Opening Day is Monday! That means I resume my annual Washington Nationals Q&As with opposition fans. Leading off is Eric McErlain (not pictured) – the NY Mets are his favorite squadron; we took a relaxed attitude and talked about the baseball match.
This is Eric’s 5th visit as a Mets guest prognosticator: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and Jets in 2011.
WFY: Though it may not have been apparent to all Washington Nationals fans, the 2014 New York Mets improved significantly. Bullpen meltdowns helped the Nats to a 15-4 record against the Amazins – a split and it would have been a winning season in Queens. How have the Mets addressed that weakness? Beside bringing in Jerry Blevins of course. Hint to Terry Colins he’s a LOOGY. That’s it. Matt Williams doesn’t know that.
EMc: I have to dispute the premise of your question. Yes, the Mets bullpen was a real problem vs. the Nats last season, but overall the team was 6th in the National League in ERA and 3rd in strikeouts. I think much of your evaluation is colored by the experience early in the season when Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth were holding down the fort, and to be frank, letting the Indians over the walls. Later, as Josh Edgin, Jeurys Familia, Vic Back and Jenry Mejia started playing larger roles, the situation really stabilized.
Things looked a little tenuous as Edgin was lost for the year to Tommy John surgery, but Sandy Alderson addressed the need for lefthanded help in the bullpen by acquiring Blevins and Alex Torres last week. Bobby Parnell, the former closer who is returning to the team after missing nearly an entire season, ought to return to the team in mid-April. Rafael Montero, who just missed snagging the job as the 5th starter with a great Spring, will also be in the pen from the start of the season. This looks like a strength, not a weakness heading into 2015.
One of my favorite stats is one you can find on every season summary page in Baseball Reference: Pythagorean W-L. Last year, the Mets finished 79-83 while outscoring the opposition by 11 runs. According to Pythagorean W-L, the team should have been 82-80. I think a lot of observers believe that even with a lineup constrained by Fred Wilpon’s financial difficulties, the Mets aren’t that far away from being a winning team. I think they’re right.
WFY: An improving team should get help with the return of Matt Harvey from his Tommy John surgery. What is the Mets plan for him? How does the overall rotation appear now? Other than noted Bryce Harper observer, Zack Wheeler, who is out with his own Tommy John, right?
EMc: Alderson is keeping his cards close to his vest when it comes to an innings limit on Harvey. He’s said the team isn’t counting on him pitching 210-225 innings, but he also said that the limit wasn’t as low as the 160 Stephen Strasburg was held to when he returned from the same surgery. We’ll just have to watch and see. What I do know is I saw Harvey pitch nearly six scoreless innings vs. the Yankees in Spring Training and he looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. He’s out for blood and I think the Mets will have to tread very lightly in order to not alienate their young star.
As for the entire rotation, the order at this point – in order to maximize the revenue potential in Harvey’s starts at home – is Colon, deGrom, Harvey, Niese and Gee. The Mets shopped Gee in the offseason, and if he gets off to a hot start, they may move him and slide Montero into the 5th position.
WFY: Given the Nats predilection for hitting homers in Citi Field last year, seemingly half of which would have been outs in previous seasons, I was surprised to see the Mets moving the fences in again. Do you agree with the Mets that the advantage to the offense greater than the disadvantage to pitching?
EMc: That appears to be the calculus. Wright needed help and so did Curtis Granderson. When Citifield opened, I liked the fact that it played big. So did Shea Stadium (even Mike Piazza’s power numbers dropped when he joined the Mets), and the Mets took advantage of that through their time there by developing great pitching. That appears to be happening again, and I guess Alderson is counting on the great young arms to keep the ball in the park. As for the bats, the Mets led the Grapefruit League in just about every offensive category. Things may have turned.
WFY: Did the Mets make any significant free agent acquisitions?
EMc: The major offseason acquisition for the Mets was David Wright’s buddy, Michael Cuddyer. He’ll play left field and spell Lucas Duda at first against some lefthanders. When Cuddyer moves to first, ex-Phillies outfielder John Mayberry, Jr. will get the call in left. Both have had excellent Springs. A lot of fans were clamoring for a new shortstop, but Wilmer Flores has the job and it’s his to lose. His spring has been more than respectable at the plate, but his glove …
WFY: Noah Syndergaard and his lunch are back in the minors – has he been a disappointment or is it too soon to say? I think I ask about Travis d’Arnuad every year too.
EMc: It’s too early to say and thanks to the amount of pitching in the system, the Mets don’t need to rush him to the majors. As for d’Arnaud, he rebounded nicely after being sent down last season. He’s the only starter who has had a disappointing Spring. But if he falters, remember that the Mets have Kevin Plawecki stashed at Las Vegas. He looks like the real deal too.
WFY: What needs to happen for the Mets to reach the playoffs?
EMc: Take the Nats out of the equation last season, and the Mets are 75-68. They cannot go 4-15 vs. the Nats again and expect to make the playoffs. Go .500 vs. the Nats, and they’ve got a fighting chance to make it.
WFY: Since it’s ’15, who is the best #15 in Mets history?
EMc: Carlos Beltran without question. Others who wore that number include original Met Al Jackson, George Foster, Ron Darling and d’Arnaud. But my favorite #15 of all time is the catcher who guided the pitching staff to the World Series twice (1969 & 1973) in five years, Jerry Grote. I’d kill to buy his jersey – which would be #15 with no nameplate on the back – but you can’t buy it. Hey, Mitchell & Ness, I’m looking at you!
WFY: What do you make of the Mets not being majority fanbase anywhere, even their own zip code, according to The Times Facebook likes based fanmaps?
EMc: The Mets have been forgettable during the era of social media while the Yankees have been consistent winners with a lineup that boasted the most popular player in all of baseball, Derek Jeter. If the Mets string together a couple of good seasons, we’ll see that map turn. It’s nothing more than that. With Jeter gone and Harvey on the rise, look for some of those zips to flip in coming years.
WFY: Since the Mets keep doing things to their uniforms, I’m going to keep asking about them. Will you miss the all-white uniforms? I was never a fan, though I understand the appeal of not having pinstripes. Does the alternate cap with gray on it need to find a way into you possession?
EMc: No and no. I’m a traditionalist with the Mets uniform. I’ve never liked the deviations much, with the possible exception of the mid-80s road blues that replaced New York with Mets across the chest. I own an R.A. Dickey All-Star Game jersey, and have a strong attachment to the original road uniform. For me, that road uniform screams 1973 and beating the Cubs in Chicago to clinch the NL East.
WFY: Do you feel like a Nationals-Mets rivalry is likely or even possible? Is there lingering bitterness from 2007 when a fairly bad Nats team kept beating the Mets in September?
EMc: It’s not a rivalry when you take 14 of 19 from a team. That being said, Collins has identified the failures vs. the Nats last season as something to be corrected. So call me in September. If the Mets keep it close, the series in DC from September 7-9 could be interesting. As for bitterness, take your pick: 1973, 1998, 2000, 2007 or 2008. Those never go away.
WFY: Off topic, I’ve noticed you’ve been mentioning the other blue and orange from Long Island, the New York Islanders more of late on social media. Have you gone back to your roots in hockey after so many years following and blogging about the Caps? How is their move to Brooklyn going over on the Island?
EMc: I’ve watched a lot of hockey this season, Caps and Islanders. If the teams play on the same night, I’ll watch the best matchup. It’s the last season in Nassau Coliseum, and the fans, many of whom I grew up with, are doing their best to send the team out in style. It would be impossible not to watch given the time when I grew up. If the teams meet in the playoffs, I have to admit I’ll be very conflicted. That being said, if it happens, Caps in six.
WFY: Last year, you mentioned that the Mets are historically awesome on Opening Day, while the Nats are not. That didn’t matter in Flushing last year though as the Nats came back to win 9-7. Now with Opening Day in DC (where it belongs) can Bartolo Colon outduel Max Scherzer and get the boys from Flushing on their way to a series win? I think his slop will mess the Nats up, so I’m saying Mets take the first series, but the Nats take the season series.
EMc: I’m writing off Opening Day, where I think the Nats will win and win big. Colon always has the potential to get shelled, and I think this is the game. As for the rest of the series, I think the Mets sneak out a win with Harvey on the mound Thursday. I see the season series going 11-8 for the Nats. As for the rest of the season, I see the Mets winning 86 games and missing out on the Wild Card to the Marlins. As for the Nats, it almost seems like a division title and a 100-win season would be a disappointment, but the truth is that nothing less than winning it all will be a disaster. I say they do it.