Another opening day in DC – seems like every other year or so it’s Washington Nationals hosting the New York Mets. As per usual, Long Island-native Eric McErlain (not pictured) has joined for a Q&A about the series and season. Eric of course, is remembered for Off Wing Opinion.
WFY: History suggests you’ll say the Nats are the NL East winner, but maybe that’s because you are jinxing them. Your Mets appear improved, how can they take what appears to be the most competitive division in baseball? Have the Mets done enough in the offseason?
EMc: In a normal season, I’d say the Mets were good enough to snag a Wild Card berth. But this is not a normal season in the NL East. The Braves arrived a year early in 2018, and they added Brian McCann and Josh Donaldson. The Phillies were going to be better with no additions, then snagged Bryce Harper and JT Realmuto. The Nats are an over/under of 85 wins, but they’ll have a full season of Juan Soto and this Victor Robles kid. The Marlins will stink again, but I say whoever takes the flag gets there with no more than 90 wins.
WFY: It seems like Nats and Mets have rotations with comparable top 3s. Who do you think is better Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin or Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler? It seems like the Stephen Matz has an edge at 4 though.
EMc: This is dead even 1-3, though I might disagree about the 4th starter. Matz had a very rough spring, and I could see Anibal Sanchez besting him. The funny thing is the pitcher with the most to prove this season is Wheeler. He’s in a free agent walk year, and if he pitches like he did down the stretch last season, his family will be wealthy for 30 generations.
WFY: Given how strong the top three is, does the Matt Harvey experience provide additional frustration? Or is it still “flags fly forever” mode when it comes to him?
EMc: I feel terrible about what happened to Matt Harvey. His agent warned that he would be injured if he wasn’t rested at the end of 2015, and he pitched anyway. This ought to give Mets fans who called for his head in September 2015 some pause. So while I’m grateful for 2015 – I went 13-0 with the Mets that season between Port St. Lucie, DC, Baltimore and New York from Spring Training to the NLCS – it’s hard not to feel some regret, especially when I remember how he demanded to go back out for the 9th inning in Game 5 of the World Series. The Mets didn’t lose that night because of Harvey, but because the defense let him down.
An aside: the 2015 World Series looks a lot different if Yoenis Cespedes had actually paid attention from the first pitch of Game One, Terry Collins had found a defensive replacement for Lucas Duda in Game Five and, truth be told, faced down Harvey and put Jeryus Familia on the mound to close out that game at CitiField.
WFY: The Mets brought Robinson Cano back from his Pacific Northwest exile, but at 36 what kind of contribution do you expect from him? How much is old DC favorite Wilson Ramos expected to play?
EMc: I’ve always thought that Cano was the footnote in that deal. The real key was prying closer Edwin Diaz out of Seattle. He’s young, cheap and comes with a couple of seasons of team control. Taking back Cano and his salary was simply the price to make it happen. That the Mariners tossed in $20 million didn’t hurt either.
That being said, Cano won the Grapefruit League batting title hitting .441. I think he’s still got it, and being back in New York he’s got something to prove. I can’t wait for his first appearance in a Mets uniform at Yankee Stadium. As for Wilson Ramos, the Mets blew up their situation at catcher, and that’s a good thing. Travis d’Arnaud has been oft-injured and unreliable. He’ll start the season on the injured list. His former backup, Kevin Plawecki, proved he couldn’t be an everyday starter, and was shipped to Cleveland. Wilson will be the #1 guy and catch three days out of four. His offensive production in the catcher’s spot will be a welcome addition, that is, if he can stay healthy. Ramos will be backed up by Thomas Nido, which was a bit of a surprise. Devin Mesoraco, who had come over to New York in the deal for Harvey, had seemingly found a niche as deGrom’s personal catcher. He was on a minor league contract and expected to make the team, but they assigned him to Triple A Syracuse just before camp broke. He’s opted to retire rather than ride the bus in the minors. Nido is thought to be a better defensive catcher, but has shown little offensive upside. Still, he’s young and cheap, which the Wilpons seem to like.
WFY: What was your initial reaction to Brodie Van Wagenen going from being an agent to the Mets general manager? How has he done thus far? Are you excited about seeing his former client, Ryan Zimmerman in a Mets uniform next season?
EMc: I was skeptical, but he’s moved quickly to remake the Mets into a team designed to win now. He had a very busy offseason, but the proof is always on the field, so ask me again on June 30th. We also need to remember that while the Mets are a big market team, the Wilpons run them like the Oakland A’s. The Mets re-signed deGrom to a massive extension on Tuesday. To be honest, it was something of a shock, albeit a welcome one. Now if they could only free up the money for Dallas Keuchel …
Ryan Zimmerman will never play in a Mets uniform, as they have two great prospects at first base: Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith. The latter was called up at the end of the 2017 season, and was far more celebrated. But Alonso shot through the Mets minor league system like a bullet last year, posting a slash line of.285/.395/.579 with 36 HRs and 119 rbi. All winter the talk was that the Mets would leave him at Triple A to start the season, as holding him out of the majors for just two weeks would guarantee another year of team control. Then he slashed .352/.387/.620 this spring with four homers. He’s going north with the team and will start on Opening Day.
NB: I provided real-time advice to my brother-in-law during his fantasy baseball draft on Sunday night, urging him to grab Alonso anywhere in the final third of the draft. Being a Yankees fan, he said he’d only pick Alonso if he was available as the last pick in the draft. He went two rounds earlier, and my brother-in-law will live to regret his choice. I will not let him forget it.
WFY: David Wright got his send-off, but he’d been gone for a number of years. How does he get remembered in Mets history?
EMc: My wife and I went to his final game on the last Saturday night of the season. She cried, and so did millions of other Mets fans. He’s our Don Mattingly. I’d like for him to be our manager one day, as long as it’s what he wants. He’s got two little girls now, so he has other priorities. But when the time is right, he belongs back in the Orange and Blue running the team and holding young idiots accountable for their behavior.
FACT: David Wright is the only superhero who can wield Thor’s hammer and strike fear into the heart of the thunder god.
WFY: Speaking of history, it’s a big nostalgia season for Amazins – 50 years since the Miracle Mets. Conspicuous by his absence will be Tom Seaver, now retired from public life. Any idea of why the franchise waited so long to honor The Franchise with a statue? What else are you looking forward in commemoration of the Mets first title?
EMc: I was too young to remember the ’69 series. But I do remember the run in 1973 very clearly. Tom won the Cy Young that season. He only won 19 games, and would have won 30 for any team with even an average offense. But that was the story of his career: winning games he had no business of winning and keeping it close when the Mets bats fell silent.
Why has it taken this long to honor him? Well, there was Tom Seaver Day in 1988, a year after he officially announced his retirement. And when the Mets closed Shea Stadium, they did it with one last pitch from Seaver to Mike Piazza. CitiField is a clear homage to Ebbets Field, and reflects the love of the Dodgers the Wilpons feel to this day. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda is a treasure. Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers in 1947 is the most important date in New York baseball history, and probably the most important date in the 20th century history of the game. When it came time to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1997, President Clinton and Rachel Robinson came to Shea Stadium, not Los Angeles, to commemorate the moment. It’s only right that the home of National League baseball in New York make room for Robinson’s legacy.
But when CitiField opened, there was a clear void. There was nothing that harkened back to the history of the team we grew up rooting for. The Tom Seaver statue should have been there on Opening Day 2009. That it took announcement of a tragedy for this to happen – the address of CitiField will soon also be changed to 41 Tom Seaver Way – is inexplicable.
WFY: Is there a better uniform matchup than Nats home whites vs. Mets road grays in the NL East?
EMc: How about the Phils home whites vs. Mets road grays? It’s not like anyone can tell the difference. 😉
WFY: Now, let’s not let all this baseball talk distract us any more from the fact the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions. As a non-native who adopted the Caps how much did it mean to you? How does it rank with the Islanders Cup wins of your Long Island days? Do you think they can do it again with an apparent first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins or the bunch of jerks Carolina Hurricanes?
EMc: The Islanders made the Stanley Cup semifinals in the third year of their existence, and played in the Stanley Cup Final or semifinals in nine of 10 seasons between 1975-84. It was incredible and it all went by so fast. So fast in fact, that I never really appreciated how special it was.
But when the Caps clinched the Cup in Game Five in Vegas, my wife and I cried. It was a ride that started with the Nedved game in 1996, the night that made me a Caps fan. I was able to get a ticket to Game Three of the Finals this time. Had it really been 20 years since I watched the Red Wings parade the Cup around the ice at the end of Game Four? It had, and knowing now how tough it was to win it all made it all the more worthwhile.
Can they do it again? Why not? Those Hurricanes scare me. They’re an improving team playing loose and having a good time. And history tells us that when Carolina makes the playoffs it’s like Brigadoon – it doesn’t happen very often but it’s always one heck of a party. Still, I think the Caps can beat them in six. After that, I expect to see Pittsburgh in Round Two, hopefully more than a little beaten up by an Islanders team that plays defense first. After that, you need to find a way to beat one of Tampa, Boston or Toronto just to get to the Finals. That’s a very tall order. But it can be done.
WFY: Who takes the opening series? How does the NL East end up?
EMc: Nats take two of three, as the Mets bullpen shows weakness late in two games. As for the division, let’s jinx the Phillies this year.