New York Mets: Early-Season Storylines to Track
It's hard to contain excitement for your team's early-season success. For New York Mets fans, however, it is important that you realize historical context. In recent years, it hasn't been April that has been a foe to the Mets. It's been the remaining months.
Enjoy the success while it lasts, but understand that there is a reason the Mets were picked to finish no better than fourth by virtually every analyst. Sure, they could be wrong, but they have not tried to hide the fact that 2014 is supposed to be the first year this team seriously contends.
Here are five early takeaways from the season so far, with some commentary on their significance to this point.
Zack Wheeler's Progress in Triple-A
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With the emergence of Matt Harvey as one of the most exciting young pitchers in MLB, it is easy to envision a pitching rotation led by him, Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard in a couple years.
Wheeler should be up this year, though he struggled with his command in his first two starts. He has six walks through his first 8.2 innings pitched. That does not concern me much, after all, even Harvey struggled mightily when he was first promoted to Triple-A.
The real question is whether the Las Vegas heat or temptations will get to him before he reaches the big leagues. There is a lot riding on Wheeler's progression as a pitcher, and the Mets cannot afford for him to be less than a solid big league pitcher.
Last year, he amassed 148 strikeouts in 149 innings, with a 3.26 ERA while limiting opposing hitters to a .221 average. That is in line with what the expectations are for the hard-throwing right-hander.
It is important he posts a few consecutive strong starts to silence any doubt he left from his first start of the year.
Could Ike Davis Possibly Struggle as Much as Last April?
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At first I said there is no way, but after watching some of his swings in the first two weeks, it seems entirely possible.
Ike Davis is taking some dreadful swings and missing very hittable pitches. It is strange because he finished 2012 in such a strong fashion and was healthy this winter, which seemed to indicate he would be in line for a monster season.
Last April, he compiled 15 hits in 81 at-bats (.185 AVG), with eight RBI and 24 strikeouts. He actually got worse in May, as he had 12 hits in 84 at-bats (.154) with 25 strikeouts and 13 RBI. The Mets were seriously considering sending him to the minors to figure out his swing.
Fortunately, he turned his season around and posted a .926 OPS in June and hit for as much power as anybody in baseball outside of Chase Headley.
I really hope Ike snaps out of it quick, he really needs to be successful in order for the Mets offense to sustain any sort of prosperity. In 2011, he was off to a .302/.383/.543 slash line before he got injured and missed the rest of the year. Davis is a talented player—hopefully he can return to that form.
Will Shaun Marcum Pitch This Year?
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It is pretty telling that Shaun Marcum isn't even wearing a Mets uniform in the above picture.
When the Mets signed Marcum, their starting rotation appeared to be among the deepest in the league. With a healthy Johan Santana, Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, Marcum and Dillon Gee, the Mets could match up well against most teams in the league outside of Washington and maybe Los Angeles.
With Marcum's return in doubt, it will be hard for the rotation to sustain its current pace, considering Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Hefner's past.
Clearly Niese and Harvey are ready to step up, but the other three days remain question marks.
If Marcum can return to the mound, the Mets rotation improves dramatically. He has a career ERA of 3.76, and despite the perception that he is never healthy, he has surpassed 25 starts in four different seasons.
He is not a strikeout pitcher, averaging 7.3 K/9 for his career, but limits the damage thanks to his command of his secondary pitches.
The Mets did sign him to a friendly one-year, $4 million contract, but they would still like to receive some sort of contribution for that investment.
Can the Outfield Be Better Than Expected?
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The offseason consisted of a great deal of bashing the front office for its failure to upgrade the outfield from last year. In fact, it is actually weaker on paper with the absence of Scott Hairston, who had an epiphany of a 2012 season with 20 home runs.
The Mets should have traded for Justin Upton or signed a player such as Cody Ross. They did neither, and the results will most likely reflect that.
To this point, however, some of the players have actually overperformed. Granted, it is a small sample size, but Marlon Byrd (seven hits in 26 at-bats) has looked like he has rediscovered his form from 2010 when he was an All-Star with the Chicago Cubs.
Lucas Duda has one home run and four RBI, but his offense needs to negate his poor defense, so he has been a disappointment so far.
Collin Cowgill got off to a red-hot Opening Day start with a double and the huge grand slam, but has tailed off considerably since then. He was on fire during spring training (five home runs), which enabled him to win the starting job in center field, but that is obviously in jeopardy if he doesn't keep it up.
Jordany Valdespin has been starting of late, and he has provided a much-needed spark at the top of the lineup. His average sits at .400 after his three-hit performance. He is best suited for a utility role but he is the most dynamic player on the team right now.
I was definitely a proponent of upgrading the offense, and clearly Justin Upton is showing why he was a sought-after player this winter. For now, Terry Collins is forced to mix-and-match with this group of castoffs.
*UPDATE*- 11:00 PM- Lucas Duda hit two home runs in Wednesday's loss to Philadelphia, which boosts his numbers significantly to .308 with three home runs.
Could John Buck Delay Travis d'Arnaud's Debut?
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John Buck was basically an afterthought when he was included in the much publicized trade for R.A. Dickey. After all, not many teams are in the market for a 30-year-old catcher who is coming off a season with a 76 OPS+.
A funny thing happened, however. Buck started lacing line drives and popping home runs. Through 28 at-bats, he has 11 hits, four home runs, an NL-leading 14 RBI, only three strikeouts and an OPS of 1.244, which is in the Barry Bonds stratosphere.
Obviously, he won't continue this forever, but if he is one of the only productive players in the lineup through May, it would be tough to warrant sitting him on the bench in favor of Travis d'Arnaud, who is clearly on the cusp of a promotion.
For now, enjoy the hot streak, but hopefully he will not prevent d'Arnaud from being in Queens.
UPDATE*- 11:00 PM: Buck launched another home run, his fifth of the young season which boosts his RBI total to 15.