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To the Break With a Thud

Last games before All-Star breaks are an intriguing subgenre. I can clearly remember the Mets going out on high notes that were microcosms of the momentum they rode as first halves closed. You don’t want the pause in the schedule, you don’t want the bats put away, you can’t wait to get back to baseball for real because McFadden is pitching, Whitehead is catching and ain’t no stoppin’ us now [1]. I can also clearly remember the Mets going out on low notes, appearing uninterested and uninspired about having to put in nine more innings before they could shower, dress and head for the airport, leaving a fan to rationalize, well, it’s a long season, they’re only human, this is just one game, give them the break they are contractually due.

This year’s version of See You This Friday [2] landed thuddingly in the latter camp. The Mets were overmatched and outclassed by the Cardinals [3] in St. Louis, 6-0. It was another of those games — there’ve been too many in 2017 — in which except for DNA evidence that the Mets were on the field, they left no impression they ever showed up. The Cardinals have not been lighting up the league by any means, but they managed to put their mini-vacation plans on the back burner for a few hours. Paul DeJong [4] had one of those series that compel mischievous sorts to go to a sports franchise’s Wikipedia page and edit the entry for Owner. De facto CEO DeJong went 9-for-12 over the weekend, compiling seven extra-base hits and homering in all three games. This was how Stan Musial [5] treated the Mets circa 1962, except the Mets were expansion babies and Musial was already a living legend.

Paul DeJong is so new to Met nightmares that Sunday’s losing pitcher, Steven Matz [6], admitted in the postgame scrum that he wasn’t sure how to pronounce the rookie shortstop’s last name. After having given up five runs and seven hits in a four-and-a-third innings, I doubt singing DeJong-er man’s praises was high on his list of priorities. Like the rest of the Mets, Steven can call Paul “sir” until further notice.

The Mets are infrequently good on Sundays this year, but too many weeks have been nothing but Sundays on the 2017 Mets’ calendar…and not just Sundays before All-Star breaks when there is no momentum to put on hold. This Sunday, though, was motions-going at its most mechanical. Matz at least threw a tantrum upon being removed from the game if not many effective pitches during it. It wasn’t the dugout’s fault, Steve, but the disgust you displayed once inside it was sort of admirable. As for the rest of the team, Terry Collins said something about needing to get the “energy” back, which seemed like a diplomat’s euphemism for we’ve been sucking an awful lot and I have no answers.

The offense mustered three singles and a walk versus Lance Lynn [7] and two relievers. None of the four Mets baserunners attempted to steal a base. That would take energy. The Mets have gone eighteen games without a stolen base. They’ve attempted to steal only twice in that span. Even accepting all the strategic and circumstantial variables that contribute to a reticence to run, that’s stunningly torpid — indicative of how the Mets have looked more often than not.

The lack of new blood on the roster could also be taken as telling, considering how much DL activity has transpired. We closely track personnel comings and goings, mostly for obsessive fun, but there may be something to how few flat-out new Mets have come along in 2017, particularly among position players. Only six Mets have debuted as Mets this year and every one of them is a pitcher, none of whom was brought in or up because he was considered an overall improvement to the staff in place. Paul Sewald, Adam Wilk [8], Tommy Milone [9], Neil Ramirez [10], Tyler Pill [11] and Chase Bradford [12] were added to the roster because the ever-depleted Mets needed something approximating a live arm to soak up innings. None of these gentlemen, to put it kindly, has boosted the rotation or the bullpen to another echelon.

No wholly fresh catchers, infielders or outfielders have made the Citi Field scene since Gavin Cecchini [13] made his Met debut last September (he enjoyed a nice series as the starting second baseman in L.A. and was sent down right after for his trouble). You’d figure a journeyman from somewhere else would journey through the clubhouse just by accident, a Ruggiano, a Loney, a dude off the street toting an episodically productive bat and a few words of wisdom. One never knows where a change of perspective will come from. We didn’t greet Jay Bruce [14] particularly warmly last August, but now Bruce is the media’s go-to guy, not to mention the only player who’s played regularly and hit reasonably consistently from Opening Day onward.

Even with the Mets losing their fifth of six, falling eight games under .500 and mired a prohibitive distance from first place in their division, I took a quarter-minute to calculate that if we sweep Colorado this coming weekend, we’ll be five out in the loss column for the second Wild Card, seven-and-half away from potential paydirt overall, never mind that there are presently five teams between them and us. This shows what a fan will do to persuade himself a season with 76 contests remaining isn’t effectively over. As we relearned in 2015 and 2016, seasons with tangible stakes on the proverbial table are exponentially more enjoyable than seasons that keep going solely because they must. Yet I have to admit that while I will root for the Mets to top the Rockies come Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I’d be perversely relieved if the Mets somehow don’t sweep. Delusions can be nagging things, and I wouldn’t strenuously object to having the one that says these dismal Mets have the slightest of slight chances extracted from the more warped recesses of my mind.

Then again, a slight chance is better than none, and if they can sweep…

See what I mean?

Amed Rosario is the subtext to any conversation centered on new blood, and I imagine he’ll be here within a few weeks. I’d love to believe he could be the spark to a meaningful second-half surge, but that circuit breaker has already tripped. Does this team strike you as one phenomenal callup away from a legitimate playoff race? Michael Conforto [15] in July 2015 and T.J. Rivera [16] in August 2016 helped teams that were, for all their glaring faults, not that far gone when the callow cavalry arrived, and neither of them was asked to lead a wholesale transformation. Except in my most delusional of delusions, these Mets have been nowhere near contending since a CVS near you was stocking its Mother’s Day display.

If somebody upstairs at 120-01 Roosevelt Avenue has determined Rosario’s career will take shape more smoothly because he’s on hand in early August as opposed to middle July, swell. I don’t know that it will make that enormous a difference in the long term, but the long term is what matters in Rosario’s case. It matters in everybody’s case, I suppose, but not everybody the Mets nurture is so universally highly rated. The people who make these decisions on when to make The Call know Rosario better than I do. I’ll lean a little on their side for now.

Allow me, as long as we have a void of several days to fill, to drape an additional layer of wet blanket on the evergreen cry to get the kids up here so we can see what they can do.

Generically and specifically, I’m all for it, but I’ve also come to realize the concept is a bit of sham. I’ve been watching the Mets promote kids up here to see what they can do for a long time. You know what we see? We see ups, we see downs. We rarely see anything definitive, at least not the answer we seek. The last midseason callup among Met position players I can recall alighting and showing exactly who he was for the good and being on track for what was to come was David Wright [17] thirteen years ago. He was beautiful from the get-go and was on his uninterrupted way to stardom. The 2004 Mets slid down the tubes, but Wright rose and kept rising, just as we picture it when we idealize the process.

Since then, it’s been ups and downs among the see-what-they-can-do set. Which is absolutely fine. It’s absolutely baseball. A kid hits until word gets around and they start pitching to him differently. A kid keeps hitting but has trouble fielding. A kid doesn’t really have a position. A kid encounters turbulence and loses confidence. A kid is exposed too much or sits too long. A kid gets hurt and tries to play through it. A kid is sent down. A kid comes back up and might as well be starting all over. There’s a reason everybody doesn’t take a glide path to stardom. There’s a reason Futures Games aren’t Certainties Games. We see the kids. We really don’t see all we hope they can do for quite a while. We may never see all we hope they can do because it will turn out they won’t do it. Sure, you might as well get started on seeing them ASAP, but be ready — and don’t be surprised — to wait to see all there is to see in them, the ups and the downs.

I think about the kids we were delighted to greet, partly because of course we love new blood, especially when it flows from within the organization, partly because there wasn’t a notably better incumbent alternative. Lucas Duda [18] came up in September 2010 (though September is its own animal on the player development timeline). Wilmer Flores [19] and Travis d’Arnaud [20] came up in August 2013. In none of their cases were their early samples dead-on indicators of great things to directly come. We wrapped our arms around the flashes of brilliance and competence. The parts where they didn’t quite have it together? Just give them more time.

Exactly. Each of the aforementioned former callups helped constitute a National League champion in 2015. Each has had his stretches of splendor. Each has also frustrated, irritated and disappointed to varying degrees. None has become what you’d objectively call a star. Not everybody does, not everybody will. Also fine. Also baseball. Topps never plastered prospects’ faces on cards marked FUTURE ADEQUACIES, yet the minor leagues, including Mets’ affiliates, are chock full of them.

I guess this is why I can’t get hopping mad when the brightest player to be seen later isn’t seen right this very minute and why I don’t jump for unalloyed joy simply because somebody who’s young and brings buzz is reported flying east from Vegas. I’m generally for it, I truly am, I just don’t necessarily swallow it as an instant panacea. Plus I’m not so transactional in nature that I relish throwing overboard Mets I’ve grown used to, Mets I haven’t forgotten getting big hits as Mets, even if not enough have them been recorded lately. If I’ve grown fond of this guy or that, I’m likely to put as much stock in the “2” in a 2-for-22 slump as I am the rest of the “22,” assuming there was a 12-for-22 somewhere back in not so prehistoric time. I root for the Mets, and I root for Mets who are on the Mets. Those who haven’t been Mets yet tend to have to wait their turn to garner my full-throated endorsement. My philosophy, passively accumulated over these many seasons, has become they’ll get here when they get here. When they get here, I’ll root for them plenty.