Flashback to opening week: Ecstasy! The Mets have Duda, Wright, and a shiny new second baseman who doesn’t field like a Little Leaguer in the infield. Their starting aces—deGrom, Syndergaard, Harvey and Matz—are almost universally revered throughout baseball. The return of Zach Wheeler is imminent, or at least Zach Wheeler has been sighted more times than a chupacabra. Cespedes is back! Granderson is hitting things! Asdrubal Cabrera is … okay well, Cabrera is hurt, but he’ll be okay! At the start of the season I was feeling optimistic bordering on giddy, uncharacteristic for me as both a Mets fan and human. Coming off an impressive postseason and with a lineup like that, it was hard not to be.
And for a while, the rose-colored Citi Field remained. No matter that Daniel Murphy had shed his skin and revealed himself to be Iron Man while down in DC; we’ll take the moral points on that one. Anyway, the Mets were doing some hitting of their own, including the resetting of a team record in their twelve-run inning against the Giants.
When Wright went down it seemed both sad and inevitable, but I didn’t fear that the ship would go down with the Captain. The loss of Duda was an unpleasant surprise, the reanimation of Eric Campbell salt in the wound, but still there was a lot to be excited about. Walker and Granderson were hitting big hits. For a while there everyone—Colon! Syndergaard!—was hitting home runs. Harvey’s fourth-inning breakdowns seemed more mental than an injury that might require, say, the removal of body parts.
As the season wore on and the Mets’ lineup became increasingly unrecognizable, I latched onto the hope brought by the new, young faces—they were the future of the franchise, and the future was now. My grandma made a strong case for Ty Kelly and “her little Nimmo” in particular, while I kept an eye on fresh draft picks of the Cyclones and 51s. And hey, the backup to the backup catcher turned out to be pretty good!
Through the long, hot summer, midst the cacophony of Mets Twitter’s endless complaining, I argued that it could be worse, that the Mets were the comeback kings, and that hope lay in unexpected places, like bullpen pitchers who are not Jonathon Niese. And now here we are, September, and the Mets are actually playing well. Cabrera resurfaced from the DL to take NL Player of the Week at the end of August, and the Mets are just one game back from the Cardinals in the Wild Card spot (1.5 games behind the Giants). They’ve won 12 of their last 16 games, and beyond series in Washington and Miami, the Mets have a relatively easy final road—they’ll play two series against the last-place Braves and fourth-place Phillies, including 10 consecutive home games (Twins, Braves, Phillies) at the end of the month.
And yet despite the upswing, I find my optimism fading. Perhaps I should’ve rationed my Kool Aid better, or maybe the disintegration of the remaining pitching staff was, for me, the last straw. Either way, I find myself proposing what’s bound to be an unpopular plan for the final stretch of the 2016 season: surrender.
At this point, I don’t doubt we can clinch a Wild Card spot. It’s more a question of what we will do when we get there. With Harvey and Wheeler a distant memory, Matz rumored done for the season with shoulder and elbow pain, and deGrom missing starts due to inflammation, Syndergaard is the only remaining ace, and even he’s pitching through a bone spur. Neil Walker is out and about to have back surgery, and Cabrera and Cespedes are both playing on-and-off through injuries. Curtis Granderson, despite being my personal favorite, is nonetheless sporting rather less-than-grand 2016 average of .222, projected at .225 for the season. De Aza and Conforto, with a .195 and .217 respectively, don’t instill the greatest confidence either (though Conforto’s Triple-A performance suggests that’s probably not be his fault).
So as much as I love Bartolo, ageless wonder that he is, I don’t think he and Bruce are equipped to make a run for the pennant alone. A seemingly randomized lineup may play well against the Reds, but it’s not going to stick against the best teams in the league. And that’s no shade on the players, either—I wouldn’t expect a group of men who have never practiced nor played together to perform as one on the championship level.
Surrender may be a strong word; of course I want the Mets to keep playing as best they can. But I certainly don’t want them to continue playing their best players through injury such that they are broken next year, or maybe even indefinitely. The myriad injuries of last year’s NLCS contingent suggest the long season took a heavy toll. To that end, I think the Giants’ clinching of pennants in 2010, 2012, and 2014 is more than coincidence—it’s a model for success.
I love the Mets, and I love watching them win, but I’d be happier to see them lose if it means a healthier, more productive team in 2017. I wasn’t yet alive the last time the Mets won the World Series; I can wait another year. Baseball, after all, takes just as long as it needs to.
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