The Mets have been a disaster in the first half of the baseball season.
As I write this piece, the prospects for the Mets’ ballyhooed 2023 season are much more half-empty than half-full. Injuries, sub-par play and the Secretariat-like pace of the rival Atlanta Braves have cast a pall over Citi Field, a marked contrast to the winning spirit that permeated the Mets team a year ago which won 101 games in the regular season.
But the glass is a anything but hopelessly empty for the ya-gotta-believe Mets, on the 50th anniversary of the rally cry coined by relief pitcher Tug McGraw as the Mets who were in last place on August 30, finished 82-79 which was good enough for first place in a very weak division. The Mets then when on to upset the Big Red Machine of Peter Rose and Johnny Bench and then extended the defending champion Oakland A’s to seven games before losing the World Series.
As sports fans understand, It ain’t over till it’s over or, at least, until the fat lady sings. Those clichés hold true for the Mets.
The Mets are seven games out of the wild card position at the All-Star Game break. The Mets dropped two of three games just before the break to the San Diego Padres, another grossly disappointing team that looms as the Mets’ biggest rival for a playoff position.
One thing that the Mets have going for them is the Yankees. The Yankees have also been bad. While they are still seven games above .500, the Yanks did not win any of their final four series heading into the break, failing to gain knock off the likes of the horrible Oakland A’s and the St. Louis Cardinals. The Yanks’ woes help the Mets by diverting attention from one train wreck to another.
If the Mets rally after the All-Star break, the traditional halfway point of a baseball season, fans and media will point to the team’s inspiring victory on July 5 in Arizona.
The two teams were locked up in a good old-fashion pitcher’s duel. The Mets trailed, 1-0, entering the top of the ninth inning. The first two Mets batters made outs. Down to his final strike, Mets rookie catcher Francisco Alvarez smashed a game-tying home run. Then outfielder Mark Canha put the Mets ahead with an RBI triple. It was the sort of stirring victory that can propel a team for the rest of the season.
Even after their modest six-game winning streak before the break that included the three game sweep in Arizona and a first game victory in San Diego the Mets have a disappointing record of 42-48 and trail the Atlanta Braves by 18 1/2 games.
An indication of the team’s horrendous first-half play is that first baseman Pete Alonso was initially the only Mets player to be selected to play in the All-State Game in Seattle. Then Kodai Senga was added as a last minute replacement for ex-Met Marcus Stroman, who when not on the injured list is tossing bullets for the Chicago Cubs.
Noticeably absent will be the Mets so-called “co-aces” Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. The Mets had counted heavily on both aging veterans to dominate at the top of the order. The bullpen has been a patchwork ever since Edwin Diaz, the best closer in the major leagues last year, underwent season-ending surgery before the campaign began. He badly injured his right knee while celebrating a win for his native Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
The Mets’ 2023 season will go a long way in helping to determine the team’s strategy going forward. Owner Steve Cohen, a hedge-fund billionaire who is accustomed to achieving immediate results, expects to win now–championships, not merely games.
Cohen, a lifelong fan who with the biggest payroll in MLB, is clearly willing to spend big money. Cohen desperately wants the Mets once again to “own” the New York baseball scene, which the franchise has done only sporadically in recent decades.
It galls all Mets fans that Yankee star Aaron Judge–who is currently nursing a toe injury and is not scheduled to play again for 4-8 weeks–is the baseball face of the city, not Alonso or Scherzer or Francisco Lindor or any of the current Mets.
Cohen put his reputation on the line by signing Verlander, who is 40 years old, and Scherzer, who turns 39 on July 27th. Both are nearing the end of their Hall of Fame careers. He brought in Buck Showalter, a known and respected baseball lifer to manage the Mets. Cohen said he wanted a championship in three to five years and this disappointing season is year three.
Sports teams seldom win championships overnight. For better or worse, the script is generally that a franchise builds slowly, over several years, as young players mature and become battle tested. Cohen bet that his Mets were a player or two away from the promised land when he pushed all of his chips to the middle of the table and bet on Verlander and Scherzer.
For their part, New York Mets fans are among the most loyal in the city but also appear to be among the most neurotic if fan input on WFAN sports talk radio accurately reflects the base. It pains them to watch the crosstown Yankees dominate sports radio coverage and the tabloids’ back pages.
Met fans hope Cohen signs Los Angeles Angels superstar pitcher/slugger Shohei Ohtani, who appears to be growing increasingly tired of losing in LA. Ohtani, nicknamed The Unicorn, is the most coveted major-league player today because he freakishly hits for power and pitches like a Cy Young Award contender. No other player has done this since Babe Ruth.
Ohtani will become a free agent after this season. The Angels have struggled since he came over from playing ball in Japan. He is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime sensation that Cohen covets–and Mets fans have to hope that Cohen’s money can entice Ohtani to play on the East Coast.
If Cohen’s millions are enough Ohtani, he instantly wins the public-relations battle with the Yankees (who are also expected to make a big play for Ohtani).
Perhaps most important, the promise of acquiring Ohtani will help Mets fans forget about the distressing first half of 2023. That would be a major accomplishment in itself. More importantly, Ohtani is only 29 year old and is likely to help the Mets return to playing winning baseball for years to come.