By Jason Keidel
The New York Mets are a mess. Last year’s National League champs are falling apart more quickly than Stephen Curry in the NBA Finals.
The Washington Nationals just swept the Mets into the Anacostia River, not a good look for an already waterlogged club. New York only hopes these aren’t two baseball ships passing each other for good. The Nationals now have a six-game lead in the NL East, their largest of the season.
And they did it with Daniel Murphy, who carried the Mets to the World Series last year. Indeed, it must be poignant and painful to see one of their best bats playing for the Nats.
Murphy may be the surprise player of the season — particularly to the Mets, who could’ve kept him for the $37 million Washington was willing to pay him. They decided he wasn’t worth it, but the contract looks like a bargain today.
A career. 293 hitter, Murphy is batting a surreal .352, with a .394 on-base percentage, and has already tied his career-high with 14 HRs. So it seems his Herculean October last year was more than an anomaly.
It’s not enough the Mets whiffed when they let Murphy walk after his superhero postseason. It’s not enough that he’s a valid NL MVP candidate this season. He’s hitting an absurd .429 against his former club, with four homers and 11 RBIs.
If you’re looking for a little inside baseball, the salt is really poured on the proverbial wound when you consider Gary Cohen, the talented announcer for the Mets TV outlet SNY, said during the playoffs last season that re-signing Murphy would have been a “net negative.” The quote brings endless, sardonic joy to WFAN hosts whenever Murphy’s sublime season is mentioned.
Whatever else Murphy brings — toughness, clutch hitting, playoff experience, etc. — it seems to be rubbing off on a team that, frankly, seemed too soft for too long. Every year the Nationals are picked to at least reach the Fall Classic, and every year we’re writing premature postmortems.
Sure, the Mets are an amalgam of maladies. Their heretofore young, invincible pitching staff has suffered some turbulence. Matt Harvey has lost his Dark Knight facade. Noah Syndergaard has experienced elbow issues, as has Steven Matz.
But the major problem has been the chasms in their lineup. The Mets rank near the bottom of the National League in batting average, runs, hits and RBIs.
And if that weren’t enough, the Mets just lost a game in which Oliver Perez pitched. Perez was a punchline for several years, a giant bruise on the Big Apple, a symbol of their feckless play and reckless spending years ago.
Then there was Max Scherzer, who blanked the Mets — again. It wasn’t quite the complete-game masterpiece he painted at the end of 2015 — a no-hitter, no less. But it does highlight the problems the Mets have hitting a baseball.
Maybe it’s a cocktail of influence, from Murphy to Dusty Baker, who’s learned a thing or two about making the playoffs over his sprawling career. Whatever it is, the Nats look like the team they’re supposed to be, while the Mets look nothing like the team they used to be.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.