season. After starting the season with a 3-7 record, the Mets have rebounded to go 6-4 and put them in the playoffs if the season would end before Friday’s games. But still, a 9-11 record is nothing to brag about when there are some major holes to fill.
With injuries starting to occur and another big player opting out, the Mets are going to need to come up with some answers. The Mets bullpen is finally healthy but the starting rotation definitely has issues. The offense is starting to crank it up as manager Luis Rojas continues to tinker with the lineup. Two rookie players are emerging and a one time top prospect really likes playing every day. Let’s take a look at what’s going right and wrong with the Mets and what changes need to happen to get over the five hundred mark.
The 10 game turnaround the Mets bullpen has made is remarkable. It’s actually becoming a strength of the team. In the last 10 games, the bullpen has pitched really well in nine of them. The one thing we do know about this bullpen is when they pitch bad it’s really bad as this past Monday night’s game against the Washington Nationals indicates. The Mets lost that game 16-4 and the bullpen gave up eight runs in four and two-thirds innings. To be fair, starter Steven Matz put the Mets in an early 5-0 hole and Paul Sewald could not stop the bleeding in a seven-run inning that pretty much ended the game.
Taking out that outing over the last nine games the Mets bullpen pitched 36 innings giving up six runs on 23 hits and 16 walks. Mets relievers also struck out 43 batters and had one win, eight holds, two saves and zero blown saves. What’s the reason for the sudden turnaround? One reason is the Mets are finally healthy. During the past two weeks, several relievers the Mets were counting on finally made their season debut. Robert Gsellman returned and was used as an opener in his first game back. This is a role he could wind up keeping as the season moves along.
Brad Brach and Jared Hughes also returned to give the Mets length in the bullpen. It also allows Rojas the ability to pitch his lesser arms in mop-up situations and keep his better arms fresh. The Mets are going to have to rely on their bullpen as this shortened season rolls on. Rojas has established Seth Lugo as the primary closer. After two back to back subpar outings, Lugo responded by tossing three straight scoreless appearances pitching four innings and allowing only one walk with two saves. Rojas also has the task of restoring the confidence of Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia after miserable 2019 seasons for both pitchers. In Diaz’s case, he has already been removed from the closer role after one blown save.
Rookie pitcher David Peterson has really been a godsend for the Mets. Now with four solid starts under his belt, Peterson has established himself as the Mets number two starter behind ace Jacob deGrom. For a pitcher who had good minor league numbers and never pitched above Double-A, Peterson has raised his game in the majors. Peterson has shown great poise and the ability to pitch out of jams.
If there is a knock on Peterson is the lack of an out pitch. Peterson nibbles the corners instead of challenging the hitters as his 38.5% of fastballs in the hitting zone indicates. How much can the Mets expect out of the rookie pitcher this season? Peterson was never supposed to have such an important role in 2020, but here he is, the second-best Mets starter in the middle of a pennant race.
The silver lining of Yoenis Cespedes opting out of the season is that it opened up a spot for Dominic Smith. The one time top prospect has taken full advantage of his newfound playing time. Smith has become an everyday player whether he starts in left field, first base or designated hitter. All Smith has done is lead the team in home runs with four and RBI with 12. The only issue with Smith is that he is not a left fielder. Is it possible that with time and a lot of practice Smith can become a serviceable outfielder? Who really knows. As long as Smith continues to hit it will be impossible to keep his name off the lineup card.
Andres Gimenez is another young player who Rojas is quite comfortable using every day in a variety of ways. Gimenez who is a shortstop who can also play second and third base. Originally Gimenez was the caddy for Cano, spelling him in the later innings. Like Smith, Gimenez has taken full advantage of his opportunities. Gimenez has yet to make an error despite playing three different positions. Offensively, opposing teams have already started making adjustments when Gimenez is batting. The rookie is seeing more breaking pitches and so far he as held his own.
Gimenez also brings another element to the game that the Mets have lacked. His speed is on full display as he is stolen five bases and has not yet been thrown out. Amed Rosario is the starting shortstop. But if he continues to struggle can we see Gimenez overtake him as the starting shortstop? With Peterson, the Mets have two Rookie of the Year candidates.
J.D. Davis is a third baseman but became the everyday left fielder last season as the Mets wanted to get his bat in the lineup. In his 31 games played at the hot corner in 2019, Davis did not play well defensively. But that has changed this season. Davis started at third base while Jeff McNeil was nursing a sore back and has taken over as the everyday third basemen. Not only does Davis now play his natural position but it has opened up left field for another player. Davis’ power makes him more of a fit at third than McNeil. In a perfect scenario for the Mets, McNeil would be the primary second basemen who could spell Davis at third and Smith in left once a week.
The Starting Rotation
The Mets starting rotation has been a strength the last few seasons but this year it is a weakness. Aside from deGrom and Peterson, the Mets have not had any consistency from the rest of the rotation. Rick Porcello was the big acquisition of the offseason by General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, and he needs to step up and pitch as he did in his 2016 Cy Young season. With Marcus Stroman opting out, Michael Wacha on the IL and Steven Matz regressing in every start, it’s crucial that the Mets can count on Porcello. Porcello’s last two starts were light years ahead of his first two. Porcello’s performance could make or break the season for the Mets.
Robinson Cano can still hit. It’s clear when you watch him play every day. The days of Cano batting over .300 are long gone. We all know that. We also know that as long as he is healthy he will be in the lineup in some capacity. But he is very injury prone, especially in his legs. The problem with Cano is that every time he starts to get on a hot streak he ends up on the injured list. It happened last year and again this season. Unlike last season the Mets do have players to pick up the slack. This only adds fuel to the fire of hatred the Mets fans feel towards Cano. The future for Cano as a Met should see him in the designated hitter role for the remainder of this year and beyond if the rule gets adopted permanently.
Wilson Ramos is a hitter. As far as catchers go, Ramos is one of the better offensive backstops in the game. The Mets signed Ramos to a two-year contract before the 2019 season. Travis d’Arnaud was coming off Tommy John surgery the year before and the Mets did not know what to expect from him. Before inking Ramos the Mets made a contract offer to Yasmani Grandal and it was turned down. Grandal was the two-way catcher the Mets were desperately seeking.
Ramos is not known for his defense so if he is not hitting he has little value to your team. Last season Ramos had 14 home runs and drove in 73 runs. In addition, Ramos had a 26-game hitting streak that started in August right when the Mets were making their run towards the playoffs. Ramos also was able to stay on the field playing in a career-high 141 games. This year Ramos is off to a miserable start offensively. With a slash line of .196/.274/.286 with one home run and four RBI, the Mets are waiting for the player they saw last season. Ramos will hit eventually but can the Mets wait in this shortened season?
Over the first 20 games, the Mets have not had any winning streaks of more than two games. This would not be considered bad except for the five-game losing streak the Mets had which included two games blown by the bullpen. The Mets desperately need to go on a hot streak as they had in 2019 to create some distance from the pack. More than half of the teams will qualify for the playoffs this year. Every NL East team has issues and a hot streak by any of the five teams could create some serious separation.
Every team deals with injuries and no other team is going to cry for the Mets. But it has to be very concerning to the Mets that key players are getting hurt. Wacha is already on the IL with right shoulder inflammation and deGrom was scratched from his Friday start with neck stiffness. McNeil banged up his knee crashing into the leftfield wall at Citi Field. Cano just got activated off the IL but always seems to be hurt. With COVID-19 still an issue, you never know when a player has to be removed from the team if they contract the disease or was exposed to it.
Obviously, the deGrom injury is the one the Mets just can’t afford to have. deGrom is dealing with a neck injury but has said he is hopeful to make his next start. Walker Lockett started in place of deGrom but he has not shown any reason to think he can pitch well enough to remain in the rotation if needed. McNeil is expected to be out only a few games. But the other injury worth keeping an eye on is the shoulder of Michael Wacha. The Mets are already down two starting pitchers in Stroman and Noah Syndergaard and lack the depth to overcome another injury. Is there another David Peterson in the minors?
Mets manager Luis Rojas has what you would consider a good problem with his position players. He has too many players and not enough positions. When the Mets are at full strength and Rojas fills out his lineup card, there will always be good players sitting on the bench. Robinson Cano was activated off the IL. Jeff McNeil is day to day with a knee bruise and should be back in a few days. Amed Rosario is getting over a stomach ailment and also should be ready in a couple of days. So who sits? As every National League team is finding out just how valuable having the designated hitter is, there might not be another senior circuit team that has benefited more than the Mets have.
Rojas has done a great job keeping everybody fresh and game ready. The argument can be made with the depth and versatility of this roster that the Mets can carry 15 pitchers and 13 position players. Because of the versatility of players like Gimenez, McNeil, and Davis the Mets at some positions are three deep. With the injuries and lack of depth in the starting rotation, the Mets will greatly benefit from carrying 15 pitchers. When McNeil, Smith, or even Davis are playing leftfield they are defensive liabilities. That’s a true statement. But no one is going to wave a magic wand and turn any of the three into a gold glove caliber outfielder. The Mets are trading defense for offense and in the late innings, Billy Hamilton will come in the game to play centerfield moving Nimmo to left.
Having a set lineup is important but for Rojas, it is becoming exceedingly difficult. It’s good to keep everybody fresh and Rojas should continue to get everybody enough game time to keep them from getting rusty. But some players need to be locked in at certain batting order positions. Brandon Nimmo should be the leadoff batter. His 18 walks and .447 OBP tells you that. Next Pete Alonso should bat either second or third with McNeil occupying the other slot. The rest of the lineup can be configured around who is playing that day and also who the opposing pitcher is.
After the top three of Jacob deGrom, David Peterson, and Rick Porcello the New York Mets need to figure out how short of a leash to have with Steven Matz and Michael Wacha. Robert Gsellman will be stretched out to perhaps replace either Matz or Wacha. The Mets can’t let this season go to waste by waiting around for Matz and Wacha, when he returns, to turn their seasons around. Because of the 60-game season, opening day was the beginning of a pennant race.
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