“Opening day and here’s the first pitch, and the season’s over.”
That’s the joke Family Guy made about the inborn disappointment of being a Mets fan. Indeed, New York’s National League club has been an ongoing punchline for most of the past decade: a pastiche of disappointments, injuries and in some cases, epic choke jobs.
With pitcher Zack Wheeler out for the year after having Tommy John surgery, their closer Jenrry Mejia getting suspended 80 games for PEDs and after early injuries to captain David Wright and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, it appeared the team was on their way to going full-on Bad Luck Brian. But that has not happened, at least not yet.
As it stands the Mets have the best record in the majors at 15-5. Last week, they tied a franchise record with an 11-game winning streak. There is a tangible buzz around the upstart club and not just in New York City.
Major League Baseball has been embracing the Mets’ early-season resurgence because after all, when they play well, more people pay attention. They – and the Cubs – embody the ‘lovable loser’ ethos so completely that on the rare occasions they’re relevant and competitive, baseball fans say, “Everybody look! The Mets aren’t awful this year.” That has been true throughout the the franchise’s history: when the Mets play well it become national news.
As a result of this increased media attention, for the first time in ages they are overshadowing the loathed Yankees. Because of their hot start and seemingly brighter future, national outlets are saying now is the time for the Mets to “take New York.”
If they are going to wrest back the city’s support, the team must maintain their level of play and get fans to watch their games, which has both happened so far. TV ratings have skyrocketed in the first month and can undoubtedly be attributed to their early on-field success. Increased fascination with how the Mets are playing means less Yankees and A-Rod coverage. So if you think about it, they are actually doing a public service to everyone.
Even with the Yankees taking two of three games in this weekend’s Subway Series against the Mets, the spotlight remains squarely on the team from Queens. And unlike the last Mets team to win the World Series in 1986, this is a team people outside the fan base can actually root for. In Jeff Pearlman’s book The Bad Guys Won, pitcher Bobby Ojeda self-diagnosed that cocksure, brassy squad as a “bunch of vile fuckers” – in stark contrast with this year’s mostly innocuous mix of upstarts and veterans.
The 2015 Mets feature a gut-jiggling 42-year-old hurler named Bartolo Colon, who has gone 4-0 with 2.77 ERA. There’s right-handed phenom Matt Harvey, who has come back strong from Tommy John surgery and is currently 4-0, and Jacob deGrom, the 2014 Rookie of the Year who has hair that would make any lax-bro jealous. And that’s just in the starting rotation.
They also have David Wright, the perennial All-Star third baseman who has become one of the faces of Major League Baseball over the past few years. As well as Juan Lagares, the Gold Glove-winning centerfielder who has has made great strides offensively.
Although their above-average play and 11-game win streak are exciting stories from the first month, it’s still too early to judge this team and there should be cautious optimism about what they can do going forward. Because after all, they’re the Mets.
Even with the strong pitching, their hitting and fielding is still a cause for concern. They don’t have many power hitters, they don’t have many players who have consistently hit for average, and they don’t have a lot of speed.
So far the offense has not been a problem, with a run differential of +27 despite not having a less-than-intimidating lineup. Their fielding, on the other hand, has been highly erratic, as they have committed 13 errors so far including four in Sunday’s loss. Those are two aspects to monitor as the season progresses if they want to remain competitive in the division.
With the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies in rebuilding mode and with some uncertainty surrounding the Miami Marlins, now more than ever, appears to be the time for this team to thrive. On paper, the Washington Nationals appear to be the team the Mets have to beat in order to make the playoffs and possibly win a division title – though the DC club has underperformed to date and finds itself in the division cellar.
It has been nine years since the Mets last appeared in the playoffs and 29 years since they last won it all. The franchise and their fans are hoping at least one of those droughts ends this year. So should the rest of baseball.
This article was written by Erick Fernandez, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 28th April 2015 17.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010