Let’s start off today’s recap with a question: Are you really that surprised? Of course, I’m referring to Jason Vargas’ less than stellar season debut on Saturday, in which he allowed nine runs on nine hits to the San Diego Padres, one of the league’s worst offenses.
The signing of Vargas to a two-year, $16 million contract was a somewhat head-scratching move to begin with, but the underlying reasons made sense. The organization needed a starter who could provide quality innings and rotation depth, and Vargas fit the bill. A surprising All-Star selection last season, Vargas came back down to the earth in the second half and ultimately finished with a respectable 4.16 ERA in 179.2 innings. His underlying statistics suggested a regression was in store, especially for a 35-year-old starter, but the Mets decided Vargas was the man and passed over highly regarded starters Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn, among others.
Vargas’ second stint with the Mets got off to a bad start even in spring training, as a comebacker broke his non-pitching hand and sidelined him for over a month. The Mets sent Vargas out on a rehab assignment and were happy with his progress, leading to the organization’s decision to demote Matt Harvey to the bullpen in place of Vargas (although Harvey’s performance helped the decision). All Vargas did to repay the organization for its confidence was to pitch worse than Harvey has in any outing this season.
The Padres currently own the league’s worst batting average and were thoroughly dominated Friday by Mets ace Jacob deGrom, but the bats came back ready to roll Saturday. Vargas was leaving pitches up in the zone from the onset and the Padres were taking full advantage early.
Vargas struck out the leadoff batter, Wil Myers, but it all went downhill from there. After an Eric Hosmer single, Christian Villanueva worked a brilliant eight-pitch at-bat that ended in a two-run home run to left center. The Padres scored two more runs in the first on a Manuel Margot triple that got over the head of the usually brilliant Juan Lagares. Lagares took a bad route to the ball that he probably should have caught or at the least kept in front of him, but it almost certainly did not impact the outcome of the game, and he more than made up for it later.
Villanueva stepped back up to the plate in the bottom of the second and looked to have his second home run in as many innings, but Lagares made a terrific leaping grab to rob him of a home run. Lagares has looked like his 2014 self thus far, leading the Mets to find themselves in a real playing time crunch in their crowded outfield. The catch was one of only two bright spots for the Metropolitans, as Yoenis Cespedes hit a moonshot to center for the only Met runs on the evening.
The underperformance of every Mets starter not named Syndergaard or deGrom has to be extremely concerning not only for Mickey Callaway and the organization but for the fan base as well. The Mets were supposed to contend due to their strong starting rotation, but Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Harvey and Vargas have left a lot to be desired thus far. It’s almost nothing short of a miracle that the Mets are 16-9 and leading the NL East with the way the roster has underperformed, hitters included. The Mets are just 15th in runs scored and Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto are all hitting sub .240 to begin the year. It’s not time to panic yet, the Mets are finding ways to win ballgames, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
The one real area of worry for the organization has to be the rotation, and it’s understandable given the lack of separation in performance from Matz, Harvey, Wheeler and Vargas. They’ve all been underwhelming to begin the season and there aren’t too many options for the front office at this point. The best and most likely course of action is to wait another month to see if the team has three viable starters they feel comfortable giving the ball to every fifth day. If the Mets are still in contention when the trade deadline comes around, it’s not hard to envision a move being made to improve the rotation for the stretch run.
Vargas obviously deserves a month or two to work out the kinks and prove he can be a valuable piece of the rotation, but expectations were low to begin with and shifted even lower following Saturday’s meltdown. As much as the fanbase may not have liked the signing, his success or non-success will play a pretty pivotal role in how well the team fares the rest of the way.
The roller coaster ride that is being a New York Mets fan is pretty unbelievable in and of itself. Consider this: earlier this month, the team ripped off a nine-game winning streak and owned the best record in the league. Now, the team has lost six of its last ten and is “slumping,” all in the same calendar month. The team’s true talent level lies somewhere in between, of course, but there’s undeniably something brewing in Flushing. Jason Vargas and the Mets were downright awful Saturday, but it’s not time to panic yet and it won’t be for a while.
The Mets will send Zack Wheeler (1-1, 4.24) out to face Padres starter Bryan Mitchell (0-2, 5.76) as they look to win the rubber game of the three-game series.
Photo credit: Jake Roth – USA Today Sports