Off Wing Opinion is reborn! Now on Substack, Eric McErlain (not pictured) is writing regularly again about the Mets, Capitals and whatever topic of the day comes up.
As is customary, Eric joins to discuss the Washington Nationals and New York Mets prior to their first series of the season.
WFY: Jacob DeGrom left for Texas. No Justin Verlander yet or Edwin Diaz at all. Max Scherzer is suspended for 10 games. How are the Mets playing .600 ball without even getting to beat up on the anemic Washington Nationals yet?
EMc: The early schedule has been a little soft. The Mets are 5-2 vs Miami and swept the A’s in Oakland. But on the field, the Mets are walking more and striking out less. The infield play has been nearly flawless (0 infield errors in first 21 games). In the leadoff spot, Brandon Nimmo has been tearing it up after signing a huge contract. Franciso Lindor may not be hitting for average, but he’s driving in runs. Pete Alonso dropped 10 pounds and has 10 HRs in just 23 games. He likes to say he’s the most dominant power hitter in baseball and he’s playing like it. And in the bullpen, the trio of Drew Smith, Adam Ottavino and David Robertson have been shutting down the late innings. It’s been a nice start, but it’s still early.
WFY: How does Diaz getting hurt during a WBC celebration two years after the Mets practiced a World Series celebration rank as an all-time #LOLMets?
EMc: It’s up there with letting Dan Murphy sign with the Nats as a free agent after carrying the team in the 2015 postseason. I feel terrible for Diaz. He re-established himself as the premier closer in the game and now he has to spend the season rehabbing.
WFY: On Scherzer the impression I have had was that age might be catching up with him, but looking at his stats, they are pretty solid. In a sense, is missing two starts not a big deal since he’s five years removed from pitching 200 innings in a season? Is Buck Showalter strong enough to stand up to Scherzer in the event of a bad outing?
EMc: Giving up back-to-back-back home runs in Milwaukee was a low point, and evoked memories of his start against San Diego in the Wild Card round last season. As for missing starts, yes, I guess he can afford to take some time off. Scherzer’s relationship with Buck Showalter seems fine. This will be the second year they’re together, and I’ve seen no indication that they don’t get along.
WFY: When is Verlander expected back? Is $80 million for two pitchers 38 and older giving you pause?
EMc: Verlander is expected to return in time for a start vs. Detroit either May 3rd or 4th. And yes, I’m uncomfortable with investing that much money in a pair of aging power pitchers, but Steve Cohen wants the team to compete now and doesn’t want to wait for the organization to develop home grown starting pitching. And if the choice is between investing in Scherzer and Verlander while contending for a title, or wasting the prime of Nimmo’s, Lindor’s, Alonso’s and Jeff McNeil’s careers, I’ll choose taking that risk anytime.
WFY: The 2022 Mets won 101 games after only 76 victories in 2021, but crumbled late, missing out on the division title and falling in 3 to the San Diego Padres. Were they overachieving into September and got exposed late? Did Bucko mismanage the team like the 1995 ALDS? Was it tough seeing the Phillies get hot and take the flag after finishing 14 back?
EMc: No, the Mets didn’t overachieve. While Alonso and Lindor have some power, the Mets aren’t a slugging lineup. They need to be patient at the plate, take pitches, draw walks and drive up the pitch count. For most of the season, it worked, but they couldn’t break through against the Braves in that last series in Atlanta, and their offense more or less completely left them in the series vs. San Diego. Starling Marte, who hit in the second spot all season long, got hurt late and that had an impact.
I didn’t see anything that would suggest Showalter mismanaged the series vs. San Diego. The bats just went silent at the wrong time. As for the Phillies, that’s the way the baseball postseason works. The Mets bats went silent and Bryce Harper went on a rampage. It happens. After watching the Mets lose Game Three vs the Padres in the international departure lounge at Dulles, I hopped on a flight to Ireland and didn’t watch another pitch until the World Baseball Classic in March.
WFY: Over the last 30 years, sports media have been building up Bucko as a brilliant manager. I am a skeptic; I see a Yankees washout who found a second act as an Angelos sycophant. He’s got, what, two years left on his contract? Do you think this adds to the pressure on the Mets to win?
EMc: The sports reporters do seem to like him. He’s won manager of the year four times. While I was happy with the Mets regular season last year – it was the second best regular season finish in team history – I didn’t think he deserved manager of the year. I thought Brian Snitker in Atlanta deserved it with the way the Braves roared back after falling behind early. That being said, I watch a lot of Mets games, and the home announcing team of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling are not shameless homers. Whenever any manager makes a questionable decision, they’re all over it. And I rarely, if ever, hear them questioning Showalter’s decisions, whereas I always heard them go after previous managers Luis Rojas and Mickey Callaway. As for pressure, the Mets have the largest payroll in MLB, and it’s paid by Steve Cohen, the richest owner in the game. He’s an incredibly successful man and has incredibly high standards. That’s all the pressure you need.
WFY: On a more general topic, what’s your take on the new scheduling? Are you happy that the Mets will have less games in the division (and less chances for you to see them in DC) in exchange for more games against the Twins and Mariners?
EMc: I thought the change was a mistake. More games in the division make division races more meaningful. But we still have to play 162.
WFY: Who is the best #23 in Mets history?
EMc: There’s not a lot of glory invested in that number. Doug Flynn, the light hitting second baseman acquired in the Tom Seaver trade won a Gold Glove wearing #23. Bernard Gilkey was probably the best player who wore #23, but the most important player who did might be Pat Mahomes, Sr.
WFY: If I were to take the train up to New York and catch a Nats game with my sons in the cheap seats, how would we be received in our curly W gear?
EMc: 50 seasons ago, after Pete Rose beat up Bud Harrelson in Game Three of the 1973 NLCS, he was pelted with debris when he came out for the bottom of the inning in left field. Sparky Anderson called his players back to the dugout. In the end, Yogi Berra, Tom Seaver, Willie Mays and Rusty Staub had to beseech the fans in the left field bleachers to tone it down lest the umpires force the Mets to forfeit the game.
Those days are long gone. Baseball games are more like family affairs now, and CitiField is as family friendly as any. I’ve seen the Nats at CitiField and I never saw a problem. Unfortunately, there are always random yahoos and perceptions of danger change as we age and take on new responsibilities. You shouldn’t hesitate to take your boys to Flushing for a day game this Summer.
WFY: The Mets old neighbor, the Jets are pursuing Aaron Rogers. Is it just me or does Verlander/Scherzer seem a lot more sensible?
EMc: I’ve covered this over at my Substack. What the heck, go get him.
WFY: One more off-topic question – the Capitals. The last few years, I’ve felt like the team was focused on Alex Ovechin breaking Wayne Gretzky’s goals scored record and maybe stealing a playoff series. Is it now just the record? They seemed old and slow in the 2019 playoffs and only more so now.
EMc: The Caps have too much salary invested in an aging core that isn’t getting it done anymore. This team can’t challenge for a Stanley Cup without a major overhaul, and that major overhaul isn’t coming until after Alex Ovechkin leaves the building in 2026. Until then, it’s all paint and spackle.
General Manager Brian MacLellan isn’t afraid to make decisions, and he’ll need to do some major work on the team’s top two forward lines to get it back into the playoffs and help Ovechkin break Gretzky’s record in the next two seasons. He’s already said he thinks Nick Backstrom needs to consider retirement in the wake of having his hip resurfaced (ouch). The relationship with Evgeny Kuznetsov seems to be disintegrating. He wants to re-sign Tom Wilson so he can spend the rest of his career with the team. Anthony Mantha, who has underachieved a contract that pays him more than Tom Wilson, is working with a mental coach over the offseason to get his game straightened out (and good for him). I’m looking forward to watching what MacLellan does to restructure things. He certainly did last season with the goalie situation. Keep an eye on things at the NHL Draft at the end of June. Things will start to move around then.
WFY: Back to the diamond, how much do the Mets beat up on the Nats this year and how do the standings and postseason look?
EMc: I say the Mets go 10-3 vs. the Nats. The Mets win 94 games and win a Wild Card playoff spot that sends them on the road for three games. After that it’s a crap shoot.