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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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The Grass Is Sometimes Browner on the Other Side

Can we play the Giants for the rest of the year?

Let’s be clear about something: the Mets’ three-game sweep of San Francisco doesn’t mean they’re suddenly good. They’re just better than the Giants, for whom “can’t get out of their own way” would be a kind assessment. The Giants are having a once-in-several-generations cratering of a season, one that will be recalled with a snort, shrug or shudder in decades’ worth of broadcasts, season previews and blog posts. This is their summer of Roberto Alomar and Jason Phillips, the one that seems to take several years and then lingers maddeningly and eternally, like a dead thing under the house.

Still, that’s not to say Sunday afternoon’s game was worthy only of pity. Two performances stood out: those of Rafael Montero and Rene Rivera.

Theirs was the perfect pairing: the talented pitcher who can’t ever seem to get his head on straight and the pitcher whisperer who’s seen plenty of such problems. Montero has seemingly had about a billion chances, living through multiple exiles to various minor leagues and all but being branded soft and dishonest by his own employer, yet he won’t turn 27 until the offseason. Like Wilmer Flores, he’s been around so long that it’s easy to forget how young he still is, and to realize how much growing up in public he’s had to do.

Montero still wasn’t great — he was inefficient and occasionally lapsed into his trademark timidity, trying to gnaw at the edges of the strike zone instead of trusting pitches that are good enough to get big-league hitters out. But he was more than good enough, with 104 pitches carrying him nearly through six innings.

Rivera should get some of the credit — his value as a coaxer and cajoler of spooked hurlers has been apparent for some time. That’s a subtle thing, but there was no missing the two home runs he crashed over the fence, part of an unexpected offensive awakening that ought to be very good for Rivera’s future job prospects, as it’s likely that Travis d’Arnaud currently has his leg trapped in a Miami baggage-claim conveyer belt, has been pecked bloody by a maddened macaw, or suffered some injury even less likely than those two.

Points also go to Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, who get extra credit for not only contributing to a win but also making themselves look yet more attractive to some playoff-bound club. Granderson starts every spring looking like he’s overdue for the knacker’s yard but then suddenly plays like he’s two decades younger when actual summer arrives, an unlikely trick he keeps managing to pull off.

And points to Chase Bradford for becoming the 1,032nd player in team history instead of getting slotted into limbo as the prospective 10th Met ghost and third with no debut for anyone else. (If you think I’m overreacting to the latter peril, well, I’m sure Billy Cotton and Terrel Hansen thought they’d get another call-up too.) That’s a fate that would make even a 2017 Giant blanch.

27 comments to The Grass Is Sometimes Browner on the Other Side

  • Eric

    So basically, Montero graduated to Wheeler, at least for 1 start. Can’t take too much away from a win over a team struggling even more than the Mets, but now we can look forward to Montero’s next start.

    Sweeping the Giants seemed remarkably simple and straightforward after the drubbing by the Nationals and Dodgers. The series losses and win measured the Mets as not frontrunners but not the worst team in the NL, either. The Marlins are in between, too, so they’ll be a more precise measurement of what the Mets are now.

  • Jerryk

    We’re on our way. This is the start of something BIG!

  • Harvey Poris

    From 1962 until this year, the Mets never had a player born in Nevada. They have two on the current roster, Sewald and Bradford.

  • Rob D.

    I’d take one year of sucking like this for the last 10 years of SF Giant history.

  • LeClerc

    Pivotal play in the Rene/Montero Sunday Matinee:

    After he strikes out Moore to start off the bottom of the third, new Rafael reverts to old Rafael and loads the bases – followed by Posey hitting a sac fly that brings Span home and puts Pence at first, Panik at third, and brings Belt to the plate. Belt works the count to two and two – then Montero throws ball three, and Pence is off and running with the pitch. Rene guns him down at second as Cabrera puts the tag on. Three out. End of inning. End of crisis.

    I’ve tried to rationalize Pence’s decision to run – but it just doesn’t compute.

    Nevertheless, hats off to Rafael and Rene.

  • Pete In Iowa

    I find myself often thinking that when Rene is in the starting lineup over D’Arnaud we have a much better chance at winning. With Rivera, he can change things in the course of a game which D’Arnaud simply can’t. Whether it’s handling a pitcher, gunning down a runner, blocking a pitch or, especially this season, with his bat.
    In reality, Rivera is an ideal back-up catcher. Here’s hoping the front office will make a deal or sign a free agent for a legitimate starting catcher. The sooner the better.

  • Matt in Richmond

    I hear ya Pete, but in reality, we have one of the most productive catching duos in baseball this year. I keep waiting for Rene to revert back to his norm, but he keeps playing way over his career track record. As for Travis, his batting average isn’t where he’d like it to be, but he’s been damn productive from a slugging and RBI standpoint, particularly for an 8th place hitter. There seems to be some misconception that there is a plethora of .300 hitting rocket armed catchers out there. Actually if you look around the league, our 2 measure up well with just about anybody. And I’m in the minority in that I think Travis has another gear in him if he can stay healthy long enough. Sometimes guys with pedigree’s like his bloom late, particularly if they have early problems staying on the field.

    • Pete In Iowa

      I’m not looking for a .300 hitting, rocket-armed catcher. As you say, they don’t exist. I would be happy with a .250 hitter with enough pop to hit maybe 10 HR’s a year while a STOUT all-around defender.
      D’Arnaud is neither. A career .242 hitter — even worse this season — with a career below average OPS+. These hitting numbers are even worse when one considers he is a horrible defender. He just can’t do anything back there.
      Been waiting on this guy for five years now. For whatever the excuses may be, it just ain’t gonna happen for him. If it weren’t for Syndergaard, I would say the Blue Jays got the better of the RA Dickey trade. Straight up for D’Arnaud, that deal is one-sided.

    • Left Coast Jerry

      Matt, if Buster Posey, or even JT Realmuto were available, would you take either one of them over Travis? I certainly would.

  • D Schulps

    You’re so right, LeClerc. Rene’s caught stealing pct. is up to 38%, which is third in the NL behind Tucker Barnhart (an insane 55%) and Yasmani Grandal (41%). He is not to be messed with by the likes of Pence in a situation like that.

  • Burbank Jake

    You can only beat the teams you play. But yes, without Syndegaard, the 2017 Mets will be mediocre at best.

    As to comments about d’Arnaud, not sure what metrics are being used but for catchers who have played in at least half of his team’s games, he is 22nd in OPS. As well, he has thrown out only 4 of 26 runners attempting to steal and that 15.4% clip is 32nd in MLB.

    Agree that .300 hitting, rocket-armed catchers aren’t in great supply, but upgrades to d’Arnaud are plentiful because he’s nowhere near .300 nor does he have anything resembling a rocket arm.

  • Matt in Richmond

    There are 12 games to go before the AS break at which point 87 games will have gone by this season leaving 75 for the second half. The Mets currently sit at 7 under .500. Assuming that one hasn’t completely thrown in the towel on this season yet, what would it take to have at least some hope left for the second half? I’m thinking 8-4 which would put us at 3 under with 75 to go. Then you have to have a great second half and hope that the Nats and/or one of the behemoths out west falter. Not impossible….

    • 9th string catcher

      It’s a really long season, and there’s no reason to give up just yet. Frankly it would be a longshot for this team to make anything resembling a run, but that’s why you watch the games. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again it’s all about the starting pitching. If they do get their guys back, they have enough offense to beat some teams. They need at least three or four guys like eight or seven innings every night. I don’t know if they’re going to have that, but I don’t know if they’re not gonna have that.
      degrom seems to be where it needs to be. Lugo’s been looking good. Mats been looking pretty good. That’s three good stores. If they can get wheeler back, and gsellman gives you something, they can definitely go 8-4, even 9-3, though beating Washington wven once will be a challenge.

      They pulled it off last year. Just saying.

    • Eric

      .500 sooner rather than later.

      This team has taken promising steps forward this season with modest winning streaks and .500 in sight, but they’ve been 1 step forward, then 2 or 3 steps backwards with bigger losing streaks and key injuries.

      Climb back to .500 with enough time left in the season to make a run, even if they’re just as far back in the standings as they are now, and my hope will come back because that’ll show the team is in good enough shape to take more steps forward than backward.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Jerry, I think Posey for TDA would be an obvious yes, but clearly that’s pretty wildly far fetched. Realmuto would be a close call. He’s a better singles hitter (so far), Travis has a better strikeout-walk ratio and better HR/AB ratio. Between Rivera and TDA the Mets have gotten 24 extra base hits and 43 RBI so far this year. That is solid production, particularly when you consider they are usually hitting at the bottom of the lineup. I just think that when you evaluate the team as a whole, catcher isn’t a spot I would be all that concerned with right now.

    • Pete In Iowa

      Realmuto would be a HUGE upgrade over D’Arnaud.
      With 100 more career AB’s Realmuto has 10 fewer HR’s but 8 more RBI’s. He also has a career BA of .282 – 40 points higher AND an OPS of 747, also 40 points higher. For his career, his OPS+ is 103, while D’Arnaud is below average at 95.
      While the career stats clearly point to Realmuto as an offensive upgrade, he is a WAY BETTER defender than D’Arnaud could ever hope to be. This season he has thrown out 28% of base stealers, a percentage nearly double D’Arnaud’s pathetic 15%. I would also guess he’s better at blocking pitches as this is another huge weakness in D’Arnaud’s game. He is also two years younger, and is not injury prone.
      All that said, I don’t think there is any way Realmuto would wind up in Flushing, but we can always hope.

  • GroteFan

    IMO-Catcher is a black hole for 2018.
    Please let’s remember that Travis d’Arnaud has played 327 major league games with the mets beginning in 2013.
    That is one of the problems, he’s averaged 70 games during the years prior to ’17. You cannot count on a guy who cannot stay on the field. I like T d’A but he sure seems to be brittle-and I don’t care if some of the injuries are fluky.
    He just cannot stay healthy, and it’s too bad, but those are the facts.
    The guy had an historically bad season in ’16 when he knocked in 14 runs in 251 at bats.
    He is also now 28 years old!
    I’m sure the mets are starting to think, how much more do we need to see of this guy?
    If I’m looking at holes in the Met lineup for next year and beyond, i don’t know how you cannot start behind the dish.
    You theoretically have the infield covered with players coming up from the minors, and you have Conforto, Cespedis and Lagares at a minimum in the outfield.
    T d’A stinks.

  • Curt

    Catcher isn’t a strength but on this team I wouldn’t consider it a particular weakness. You would think a team supposedly built on pitching would emphasize defense but no. Problem positions, in order (my opinion, obviously) are:

    1) Shortstop – Sunday’s a great example. The hit against Bradford in the 9th isn’t a hit with any normal ss – they gobble it up. That didn’t hurt us but there are plenty of times where it has. Nobody can say our pitching would be good but numbers would be less bad without balls constantly getting through up the middle that most teams get to. Defensively neutral/offensively terrible with Reyes, Defensively terrible/offensively neutral with Cabrera
    2) 3b – fielding is as bad relative to norm as at SS but less critical of a position. Sadly, Flores has been the best of a bad lot.
    3) 2b – Walker’s decent but has range issues, Cabrera needs to get used to it as IMO he’s no longer a major league shortstop, Rivera & Flores are barely passable
    4) C – I consider us at about average league-wide, better than the three positions above. Not opposed to trading TDA but his value probably isn’t much. Not willing to say Rivera’s suddenly become a starting-caliber catcher but so what if TDA can bring something? Or, maybe Rivera’s value is at an all-time, never-to-be-duplicated level and he’ll bring something.

    As for playoffs, figure the absolute minimum number of wins is 85, more likely it will take 87-89. If everything starts clicking (no reason to think it will, by 75 games in you know what your team is) 51-36 is doable, even 55-32 is not out of the realm of possibility. But we need to show we’re trying to be something other than the best of the 2nd-division teams (old-timers will know what this means). Our only hope is Colorado fading. They’re offering us hope at the moment, we’ll see if it happens. By ASB we’ll either be within a couple games of .500 or Sandy can spend the break trying to swing deals.

    • 9th string catcher

      Great analysis Curt. A long shot for sure, but not out of reach. Your report suggests that a change to a stronger fielding shortstop, even with no added offense would add wins, indirectly supporting a Rosario promotion. At least that’s how I read it, and I believe it would buy us at least 2 wins. Let’s face it – more infield bleeders and errors lead to longer innings which lead to shorter starts which lead to more of the bullpen which lead to losses. Surprisingly, the outfield defense that was much more of the concern going into the season seems to be holding up okay. Granderson is no Lagares, but he seems to be handling it.

      I agree – catching is just about the least of our problems right now.

  • Greg Mitchell

    After his horrendous April, Reyes has rebounded to hit… .216 in May and .176 in June. True, for the very few balls he actually gets to at SS he has made few errors.

    I’ll repeat what the announcers revealed last week–Mets infield is dead last, by a wide margin, in majors on base hits on the ground. This is not a small thing. Ask the pitchers.

    D’arnaud can’t hit, field, throw anyone out, stay healthy or find any pitcher who would rather throw to him than to Rivera. Other than that he is surely our hope for the future.

  • Pete In Iowa

    I think when Walker is ready to come back, he should play third. He’s played a little there before, I don’t think he’d whine about it and he absolutely has to be an upgrade over Flores/TJ over there. At the same time, call up Rosario to play short. Platoon Duda/Flores at 1B. Rivera could be a roving fill in at 1B, 2B, 3B and OF and a good bat off the bench. I think this is the best infield configuration we could hope for with the roster as currently constructed.
    Oh, and show Reyes the door.

    • Matt in Woodside

      Rosario is already responsible for 12 errors in Vegas this season (one more than Cabrera is responsible for at this point). Also, he’s batting .315, but according to the Mets, he still swings at too many balls out of the strike zone, which will lead to a quick wake up call if it’s not addressed in AAA. In other words, they aren’t dragging their feet. They sincerely think he has more work to do. They did well with Conforto. If this is a lost season, I’d really rather keep Reyes to the bitter end and have Rosario called up when he’s ready.

      • Jacobs27

        As long as he’s playing, can Reyes please get his act together just enough steal his 500th base already? He may never get another opportunity at this rate. I assume he’ll at least manage to catch and pass Ed Kranepool for second on the all-time Mets hit list. But two hits is no easy commodity for 2017 Reyes.

  • Gil

    I’d hate to see Bruce go.

  • eric1973

    I’ve never seen a team where so many players can play 3 or 4 different infield positions, and for the most part be below average at all of them.

  • eric1973

    Good one, 9th.