After watching the 2018 Mets start the season like a house on fire only to watch the season go off the rails, faithful fans are careful not to get excited about early success. We won the first two games of the season because we always do (or at least seemingly) and swept the Marlins on the road as we should as they’re the worst team in the National League. Losing our home opener was not surprising given that the team reportedly landed home at 3:00 am the morning of the day game (hat tip to those same brilliant schedulers who carefully coordinated all those snow-outs last year). At this moment, at 5-2, we sit atop the standings. The offense has had some exciting moments and Jacob deGrom has the best arm on planet earth, but, if you’ve been watching closely, you should have some concerns about this team. Here are five of them.
- This team might not be able to win with Mickey Callaway as the manager. He’s a super nice guy and the players like him. Last year we all cut him slack. He was a first year manager in a new league, with a flawed team. This year, he’s got experience, the support of a respected bench coach and a much improved roster with which to work. But what good is a stronger bullpen and a deeper bench if Callaway doesn’t know how to use them? In the first week of the season, we’ve seen him bench the hot hitting Jeff McNeil, play weak-hitting/fielding reserve J.D. Davis way too much, pinch run for Wilson Ramos at the wrong times, misuse and waste pinch hitters, leave middle relievers in too long, and put the closer in at the wrong time. Somehow, his bumbling moves haven’t cost us a game yet. Why is bench coach Jim Riggleman or the front office not guiding these decisions more? Unless they can help him see the light, Callaway’s going to start costing us games and himself a job. The honeymoon is over and Callaway was not Brodie Van Wagenen’s hire. BVW carefully assembled this team to win now and won’t stand by and let an ill-equipped manager hurt the team’s chances for success, especially with a perfect interim manager candidate sitting right there in the dugout.
- The other starting pitchers need to step up. deGrom has been out-of-this-world, picking up where he left off in his Cy Young season. As for the rest of the starters, meh. A five-inning start is okay for fifth starter Jason Vargas, but the others need to give us six or seven each time out. Last year Steven Matz showed us he can stay healthy. This year he needs to show us he can pitch. His location and pitch selection both leave something to be desired. Zack Wheeler hopefully will bounce back from a mediocre first start and get back to pitching the way he did in the second half of 2018. Noah Syndergaard maybe just needs to get accustomed to working with Wilson Ramos. For how good his stuff is, he’s pitching to too many deep counts and not allowing himself to go deep in games. Too many foul balls and not enough out pitches from him so far.
- The bullpen hasn’t lived up to the hype. Last year’s bullpen was a nightmare, especially in the second half after we traded away Jeurys Familia. This year’s crew, with Familia back in the fold, plus the additions of superstar closer Edwin Diaz and the experienced lefties Justin Wilson and Luis Avilan, was supposed to be a team strength. Not the case, so far. Familia has been really good and, other than his one big mistake, Wilson has been good. Diaz has been misused by the manager, as has Seth Lugo who was overused when he was reportedly fighting an illness. Robert Gsellman looks plain awful so far, as does the sporadically used Avilan. Injuries wiped out some of our expected AAA reserves for the bullpen but there are still a few guys who could be swapped in if needed.
- Not everyone is hitting. The offense has been fun to watch with two-out rallies, opposite field hitting and the quick emergence of rookie Pete Alonso. Ramos has been a monster at the plate. Michael Conforto and Amed Rosario have gotten hits and Dom Smith has been a spark plug as a pinch hitter. After a big opening day, Robinson Cano has gone cold. Other than one big hit Juan Lagares looks bad. Keon Broxton looks pretty good but hasn’t played much. If this continues, he could swap places with Lagares. Brandon Nimmo looks like he forgot how to hit, striking out 14 times in 23 at bats. Davis looks exposed and over-matched. That he’s out of options could create a wrinkle for the front office when Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie return from the injured list.
- Front office decisions are looming. With Frazier and Travis d’Arnaud due to come back soon and Lowrie in a few weeks, the front office is going to have to make some tough decisions about the roster. Sending Tomas Nido down to AAA is the easy one. In fact, given that he’s the fifth best catcher in the system it’s hard to understand why he made the opening day roster. d’Arnaud will soon take his place, but Rene Rivera should be anointed the third catcher as soon as he’s ramped up and ready. Nido is not a Major League player. Given the injury histories of both d’Arnaud and Ramos, the third catcher will likely see plenty of big league at bats. d’Arnaud’s extended spring training/injured list stay gave the front office an easy way to keep Devin Mesoraco in the fold, but they inexplicably chose to give him the shaft in favor of a maybe slightly better defensive catcher who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Mesoraco is currently in limbo but will presumably be off the roster either by trade, release or retirement before long. Rivera will take his place and will be needed. Luis Guillorme, who has a great glove and showed he can hit in spring training, has gotten one measly at bat as the emergency shortstop reserve – kind of a waste of a roster spot. He has options remaining but will certainly be sent down to make room for Lowrie. Todd Frazier’s return is the tricky one. Davis and Broxton are out of options. Dom Smith deserves a better fate. He’s in great shape, has a great attitude and has been playing well. Demoting him would fly in the face of the meritocracy that van Waganen has been promoting. What then? Stay tuned.