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 .