Are the Mets Headed for a Shocking 'World Series Hangover' Letdown in 2016?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2016

Mets left-hander Steven Matz
Mets left-hander Steven MatzMike Stobe/Getty Images

It's April. No one is out of anything. Panic buttons should be stowed until further notice.

But so far, things aren't going according to plan for the New York Mets.

The defending National League champions entered 2016 with a stiff hype wind at their back. They had baseball's best young rotation, after all, and an offense boosted by the return of last year's trade-deadline cavalry, Yoenis Cespedes.

Entering play Monday, the Mets are 5-6. They're sitting in third place, four games behind the Washington Nationals.

With 151 contests left, there's time to right the ship, sail back into choppy waters and then right it again. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and other platitudes.

Still, almost every season at least one team crashes on the rocks of expectation and turns in a hugely disappointing campaign. Last year, it was the Nats, preseason World Series favorites who wound up missing the playoffs.

Could the same fate befall New York?

"We're fine," manager Terry Collins said, per Danny Knobler, writing for ESPN.com. "But when you come to the ballpark every day and keep getting hit with a pie in the face that you're not very good, you don't like it."

Let's take a look at what's gone wrong so far—the stuff that's caused those pies to fly.

Collectively, the Mets are hitting just .220 with a .647 OPS, good (if that's the word) for 25th and 22nd best in baseball, respectively. 

And the vaunted starting pitching hasn't been consistent enough to pick up the slack. Steven Matz threw seven shutout innings with a career-high nine strikeouts against the Cleveland Indians on Sunday but still owns a 7.27 ERA. Jacob deGrom is working his way back from a lat strain.

Matt Harvey, meanwhile, is 0-3 and has surrendered 20 hits and 11 earned runs with just nine strikeouts in 17.1 innings.

Matt Harvey has struggled with diminished velocity and command issues through three wobbly starts.
Matt Harvey has struggled with diminished velocity and command issues through three wobbly starts.Jason Miller/Getty Images

"I think right now if we've ever seen Matt Harvey press, this might be the time," pitching coach Dan Warthen said after Harvey gave up five runs in 5.2 frames against the Indians on Saturday, per Newsday's Marc Carig. "He's really trying to force the issue right now."

Most troublingly, Harvey's velocity and command have faltered. Maybe that's merely an anomalous blip. Remember, though, the Dark Knight threw 216 innings last year between the regular season and playoffs, the most ever by a big league pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery. 

Not everything is doom and gloom in Queens. Noah Syndergaard has looked like an ace worthy of his Norse god nickname, posting a 0.69 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 13 innings.

Cespedes is showing signs of a characteristic power binge with two homers and six RBI in his last three games. And 23-year-old Michael Conforto, who Collins inserted into the No. 3 spot in the lineup, is hitting .313 with a .984 OPS.

But after surging past the Nats in the second half last year and riding that wave all the way to the Fall Classic, the Mets simply aren't looking like the cream of the Senior Circuit crop.

Speaking of the Nats, Washington is off to a 9-2 start behind reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper and new skipper Dusty Baker. 

The Philadelphia Phillies have also been a nice surprise early, thanks to a dominant young starting corps (sound familiar?).

The offense has struggled overall, but Yoenis Cespedes has homered twice in the Mets' last three games.
The offense has struggled overall, but Yoenis Cespedes has homered twice in the Mets' last three games.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press/Associated Press

Assuming deGrom returns healthy, Matz builds on Sunday's strong start and Harvey resolves his troubles, this is still a world-beating arsenal of arms. And don't forget right-hander Zack Wheeler, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and should be back at some point this season. 

The Mets' farm system, ranked No. 15 in the game by Baseball America, isn't loaded with blue chips—many of whom have graduated to the show, including Matzbut there's enough talent to swing a midseason trade if needed. 

FanGraphs' updated projection sees New York finishing 88-74, three games behind the Nationals but in the wild-card money. That wouldn't be a terrible outcome. New York, however, can dream bigger.

Heck, at least part of this slow start could be the result of a quirky schedule, as Ryan Hatch of NJ Advance Media opined: "After opening the season in Kansas City on April 3 they've played just five games in eight days, resembling a schedule more like one for an NHL or NBA team. Baseball players, of course, are creatures of habit and tend to need to play five or six games in seven days."

Here's how Warthen summed up Harvey's early struggles, per Carig: "It's there and then it's not there, but that's the same with the velocity right now. I see his good velocity, I saw it early in spring, I thought he was going to have a big year. I still think he’s going to have a big, big year."

Mets fans should take the same approach. A sprinkling of concern, a few raised eyebrows and some pointed questions. But, ultimately, faith in good things to come.

At the very least, they should keep the panic button securely stowed. 

All statistics current as of April 17 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.