That’s the way the baseball season works — you get snowed out in a somewhat farcical early-spring trip, the makeup date gets stuck on the calendar so far off that it might as well be science fiction, and then the makeup date comes around after all, leaving you mildly surprised to realize the season has shrunk to a relatively short engagement.
The Mets picked up in Minnesota right where they left off, beating a rather horrible Twins team in their beautiful and thankfully snow-free ballgame for a three-game sweep interrupted by two-thirds of a season. Dillon Gee was superb again, Travis d’Arnaud kept getting on base despite not getting hits (just call him the Anti-Francoeur) and best of all Juan Lagares ran down everything in the outfield.
And I do mean everything. If you were a Twin, you couldn’t hit it into the gap without Lagares overhauling it like a cheetah on a motorcycle. You couldn’t hit it onto the warning track without Lagares aiming first his shades and then his glove skyward to snag it. You couldn’t hit it to the fence without Lagares being there, ball rattling around in the glove and body rattling against the fence. I’m surprised there wasn’t a hold on traffic into Minneapolis-St. Paul because of a Mets centerfielder pawing at the noses of jets that dared fly too low.
We’ve talked before about Gee, how earlier this season it looked like he’d be shunted aside, only to have him convincingly reassert his case to be a mainstay of the Mets’ rotation. Looking ahead to 2014, that side of the Mets is in very good shape indeed: Matt Harvey is Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler is growing with each start, Jon Niese looks gratifyingly like the pitcher he was after his post-Toronto scolding in 2012, and Gee has shaken off the rust of surgery and stands alongside them. For a fifth slot, you can try Jeremy Hefner (assuming he isn’t felled by Tommy John surgery), Jenrry Mejia (assuming that bone spur is shaved successfully), or mix and match until Noah Syndergaard or Rafael Montero are ready for their hotly anticipated debuts. As baseball problems go, finding a fifth starter for half a season isn’t one to keep you up at night.
All to the good, until you naturally contrast the glittering rotation with the Mets’ rather dingy offense. But I suspect the contrast is more about luck than planning.
Before the season, the best-case scenario for the Mets involved the young pitchers developing and a trio of hitters — Lucas Duda, Ike Davis and Ruben Tejada — making strides to build on successful campaigns. The young pitchers have passed that test with high marks. The hitters, though, have flunked it.
Before he got hurt Duda was successful at getting on base but at little else, and both he and the Mets seem to have accepted that it’s cruel to him and his pitchers to put him in the outfield.
Davis’s recent rebound has been welcome, but that’s grading on the curve. Ike has shown little power and his defense has regressed, making him resemble the pre-injury Duda to a disturbing degree.
As for Tejada, he came to camp out of shape and now occupies the Met doghouse, which he might escape only because Omar Quintanilla has shown pretty conclusively that he’s not an everyday starter.
Nobody assumed those three players were going to be stars, but it wasn’t unreasonable to imagine all three developing into solid complementary players.
If that had happened, where would we be?
David Wright would still be the Mets’ lone superstar, but his reliable complement wouldn’t begin and end with Daniel Murphy. Alongside Murph you’d have Duda, Tejada and Davis, with Lagares’s unexpected claim on center field and Marlon Byrd’s one-year cameo coming as very nice surprises and d’Arnaud ready for his big-league audition. In which case the lineup would look pretty impressive, and the Mets might be in the wild-card hunt, with our fantasies of 1973 redux involving more than a late charge to a mediocre record.
None of that happened, but I don’t think that’s the failure of a plan so much as it’s baseball happenstance. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t. It’s fortunate that so far the young pitchers have developed about as well as anyone could have expected. It’s unfortunate that the relatively young hitters have come in near the bottom of expectations. The conclusion I draw? It’s that life is uncertain.
With d’Arnaud up and innings limits looming for the Mets’ Triple-A hurlers, there’s not a whole lot left to find out about this edition of the club. We want to see Wheeler keep learning his craft, for d’Arnaud to get a hit and learn a pitching staff, and to get a better read on Wilmer Flores. Beyond that, though, there’s not much beyond a cameo (with more crabbing about uniform lettering) for Matt den Dekker, which means soon we’ll be having debates about nearly half of the 2014 starting nine:
- Where do the Mets get two outfielders to flank Lagares?
- Who’s going to play short?
- Can you cobble together a decent first baseman from some combination of Davis, Duda, Flores and Josh Satin?
It’s a lot. But at least we can stop worrying about Dillon Gee.