MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals

Game recap April 29: The turnaround

“It’s impossible to conceive of the Mets going forward without Michael Conforto playing just about every day.” – Gary Cohen

The Mets came in to Washington looking like they were dead in the water. Forget the losing streak – the Mets hadn’t even sniffed a lead in a week before heading to face their main rivals, the hottest team in the league. But baseball is a funny sport. As soon as we think we know what’s going to happen, it seems like there’s a fit of weirdness. Saturday’s 5-3 Mets win wasn’t quite as wild.

It’s a good reminder that no matter how great one team looks and how awful another team looks, the difference between greatness and dumpster fires isn’t as big in Major League Baseball as it is in most sports. If a struggling football or basketball team beats a league leader, we call it an upset. If a struggling baseball team takes a series, we call it a part of the game. Even bad teams tend to win at least 40 percent of their games, and the current banged up Mets roster isn’t that bad.

Wheeler Escapes:

Even before Tommy John surgery, Zack Wheeler was effectively wild, walking more than 10 percent of opposing hitters. We shouldn’t be surprised to see more walks and high pitch counts in 2017. Wheeler racked up nine full counts in the first 19 opposing batters. He pushed the right button against Bryce Harper in the first, throwing a great curveball for the strikeout after setting him up with several fastballs. Ryan Zimmerman continued his hot streak with an RBI single after Harper whiffed to give the Nationals an early lead.

For rest of the game, it looked like Wheeler was searching for the right pitch. He led off the second, third, and fourth with walks. He threw several breaking balls to the opposing pitcher in the second inning, like it was time to get some practice in a side session, and quickly worked his way to a full count. After the first two runners got on in the third, Harper struck out again and T.J. Rivera made a great stab at first base to rob Zimmerman. The Mets intentionally walked Daniel Murphy, and then pitching coach Dan Warthen came out for a pep talk. Wheeler opened the bases loaded at-bat with three straight sliders, all balls, before Anthony Rendon lined out to center. In the bottom of the fifth, Wheeler minimized the damage with a Harper comebacker for a double play. He ended the day with 96 pitches, only 54 strikes, and couldn’t get through five innings.

Conforto Powers Offense:

After Stephen Strasburg rolled through the first four innings, Jose Reyes led off the fifth with a single. T.J. Rivera doubled to the wall, Travis d’Arnaud had an RBI groundout, and all of a sudden the game was tied at 1-1. Strasburg fell behind Michael Conforto and served up a fastball that might as well have “Ticket To Ride” stamped on it. He crushed the weak offering to give the Mets a 3-1 lead, then homered again in the eighth inning against hard throwing lefty Enny Romero. It’s the first time Conforto has homered twice in a game. He also singled and stole a base in the first, making this the first time he has homered and stolen a base in the same game.

Left Infield Stays Shaky:

If you ever want to show someone why errors and fielding percentage are a bad way to judge fielders, the left side of the Mets’ infield may be a good place to start. Officially, the Mets only had one error, when Reyes stayed back to play a tough hop off his chest and the ball bounced in to left field. When the next hitter grounded to the hole and Asdrubal Cabrera didn’t have the range to get the ball, that’s not an error. When Zimmerman beat out an infield single because Cabrera couldn’t play a ball quickly, that’s not an error. Even though Reyes may be breaking out of his slump at the plate, he and Cabrera are struggling so much in the field that the calls for promoting Amed Rosario should continue. On the other hand, Rivera made several good plays at first base.

Bullpen Largely Stable:

Before today’s game, Sandy Alderson said, “As of right now, do we have a closer? You tell me.” Wheeler was pulled after 4.2 innings so Josh Edgin could face Daniel Murphy with runners on. Apparently Edgin isn’t the closer. He got Murphy to fly out and end the inning. Sometimes it pays to stick with a hot reliever, but Edgin still reminds me of a Monopoly player who got just the right dice roll to avoid my hotels. Sooner or later it seems like he’s going to get wrecked.

Hansel Robles pitched the sixth and most of the seventh, with Jerry Blevins coming in to fan Harper on a curveball. Addison Reed started his eighth inning by surrendering a massive home run to Ryan Zimmerman. He put the tying run on second but was allowed to work out of the two-out jam. Jeurys Familia came in for a 1-2-3 ninth and his first save of the season.

Werth’s Weird Stumble:

In the bottom of the fourth, Jayson Werth walked and stole second. Cabrera bobbled the catch, so the ball bounced behind him towards the outfield. Werth saw Cabrera break and got up, hitting Cabrera with his head as he scrambled for another base. It reminded me of one of the worst plays in basketball, where an offensive player jumps in to the defender to draw a cheap foul. Second base umpire Angel Hernandez wasn’t fooled by the stunt and didn’t give Werth the benefit of the doubt on an interference call when he was out by 20 feet. Werth spent the entire middle of the fifth complaining to Hernandez, and he went back for more in the seventh. I’ve never seen a baseball player complain so much after trying to fool an umpire on the basepaths.

Injury Updates:

General manager Sandy Alderson met with reporters before Satuaday’s game to give a bunch of injury updates:

·      Noah Syndergaard refused to take an MRI. “I can’t tie him down and throw him in the tube either,” the GM said.

·      Yoenis Cespedes’ hamstring strain is not considered serious, and the Mets hope to have him back in around 10 days. Then again, the Mets underestimated his hamstring strain instead of sending him straight to the disabled list.

·      Lucas Duda should be ready to come off the DL Monday, the first day he is eligible to do so.

·      Wilmer Flores should be headed to rehab games in a day or two.

·      Adam Eaton has reportedly torn his ACL, per Ken Rosenthal, and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Michael A. Taylor is likely to get a considerable look in center field now, but a trade might be inevitable.

What’s Next?

The Mets look for the sweep – yes, the sweep – with Noah Syndergaard on the mound.

Photo credit: Brad Mills – USA Today Sports

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