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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Juan Reason to Root

To paraphrase the scintilla of a solo I had in my portrayal of Senator Jack S. Phogbound in our high school’s production of Li’l Abner, of all the very ordinary, most unloved, unnecessary ballclubs on this earth, the Mets are…well, extraordinarily ordinary.

That’s the problem with this team that’s been losing in copious amounts for more than a month. It’s not that they’re particularly bad at everything. It’s that they’re not particularly good at anything. They play as if determined to never excel. You can get these Mets at the mill, off the rack, anywhere unimpressive baseball is sold. On the whole, they don’t pitch well, but I’ve seen worse. They don’t hit much, but they don’t cause droughts. They’ve actually gotten speedier from when they were torpid, but they’re not setting basepaths aflame. They get to some balls. They don’t get to others. When they play an obviously better team like the Astros, to whom they lost all three games this past weekend, they don’t match up well because, for the most part, they don’t do anything better than their better opponent.

Which is why Juan Lagares has lately provided a breath of fresh air amid the stale Met miasma. Juan Lagares does a few things better than just about anybody else. Juan Lagares gets to most every ball hit in his area code. Juan Lagares gets off throws that find their targets. Juan Lagares runs hard and fast. Once in a while he hits, which makes you remember why several years ago you were giddy for Lagares like certain birds are cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. Juan can sometimes do it all. More often he does something. The rest of the time he’s injured.

Against the Astros on Sunday, Juan looked alive and alert, particularly backing up Brandon Nimmo (who is very good at taking ball four) on a double off the wall from Tony Kemp that didn’t become a triple, thanks to Lagares pouncing and firing to Asdrubal Cabrera at third in the third. It would be an exhilarating play in a pennant race. It stood out like a mirage in the race to the bottom the Mets have assiduously undertaken.

Would-be extra-base hits were finding their final resting place in Juan’s glove in the era before the Mets were much good, and they’re still going to die inside his leather crypt now that the Mets are done being any good whatsoever. I know he contributed here and there in 2015 and 2016, but I swear I barely remember him from the playoff years. That’s a shame. He deserves a stage for his talent. And good health. Not that we all don’t, Mets and everybody.

Nori Aoki seems to be in decent shape. The Mets’ right fielder du jour collected three hits, drove in two runs and stole a base in the Mets’ intermittently competitive 8-6 Sunday loss. This should earn him a regular starting job for at least a half-week since he doesn’t seem terrible and the Mets clearly don’t have anybody else. I try not to get caught up in what others will think, but I can see Aoki captivating the imaginations of the easily captivated, while a concomitant backlash articulates itself to sophisticatedly remind the situationally enthusiastic that Aoki, 35, has bounced from team to team and lingered on the open market at the turn of September for multiple reasons. In the interim, which is all we’ve got, Nori’s anatomy is in working order and he has a pulse. Those are not commodities to overlook on these Mets in these times.

These Mets were supposed to be using these times to break in Amed Rosario as shortstop of the present and future. Nice plan. Amed left Sunday’s game with a bruise to his right index finger that prevented him from properly gripping a bat. This is a condition that either flared up Saturday night or has been bothering him for some time. Terry Collins said one thing through a fog of disenchantment. Rosario said another through an interpreter. Either way, Rosario will now gain experience at the most Metsian of core competencies: healing from injury.

Dominic Smith, the other half of the projected future, seems to be hitting the ball better in the Mets’ repeated losing causes. Jose Reyes has awakened a bit with the bat and can still steal a base when not getting picked off first. Kevin Plawecki doesn’t seem as overmatched at the plate as he used to, even if it’s hard to see myriad progress behind the plate. Nimmo sure can work a count. There are elements of Mets baseball that now and again peek their heads slightly above ordinary. Yet the Mets still suck. On Sunday, Chris Flexen (4 IP, 7 ER) was, as usual, sneakily atrocious. You look up when he pitches and you realize you’re losing. That’s Flexen. And Milone, for that matter. And Harvey now that he’s tenuously back; and Gsellman if and when he returns; and Lugo when the sixth inning rolls around. This is mostly a World War II staff, only good enough to pitch while the major league ranks are depleted by national emergency. Perhaps the Mets should rebrand as the 1944 St. Louis Browns for the duration.

They still have the rejuvenated (or perhaps just juvenated) Montero — probably not a No. 2 anywhere else — who will go Monday, and they still have deGrom, who every five days reminds you of what once was. For the next seven games, the Mets have the Phillies and Reds at Citi Field, their last chance to provide themselves with the thinnest of floors between themselves and the abyss of the National League. No, it’s not terribly important that the Mets cease their constant losing in 2017 (or at least mix in an occasional win), but I watch every game, so I pay attention to prevailing trends. A few weeks ago, I calculated the Mets were likely to finish 74-88 based on how effectively they punch slightly beneath their weight class. For the 58-78 and falling fast Mets, 74-88 appears astoundingly aspirational.

There’s not much of a class that doesn’t measure up to them anymore. The Reds were not pushovers in Cincinnati. There’s no guarantee they or the Phillies will cooperate in New York. The Mets — who sent away a quarter-roster’s worth of professionals to vaguely clear the decks for presumably better days ahead — are spiraling as a unit like they haven’t spiraled in ages. The trades, the injuries and the stubborn ordinariness are, not surprisingly, making this September a root-at-your-own-risk proposition.

We who continue to root night by night, even as we’ve mentally committed to the concept of organizational rejiggering, will still require a touch of oomph to power us through the next four weeks. To invoke Annie Savoy once more, we, too, are just tryin’ to finish the season. It helps a committed/oughta be committed fan’s psyche to have something slightly special to root for. We thought it would be Rosario getting his feet wet, his ankles damp and his kneecaps a little moist; or Flores finding a position to practically call his own; or Cespedes wrangling his groove; or Conforto continuing to blossom and bloom; or Wright emerging robust from the rehab cornfield; or, hell, Tebow descending from the clouds. None of that is available to us now. Lagares throwing somebody out and Aoki suddenly showing up will have to do until something more develops, whenever that will be.

There are many ways to support the recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey. Here is one of them.

6 comments to Juan Reason to Root

  • Curt

    Twice this season I’ve been watching games and had the distinct thought cross my mind – distinct as in the actual words formed which I would have said out loud if anyone in Central Indiana cared to watch the Mets with me rather than a vague concept – I wish I was a fan of this team. The first time was last spring during a series with Milwaukee (don’t recall the precise circumstances but do recall the thought). The second was this weekend. Imagine a team that hustles on every ball, never seems lackadaisical, does not take anything for granted, always grabs the extra base and does everything it can to maximize positive production during those baseball moments when production takes place.

    This is not the Mets. This is not Rosario lagging it down first on a dp ball he could have beaten out, Reyes dropping a throw which would have been a cs if he hadn’t been late covering second or Flexen never bothering to check the AL stolen base leader while he was on base.

    I can handle incompetent baseball. Not caring baseball is something else. Not caring baseball by rookies with less than 100 days major league experience is actually distressing.

  • eric1973

    I wanted to finish the season strong, or at least respectful, to give these young guys hope for the future, and to have them playing in games that kinda mattered, but now all we have to hope for us that they are so young, that by next year, all of this will be forgotten.

    Wilmer’s sure got a nose for injuries, hasn’t he.

    • Eric

      I’m curious about what kind of protective device Flores will use. Basketball players with broken noses use the Phantom of the Opera facemask, but I wonder whether that fits under a batting helmet. Maybe he’ll use a batting helmet that has a football-like face guard and a basketball-like facemask in the field.

  • Eric

    Have Taijeron and Cecchini already been written off? If it were up to me, I’d rather play the young unprovens and something-to-proves, let them butcher it in the field, and give the leftover reps to veterans learning new roles, eg, Reyes in the outfield.

    We’re not learning anything from Cabrera and Reyes in the infield and Aoki in the outfield soaking up reps, unless the idea is their young teammates will develop better playing alongside veterans.

  • Dave

    Eric – I think Taijeron has never been considered a major league prospect, the hole in his swing is about the whole strike zone, and from what I remember seeing in spring training, his defense is abysmal. I don’t mind the Mets seeing if Aoki might help the team next year. But in the infield, I’m with you. Cecchini should be getting much more playing time, we’ll see what happens the next few weeks.

    In a successful season, Lagares’s defense wouldn’t be such a highlight, it would be an extra treat. But since we have little else to watch, it is a very nice treat.

  • Eric

    Lagares’s defense and baserunning are all-star level, and I don’t recall that he’s ever been accused of dumb play or not hustling. He just doesn’t get on base enough. .350 OBP and question answered – Lagares is my everyday centerfielder. .340 OBP, maybe even .330 OBP from Lagares, and Nimmo or someone else has to convince me he should be playing over Lagares.

    As long as he’s a Met and his defense and baserunning keep up, Lagares should be given the opportunity to hit his way into the everyday centerfield job.