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2014 Nats vs. Mets Q&A with Eric McErlain

The return of Washington Nationals baseball means the return of one of my favorite features, the guest prognosticator posts! One of my favorite annual guest prognosticators, Eric McErlain (not pictured), leads off as the Nats visit the borough of Queens to take on his beloved New York Mets on Opening Day next Monday. When was the last time you were so excited for a Monday?

Eric, a pioneering blogger now enjoying emeritus status, is now a member of the prestigious five-timers club of WWN guest prognosticators, having answered qustions about the Mets in 2011, 2012, 2013 and Jets in 2011.

WFY: How was the 2013 Mets season?

EMc: Exactly the same as 2012: 74-88. But I’ll be damned if it didn’t feel worse than the year before. At least in 2012 sticking with the team meant getting to pull for R.A. Dickey to get 20 wins or Ike Davis to hit 30 homers. 2013 held no such comforts. Davis slumped early and never recovered. David Wright got hurt. Again. So did Bobby Parnell. Reuben Tejada did his best to prove he’s not a major league shortstop (Hardball Talk). He’s got me convinced, even though the franchise seems inclined to give him yet another chance to prove us all wrong. Once Matt Harvey went down for the season, there wasn’t much left to root for. Were there bright spots? Sure, Juan Lagares may already be the best fielding centerfielder (MetsBlog) in baseball, though his bat is suspect. Zack Wheeler looked all right in limited action. Marlon Byrd’s comeback was nice to watch, but he was dealt at the deadline and is now playing in Philadelphia. Add it all up, it was another lost season.

WFY: GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins are talking about a 90 win season, what would need to occur for it to happen?

EMc: How often do you get a royal flush in poker by drawing the Ace of Spades on the river? The 2014 Mets should be better, but a 16-win improvement is too much to ask. To get there, all of the following would have to come to pass:

1. Wright returns to form – and that means .300 average, 25-30 HRs & 100+ rbi;

2. Whatever solution comes together at first base (Davis or Lucas Duda) it needs to provide some power in the 25-30 HR range;

3. The same Daniel Murphy needs to show up, though I’d be happier if he got on base more often;

4. Tejada needs not to be a stiff. That means he needs to hit .280 or above and find his glove again;

5. Curtis Granderson is going to strike out a lot, but I won’t mind as long as he hits 30 HRs or more;

6. Eric Young, Jr. needs to hit .280 with an OBP of .340 and steal 25-30;

7. Free agent Chris Young will play a credible CF, but he needs to hit 20+ HRs to make a difference;

8. The starting rotation needs to max out on its talent. That means Jon Niese needs to stay healthy and claim the #1 job in Harvey’s absence; Dillon Gee needs to repeat his 2013 performance; Bartolo Colon will not win 18 games with this team, but if he wins 13 and stays healthy enough to be dealt at the deadline I’ll be happy. Zack Wheeler needs to pitch over .500 and continue to develop. As for Daisuke Matsuzaka, the new human rain delay, I can only hope the Mets make his stay in the rotation short in order to make way for either Jenry Mejia early on or Noah Syndergaard at midseason.

9. The bullpen, as it has been in recent seasons, is a complete crapshoot. Having Parnell back will be nice, and I have high hopes for John Lannan in long relief. But the rest of the crew is unknowable, and they’ll have to come together in a big way and fast.
Get all of that, and yeah, 90 wins is a possibility. Don’t hold your breath.

WFY: Seemingly like every other promising pitcher, Matt Harvey had Tommy John surgery. Do you believe the Mets handled him properly before and after the injury? Do I recall correctly that they were trying to avoid surgery initially?

EMc: I think it’s impossible to second guess the team’s decision-making on Harvey. Indeed, they wanted to avoid surgery, but it just didn’t work out. Since then, Harvey has fought and won the right to rehab in New York this season instead of at extended Spring camp. He swears he’ll pitch this season, but I’m hoping the team and Harvey err on the side of caution.

WFY: What’s been the reaction to the Curtis Granderson signing? It is seen as more than just beating out the Yankees for a free agent?

EMc:It’s been positive. If you’d seen Duda playing right field (Sports on Earth) last season you’d be happy too. The Mets outfield has been a mess for too long. As for the Yanks, Granderson was done in the Bronx after last season, so there was no one to beat out.

WFY: Last year you mentioned Noah Syndergaard and Travis D’Arnaud – how have they progressed? Is the direction of the franchise trending upward?

EMc:Syndergaard will start the season at AAA Las Vegas, but is expected to join the Mets sometime mid-season. He’s a potential #1 starter who can strike out 200+ a season. As for D’Arnaud, he was a disappointment with the bat last season in limited action after coming up from the minors. He hasn’t played enough for anyone to conclude his development has been derailed, but his Spring has been less than impressive (Rant Sports). I suspect his upside isn’t nearly as high as has been projected.

WFY: Did you know that Bill Gotto’s original Mets logo design had the colors black & pink (Todd Radom)? How would have been cheering for black & pink have felt?

EMc: No, I had been blessedly unaware of that fact up until now. I think it’s safe to say they made the right decision.

WFY: Speaking of blue and orange, how do you feel about the New York Islanders moving west “off” Long Island to Brooklyn?

EMc: It’s sad but unavoidable. Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead are broke and can’t afford to build a new arena. It beats seeing them move to Quebec or Kansas City.

WFY: Nationals Park beer drinkers welcomed, albeit in limited locations, local and regional brews to the ballpark last season. Do the Mets sell local craft beers as well?

EMc: Take a look.

WFY: As an out of market fan, do you have the MLB.tv package? How is it?

EMc: Oh yes. I’ve had it for several seasons and I love it. I subscribe using my Apple TV, so I pump the games over my 42″ 1080p Panasonic HDTV. I have no complaints.

WFY: How are the current announcers? What is your favorite Ralph Kiner memory?

EMc: It’s Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. They are a very entertaining trio, though I’ll admit to cheating on them with Vin Scully when the Mets go to LA to play the Dodgers. Nats fans should know that Darling’s performance has improved markedly since his one season in the booth here in Washington.

As for my favorite Ralph memory, it has to be Opening Day 1985. Gary Carter hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 10th in his first game with the Mets. Ralph goes down to the field to have Carter on Kiner’s Korner, and promptly introduces him as Gary Cooper.

But while folks remember his malaprops, he had more than his fair share of trenchant observations. People forget that he was a Hall of Fame talent that played in baseball’s golden era. He was teammates with Hank Greenberg and played against Jackie Robinson. When the game bogged down, Ralph always had an observation from the game’s past that shed some light on what was happening on the field. He’ll be sorely missed.

WFY: How do you think the NL East shapes up this season?

EMc: It’s for the Nats to lose. The Braves will challenge all year long, with the Mets, Phils and Marlins serving as cannon fodder.

WFY: How would you rank the Mets NL East rivalries? What about outside of the division?

EMc: The Mets have been out of the money for too long to have any meaningful rivals right now. Sure, we hate the Phillies and the Braves, and the Marlins are a tougher out than they ought to be. As for the Nats, the Mets always seem to have a problem putting them away (I still have nightmares about that walk off homer Ryan Zimmerman hit off of LaTroy Hawkins last season). Outside the division, it’s the Cardinals. In St. Louis, they’ve been calling the Mets, “Pond Scum” since the mid-80s. I’ve always been touched by that. For more, read “The Bad Guys Won,” by Jeff Pearlman.

WFY: What is your favorite book about the Mets?

EMc: Jack Lang, who covered the Mets from their inception in 1962, wrote a comprehensive team history that was published before the 1986 season. “After the Miracle” by Maury Allen, the late New York Post reporter, took a look back at the 1969 team 20 years after beating the Orioles. It had some incredibly bittersweet moments, including how the wife of one player didn’t understand why the Mets weren’t playing in the World Series every year. I like to think she’s learned since then. The aforementioned, “The Bad Guys Won,” lays out just what a group of reprobates that 1986 team really was. “Doc: A Memoir,” is a warts and all look at the career of Doc Gooden, and one that part of me wishes I had never read. Doc ought to be in the Hall of Fame alongside Darryl Strawberry. That he isn’t breaks the heart of any real Mets fan.

WFY: What is your favorite Mets pop culture moment?

EMc: The Seinfeld episode with Keith Hernandez will always be a favorite, though having Game 6 of the 1986 World Series force NBC to reschedule an episode of Saturday Night Live has to be tops.

WFY: Which team wins the opening series and the season series?

EMc: Mets win first series, 2-1. Mets are historically great on Opening Day. Nats win season series 13-6.

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