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Turning Lucky Into Good

“If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you are! And you should know that!” — Crash Davis [1]

I hate to say it, but the Mets aren’t this good.

All too soon, they will provide evidence of that. They will lose. Maybe they will even lose two, three or four in a row. Mickey Callaway [2]‘s tactical decisions will backfire. His apportionment of playing time will rankle. The strike zone will cause our stalwarts to seethe, remonstrate and take an early seat or two instead of shrugging a bit sheepishly while opponents rant and rave. (Marty Foster’s been in a mood this first week, and we’ve twice been the beneficiaries.)

Streaks happen, good and bad, and as fans we’d be wise to accept their flukiness without insisting on reading too much into it. Remember the 2017 Dodgers? They spent the end of the summer losing 16 out of 17, yet wound up winning 104 games and playing Game 7 of the World Series. It was a pinch-me season … if you subtract the three weeks in which you would have sworn the Dodgers forgot how to play baseball.

A couple of things, though.

For one thing, bunched up and attended by luck as they were, those wins all count. The Mets really are five games over .500, a moderately lofty goal never achieved in 2017’s lost season. What they’ll do in 2018 is largely unwritten, but that part’s recorded in ink.

For another thing, while streaks are statistical noise in a long season, I’d argue the timing of those streaks can have a real effect. The Mets are sorting through the following things, in no particular order: a new manager; relievers being asked to work in subtly different ways; starters being asked to work in subtly different ways; key players coming back from injuries; young players at career crossroads; and a different philosophy underpinning lineup construction.

Nip and tuck a few runs and rearrange offensive output a bit and the Mets could be 1-6 going into tonight’s game in Washington,¬†without being a drastically different team than the 6-1 outfit they are. But we all know the conversation would be night and day. The use of the bullpen would be under a microscope. There’d be carping from the jock alumni about starters and toughness and finishing what you start. Everyone with a microphone or blog software would be a newly minted expert on lineup construction. That most talkative of clubhouse sources — One Met — would be making his feelings clear. And Callaway would be under tremendous pressure to retreat and retrench. Heck, we’d probably be choking down our first dose of stentorian wisdom about How Baseball Will Humble a New Manager and Teach Him to Respect the Game’s Bedrock Truths, or some such bullshit.

Instead, because of a quirk of timing, Callaway’s got a five-game cushion, a fanbase in pinch-me mode, and buy-in from the 25 guys who have to play the game. Is that quantifiable? Probably not, but that’s not the same as saying it’s unimportant. Steven Matz [3] and Matt Harvey [4], Robert Gsellman [5] and Seth Lugo [6], Hansel Robles [7] and A.J. Ramos, Michael Conforto [8] and Seth Lugo, Kevin Plawecki [9] and Travis d’Arnaud [10], Jose Reyes [11] and Amed Rosario [12], Zack Wheeler [13] and Dom Smith … they’ve all started the season watching a winning team and manager. That affects how they think about this team and their roles on it. And that kind of first week may sustain them when the pixie dust runs out and the Mets have to make an emergency reorder.

While it’s still being tossed around, though, just enjoy it. Matz still has some work to do — he threw way too many first-pitch balls and had to keep fighting his way back into counts — but he was finishing his pitches and they had life they seemed to be lacking against St. Louis. (Meanwhile all the Mets’ starters seem to be exploiting launch angles successfully with tempting high fastballs.) The bullpen wasn’t flawless, with Robles giving up a homer to Bryce Harper [14] (and yes he pointed, at least according to Twitter) and Jerry Blevins [15] walking Harper come crunch time. But Harper gonna Harper. Robles limited the damage, Ramos was flawless, and Jeurys Familia [16] racked up five outs.

The Mets aren’t exactly speedy, but early in the season they’re making good use of what speed they do have, and their aggression on the basepaths is being rewarded. The seventh inning was a showcase: Rosario scored from first on a double by Cabrera to tie the game at 2-2, simply outrunning a well-executed pickup and relay by Harper and Howie Kendrick [17]. Cabrera crossed to third on a groundout by Yoenis Cespedes [18]. Conforto was walked, and took off for second with Todd Frazier [19] at the plate. Frazier grounded to second, but Kendrick found Conforto up in his business instead of at a safe remove between first and second.¬†Discombobulated, he had to settle for the out at first as Cabrera scampered home with the go-ahead run Familia would make stand up.

And let’s not forget the heroics of Juan Lagares [20], who gunned down Brian Goodwin [21] at home to short-circuit the Nationals’ second. Lagares’ positioning was impeccable and the throw was a missile, a perfect arc to d’Arnaud’s mitt. Credit the catcher as well: d’Arnaud received the throw on his knees and pivoted adroitly (and legally in the age of video nitpicking) to spin Goodwin away from the plate, which I believe he’s yet to touch. Between innings, Lagares had his cap off in the dugout, leaving his eyes peeking through the vent in his Mets-blue hood as if auditioning for superhero status.

He’s got the job. So far they all do [22].