Happy Opening Day!
In 2020, the annual guest prognostication with Eric McErlain (not pictured) didn’t happen, but he’s back to talk about his beloved Mets.
WFY: Just another quiet offseason in Queens, right?
EMc: Ha. Safe to say, the Mets won the battle of the back page in New York this offseason, and not always for the right reasons. The most contentious story in the Bronx was whether or not the Yanks would re-sign D.J. LeMahieu. It’s an interesting turnabout. I’ll take it.
That being said, the Mets have some work to do in the HR department. Who’s vetting resumes, Brett Favre?
WFY: The Mets are now owned by the richest owner in MLB and he’s a big fanboy, Are your expectations raised or is it still…
EMc: Well, if Steve Cohen hadn’t managed to win the bidding for the team, we’d be caught in the midst of a power struggle between J-Lo and A-Rod for control as their relationship disintegrated. So, in relative terms, it’s a real plus.
All kidding aside, we haven’t had expectations like this going into the season since 2006 (a team that was crazy loaded). It’s a very different feeling. Better still, the front office didn’t spend money stupidly, and they had backup plans when their initial target — Trevor Bauer and J.T. Realmuto come to mind — was unavailable or overbudget.
WFY: The Nats and Mets both have strong rotations and coming off of an atypical 60 games season, do you think the Mets youth gives them the advantage? Especially when Noah Syndergaard returns? How is the bullpen?
EMc: I have to give a lot of credit to Sandy Alderson and the front office when it comes to acquiring pitching. They knew Noah would be out till June, so they loaded up on starters. Then Carlos Carassco suffered an injury, but now they have the depth to keep things stitched together till they return. At the start of the season, I like the Nats with Scherzer and Strasburg going 1-2. But once Syndegaard and Carassco come back, the Mets top four looks almost as fearsome as it did in 1986. As for the bullpen, that’s always a crapshoot. Seth Lugo starts the season on the DL, and he’s the best setup man in baseball. We’ll need Dellin Betances to step up there. Toss in Trevor May, Joey Lucchesi, Taijuan Walker and some returnees (Jerry Blevins starts the season in Brooklyn too!), and it looks as good at the start of the season as it has in a while.
WFY: Francisco Lindor is asking for a huge contract – if you were signing the checks, would you sign a 28 y/o SS who has yet to play a game for the Amazins?
EMc: Biggest acquisition since Mike Piazza. Pay the man.
WFY: and they did – Francisco Lindor and Mets agree on 10-year, $341 million deal, keeping shortstop in Queens for next decade – NY Daily News
WFY: Pete Alonzo, discuss.
EMc: Pete has absolutely raked this Spring and looks ready to return to his 2019 form. I want to curse Rob Manfred and MLB for using the Universal DH as leverage over the MLBPA instead of just making the change. With that rule, the Mets would have Pete and Dom Smith — who ultimately might be the better all-around baseball player — in the lineup every day. Pete’s a big goofball who just loves being in the majors, and if he was faking it we’d all know by now. Who knows, maybe he gets jaded as he inches toward 30, but I don’t think so. Opposing fans will curse his name one minute, and then hate themselves the next when he wins them over with his love for life and the game. He’s the Met that loyal Mets fans deserve.
WFY: The longest streak without a World Series Championship in the NL East now belongs to…The New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc. They have been good for a pennant every 15 years or so, but it’s over 30 years since they won it all. Is there a ticker tape parade in the Mets future? It’s not a 95 year wait like another city in the division though…
EMc: Over the Winter, Steve Cohen said that he expected to win a World Series in 3-5 years. When I heard that, my thoughts turned to the look that was on Ted Leonsis’s face as he joined the Caps on the ice in Vegas after clinching the Stanley Cup in 2018. He had a plan and great expectations too, but it still took him almost 20 years to win his first title. Sports can be cruel, even to those well capitalized enough who can spend to win. That being said, Cohen is just the sort of owner who will leverage the advantages of operating in New York to the fullest. So yes, he wins one, and sooner rather than later.
WFY: The Mets have been MLB’s winningest Opening Day team over the last 50 years. Is there any reason you can determine for these successful starts? Is this a point of pride for fans? What about Opening Night games?
EMc: After a while, it’s just something we’ve come to expect. I attended many of those home openers. The best was in 1983, when Tom Seaver started against the Phillies. The place was packed, and the roar as he walked in from the right field bullpen was something I will never forget. He threw six shutout innings and got the win. On YouTube, you can watch his postgame appearance on Kiner’s Korner. You could tell how happy he was to be back, especially as there were plenty of indications the team was about to turn things around.
You should remember that the Mets lost the opener vs. the Pirates in 1986 and then went 108-53 the rest of the season. It’s a trade I’d make again.
WFY: Why were the Mets so slow (too slow) in honoring Tom Seaver?
EMc: The Mets betrayed Seaver three times: first when they traded him in 1977; again, after the 1983 season when they left him unprotected and let the White Sox select him from the free agent compensation pool; and a third time when they couldn’t get their act together in time to build a statue in his honor while he could still enjoy it with his family and the fans. I have no idea why the Wilpons couldn’t get their act together in time. All I’ll say now is that it was very on brand for them. They haven’t announced exactly when the statue will be dedicated, but I will move heaven and earth to get there if I have to. The Mets family is determined to give Tom the sendoff he and his family deserve.
WFY: The black uniforms are returning on a limited basis. Good decision or bad decision. Is that really the era that should be celebrated when there is a more recent pennant and also two World Series championships with nary a black thread?
It’s at least not as the Jets “we just drafted a highly-touted QB that wears #14, so let’s channel the Richard Todd era with our uniforms” I suppose.
EMc: Can we please not talk about Jets quarterbacks right now? Apparently, the team has decided that Zack Wilson is the future, instead of trading down and stockpiling picks and players. I’ve seen this show before, and it doesn’t end well.
As for the black uniforms, they never made much of an impact on me. But you need to recall that for a lot of Mets fans, 1969 and 1986 only exist in the memories of their parents. The 2006-08 Mets was an era of success during their formative years, and they have a fondness for it. The din was loud enough for Cohen to notice, and he made the call. If nothing else, it shows that ownership is listening, and that’s more important than the color of the jerseys.
WFY: Quick NHL question – Capitals and Islanders are pretty close in the standings. Who takes the division and who has better Stanley Cup playoff prospects? How huge is the new Belmont arena for the Isles?
EMc: As I type, the Caps are ahead by two points with a game in hand with Pittsburgh on their heels and Boston in 4th. Truth be told, I think Pittsburgh has the best chance to win thanks to the schedule. They have plenty of games left with Buffalo and New Jersey to pad their point total. That said, Laviolette has done what he was brought here to do – get the most out of the veterans and help the spare parts grow into larger roles. During OT of Game Seven vs Carolina in 2019, Nic Dowd’s butt was glued to the bench. Now he’s making a serious contribution. Tom Wilson gets suspended for seven games, and Daniel Sprong (!) steps up and the team goes undefeated in Tom’s absence. Ilya Samsonov breaks COVID protocols and Vitek Vanacek steps in and doesn’t miss a beat. And just when you think about counting out Alex Ovechkin, he explodes in dramatic fashion.
It’s all very encouraging, but I see a disquieting sign that everyone else has seen – the tendency to let the opposition get back into the game instead of finishing them off. It happened again on Tuesday night against the Rangers, this time costing the Caps two points. But it’s still only March and the regular season still has a long way to go.
As for the playoffs, I could see all four teams in the East win the Cup. It really is that close. And to think the team that finishes first will probably have to play Boston. Ugh.
As for Belmont, I’m originally from Floral Park, one of the small towns near the track that expressed concern about how the opening of the arena might impact the quality of life on game night. The residents and the mayor, a high school classmate of mine, took a lot of flak for that. Time will tell whether or not they’re right, but for now I’m excited that NHL hockey will be a twenty-minute walk from the front stoop of the house I grew up in.
WFY: Back to baseball – How does the NL East shake out? Who takes the season series?
EMc: In 2016, the Mets won the NL East with just 89 wins, and they did it by taking the season series from the Nats and beating up on the weak teams in the division. The division winner this time may get the title with fewer wins than that, as there are no weak teams on paper. Heck, the Marlins are on the rise. Kim Ng knows what she’s doing and Jeter trusts her. Philly just had a bad year and the Braves will never lay down. That means breaking even vs. the East, breaking even vs. the West — the Dodgers and Padres look monstrous — and feasting on the weaker teams in the Central to get to 88 wins+.
I say the Mets take the season series as Carassco and Syndegaard return to form and help them pull away from the pack. It will be fun. Let’s hope we get to watch some of it in person, my friend.