Oh How Sweep It Is, Yankees Stunned

New York Mets fans have had little to be excited about this season. The team has already suffered two six-game losing streaks and been amongst the three worst teams in Major League Baseball at the lowest points of its downward spiral. Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and Dillon Gee, once considered part of the team’s core, have all been, and still are, on the brink of getting sent down to the minors in Las Vegas.

No one would have bet on the Mets sweeping the New York Yankees in Queens and the Bronx. Anyone who did is filthy rich.

My friend and I met in Harlem before the final game of the Subway Series on May 30, decked out in Mets jerseys and caps. Only a few Yankees fans heckled us and vowed that their team would not get swept; the rest seemed oblivious there was even a game. Even people who are not Yankees fans and do not watch baseball at all wear the cap due to its popularity; only actual Mets fans wear their team’s cap. We bought four-dollar brooms on Lexington Avenue and brought them onto the 4 train and into the Bronx. We literally swept the entrance and provoked the Yankees faithful with corny banters. A few snickered and cursed at us, but for the most part they treated us like peasants to a king. You should care if an opposing team comes to your house with such blatant disrespect, but they were too cool for school. The few that responded just boasted their 27 championship rings and higher standing in their division.

True fans root for their team regardless of the standings and time of the baseball season. The Yankees trailed the entire game on May 30, yet some people left during the ninth inning, when their team still had a chance. Some barely even paid attention to the game or left the stadium before the sixth inning. I sat through the entire game last season when Johan Santana got lit up one week after his no-hitter. “If they don’t win it’s a shame,” says the classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” song. Only sore losers flaunt their team’s history but do not accept in a gracious. I acknowledge when other teams outplay us, which is often. If you are gregarious when your team is winning you also have to die hard for them during rough stretches.

The Mets-Yankees game I attended on Memorial Day was electric, but the fans I saw at Yankee Stadium had too much pride to admit they were upset. They must have been hurt inside. My section chanted “Let’s Go Mets” at Citi Field on Memorial Day every inning, the Yankees faithful responded with “Let’s Go Yankees” and we countered with “Yankees Suck.” Fans that are passionate about their teams do not tolerate trash talk from their cross town rivals, but the Yankees fans in Section 411 brushed it off like flies at a restaurant.

It was rather lifeless at Yankee Stadium on May 30. No one responded when I turned around with both of my hands open to inform them that Gee had ten strikeouts. They looked disgusted, like I was being noisy at a library. A stadium is a place where you should be free to yell and clap as loud as you please, but most of the Yankees fans did not exercise that right.
I know there are respectable Yankees fans that are as passionate about their team as Mets fans; I have corresponded with them on Twitter, but they were nowhere to be found at Yankee Stadium. The New York Mets ran New York this past week, no doubt, and a true Yankee fan would acknowledge that fact. The Mets are still several games under .500, but that makes the sweep of the Yankees even more embarrassing for them and sweeter for Mets fans. David beat Goliath with a stone.

Yankees fans would have boasted relentlessly if the Empire State Building was navy blue all week, but it was not. At least for one season, and for the first time ever, the Mets can say they swept the Bronx Bombers. We run New York for now, but we will fall hard when the Mets lose. And we would not have it any other way.

It’s Not September Yet, But You Wouldn’t Know It FOLLOW ME @metsonmymind

“Put the ball in play and see what happens,” said Terry Collins in a May 21 interview with Mike Francesa on WFAN. The New York Mets offense is that desperate these days.

The Mets must be praying on errors by the opposition, because weak ground balls and lazy fly balls do not lead to hits. Ike Davis is struggling so mightily that fans and teammates are encouraged if he draws a walk or even hits the ball hard. Collins alters the lineup nearly everyday in search of a winning combination that often fails to score over three runs.

Collins has inserted Rick Ankiel second into the lineup even though he struck out on the Houston Astros so much the team released him. He has batted Daniel Murphy at leadoff on multiple occasions for the first time in four years, and been forced to demote the struggling Ruben Tejada to the eighth spot. Too many hitters carelessly strike out on failed check swings, emphasizing their uncertainty and tentative approaches at the plate. They exude a lack of confidence and opposing starters are like sharks that smell blood in the water.

Tejada and Davis need to be consistent in order for the Mets to contend. General Manager Sandy Alderson once perceived them as the core of the team’s future, especially Davis, but now his shopping cart will be even heavier in the offseason. Even if Davis snaps out of his rut and has a monster game, Alderson must question his dependability in the long term. He continues to look foolish against lefties and is not having success against righties either, even against pitchers on subpar teams with high ERAs. His typically reliable defense has suffered over the past week as well and lost the Mets games. He is worthless if he cannot field ground balls or get on base.

“We got to run these young guys out there,” said Collins to Francesa. The Mets need to develop players that have potential with the team. Although Ankiel has been driving in runs, he is counterproductive to future development. The hot glove outfielder Juan Lagares is being deprived of valuable experience in center field. The Mets are essentially out of contention already, so experience already takes precedence over winning a few more games in a season already torpedoing in a downward spiral.

The vibe in CitiField is a late-September game with the exception of when Matt Harvey takes the mound. But even he is human and is bound to fall down to Earth. “Now he have fallen on our faces,” said Collins.

They have fallen off the deep end, are grasping onto a cliff with their pinkies and hanging by a thread. The slumbering offense only wakes up sporadically. Everyone in the lineup, even David Wright, glances at the ground in dejection and seems reluctant to take an at-bat. The captain has tough waters to tread but is folding under the pressure of a crippled offense around him. He is batting a .228/0/8 RBI at home.

Even when they scored four runs against the Cincinatti Reds on May 22 it was mostly an uphill battle, with the exception of the brief 1-0 lead the Mets held in the first and second innings. The Mets lost 7-4 in part due to a mental defensive lapse by Davis in the ninth inning.

Collins is running out of excuses for his downtrodden team. He attributes starter Jon Niese’s struggles to the cold temperatures he endured when pitching in Minnesota and Colorado in mid-April. If Niese’s ERA does not drop down below four by June, Collins would still be decrying those frigid temperatures. Dillon Gee no longer seems like a fit for the back of any Major League rotation and Jeremy Hefner is only serviceable every five starts. Marcum can pitch well early in a game but cannot go the distance anymore; his career may be over.

Despite more payroll flexibility next season, 2014 does not seem like the breakthrough year for the Mets. If the young core of Duda, Davis and Tejada continues to crumble, the Mets have to start from scratch. Alderson needs at least two quality starters, a first baseman, an entire outfielder and bullpen. Even Santa Claus could not fulfill a wish list this long.

Six Games In, Mets on a Losing Streak With No End in Sight FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER @metsonmymind

Rick Ankiel’s first home run as a New York Met tied the game at 2-2 in the top of seventh inning. He brought smiles to a lifeless dugout on May 15 and silenced the St. Louis Cardinals crowd for a moment. And then the Mets bullpen threw the game away in the bottom of the inning. Literally.

The Mets proceeded to lose 4-2, the team’s sixth straight loss and drop to 14-23 for the season. They currently have the most consecutive losses in baseball. Their starters get lit up early in the game; the offense is frozen; the bullpen is a joke; the defense commits crucial errors. Sometimes all of those follies converge into one game and even the most diehard of fans cannot watch.

They lost in a few routs over the past week, but the offense had a chance to win on May 15. Shaun Marcum, who had not pitched beyond the fifth inning in any of his previous starts, delivered 6 2/3 quality innings of three-run ball.

But the Mets gave up two unearned runs on sloppy defense. David Wright dropped the ball when attempting to tag out Cardinals centerfielder Jon Jay between second and third base and Daniel Murphy botched a routine double play. Wright’s error unnecessarily drove up Marcum’s pitch count on a night when he was locked in.

The most demoralizing moment of the game, however, came in the bottom of the ninth inning. Reliever Scott Rice threw the ball in the dirt with runners on first and third base. Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalzo scored and the Mets were retired in order in the eighth and ninth innings. 

The Cardinals took advantage of every opportunity they had to score, whether on defensive blunders by the Mets or getting a hit with runners in scoring position. The Mets falter when it matters most. David Wright had a runner on third base in the sixth inning with Murphy on third base and one out. A ground ball, sacrifice fly or hit all would have scored a run, but he struck out. Ike Davis then grounded out on the first pitch he saw to end the inning.

Captain Wright had a chance to right the ship last night but not only failed to come through in the clutch but also gifted the Cardinals a run. He is the golden boy of the team and can do no wrong in most people’s eyes, but he should not be exempt from criticism. All eyes are on Wright during a miserable offensive stretch in which his team struggles to reach base under any circumstance.

Lucas Duda and Davis are both in brutal slumps, Murphy caught lightning in a bottle in St. Louis but needs to raise his average much higher and Ruben Tejada looks confused during every at-bat. All of these players have shown promise, but they would all be back in the minor leagues on most other teams.

Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud and Wright are the future, but most of the infield, the entire outfield, the back-end of the rotation and whole bullpen staff are in shambles.

The team is already decaying in May, but the silver lining is just a sliver.

The Matt Harvey Show Is Incredible, Rest Is a Channel Changer FOLLOW ME @metsonymind

Matt Harvey possesses the qualities of a superstar pitcher. He can strike out his opponents with an upper-90 mph fastball as well as a changeup or slider. He seldom folds under pressure and has already proven himself against formidable teams, such as the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies.

The best part is that he is only 24 years old and just beginning his first full Major League season. Harvey won NL Pitcher of the Month for April, averaging nearly eight strikeouts per game.

On May 7 he delivered one of the best pitching performances ever by a Mets starter in a regular season, yet he did not win the game. He tossed a one-hit shutout with no walks over nine innings against the Chicago White Sox and left the mound with a no decision.

Harvey could have won if manager Terry Collins kept him past the ninth inning. Collins allowed Johan Santana to toss 134 pitches in his no-hitter last June, and Matt Harvey was only 105 deep against the Chicago White Sox.

Collins had reason to be cautious about his young rising star, but Harvey is a workhorse. Santana was 33 years old and returning from major shoulder surgery. The offense supported Santana with eight runs in his no-hitter, but Harvey could have cut the tension of his 0-0 pitching duel with a knife. Yet he was just as sharp in the ninth inning as he was in the first inning.

Matt Harvey is Cy Young Award caliber; he made a game in which the Mets took ten innings to score a run interesting. The Mets offense makes opposing starters look like multiple-time Cy Young recipients.

The Mets are yet to lose any of the seven games in which Harvey pitched. It is astonishing that despite only allowing seven runs over his seven starts with a 1.28 ERA, he only has four wins as a pitcher. The Mets are 7-0 with Harvey and 6-17 with the rest of the starters.

Jeremy Hefner has tossed 14 1/3 fewer innings and allowed eleven more runs than Harvey in his first seven starts, and still does not have a win. Jonathon Niese, who Collins considered to be the ace at the beginning of the season, has a 4.66 ERA. 

The games are painful to watch when Harvey is not on the mound. Hefner pitched eight inning scoreless innings on April 30 against the Miami Marlins but suffered a loss. Mets reliever Brandon Lyon allowed both of the Marlins runners Hefner was responsible for in the ninth inning to score, and since the Mets only scored one run the Marlins won on a walk-off.

Ike Davis has become useless to the point that Collins replaced him with pinch-hitter Justin Turner on May 5 against the Atlanta Braves with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. That move was inconceivable during the second half of last season, but Turner has been more clutch off the bench than Davis all season.

The Mets have already sent several players down to the minors just six weeks into the season, including relievers Josh Edgin and Jeurys Familia (who is now back on the Major League Roster) and outfielders Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Colin Cowgill. Former Mets starter Aaron Laffey pitched 10 horrendous innings to a 7.20 ERA and was designated for assignment on April 21.

The Mets called up minor league outfielder Andrew Brown, who did not make the big league roster out of Spring Training, on May 3. Collins is desperate for offense, and in turn the outfield has been a revolving door. He plays Yahtzee with his lineup everyday.

Fans should take pride in a lineup almost exclusively cultivated from the minor league farm system, but most of those seeds show no signs of blossoming. Davis, Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada have not yet established themselves. John Buck, the offensive juggernaut earlier this season acquired via trade, has not gotten a hit in his last 14 at-bats. The rest are bench players.

The team should switch its name to the New York Harveys, because he is the only reason to be excited right now. David Wright has been solid, but nothing extraordinary considering his 8-year, $138 million contract. The state of the team is reminiscent of R.A. Dickey last season, now on the Toronto Blue Jays. Hopefully Harvey is here to stay, no one on the Mets would want any part of him. 

2013: A Season That Ended Before It Began (FOLLOW ME @metsonmymind)

Losing has become contagious for the New York Mets. They lost a series 1-2 against the Los Angeles Dodgers and got swept by the Philadelphia Phillies in late April, all in CitiField. Those defeats are not shocking because the Dodgers and Phillies are competitive teams, but then they lost an away series to the lowly Miami Marlins.

The Mets have been a team to mourn over the past week. They lost the first two games to Miami by walk-off; the first time in a 15inning affair; Jeremy Hefner threw eight scoreless innings in the second one. Losing two consecutive games when entering the ninth inning with the lead against a team with one of the worst records in baseball is demoralizing.

The bullpen, which ranks amongst the worst in ERA, lobs watermelons for opponents to hit whenever the team has a lead. Overall, the starting pitching rotation is a disaster. Matt Harvey and Jonathan Niese are the only reliable starters, and anyone that delivers the sporadic quality outing receives zero run support.

The offense has been a broken record of pop ups, groundouts and strikeouts. If someone manages to squeak a single through the infield whoever is on deck follows up with a double play.

If David Wright is not driving in a runner that finds his way onto second or third base that runner gets stranded. If John Buck, team leader in home runs and runs batted in, cools off, then it is hard to imagine the Mets averaging more than two runs per game. Besides Wright and Buck, no one else in the lineup is capable of driving in a run right now.

Ike Davis was expected to be consistently productive all season, but his average is about as far under .200 in April 2013 as it was in April 2012. He carried much of the offense during his scorching second half of 2012, but the man who hit 32 home runs last season is a nonfactor. Both him and Lucas Duda caught lightning in a bottle early in April and drove a few balls over the fence, but they have been sapped for power since then. Duda at least draws walks and makes the opposing pitcher work, while Davis is often struck out in three pitches.

Daniel Murphy streaked his way to a batting average that exceeded .360 in the middle of April but has come crashing back down to Earth and below .290. He drove in just about every runner in scoring position during the first eleven games, in which the team had a respectable 7-4 record. Murphy needs to get back on track because his defense at second base is shoddy.

Colin Cowgill, Mike Baxter and Anthony Recker barely qualify as Major League-caliber. Players such as Ruben Tejada used to set the table with a walk or base hit, but now they leave the bases empty. Any hard hit balls go straight into the opponent’s gloves. Long fly balls fall short at the warning track. Mets hitters drive the pitch count to a favorable 3-0 and end up grounding out. Nothing is going right.

The fans understand that general manager Sandy Alderson is focused on the future. Alderson traded away 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey this past offseason for Buck, a promising catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud and young arm that could be ready to throw in a couple of years. He traded slugger Carlos Beltran in 2011 for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, who is struggling in the minors but will likely get promoted this season.

The team is in a transition state and expected to drastically improve once their seeds blossom and they attain more payroll flexibility in 2014. There is hope for the future, but the fans deserve a better product this season. Too many players are falling short of the potential they demonstrated last season.

Wright and Buck cannot carry the offense on their backs all season. Something has to give with the bullpen. Even the most diehard of Mets fans are getting fed up. The season feels like it is over and there are still five more months of baseball left.