By Jason Keidel
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Who are the Mets?
Are they what they were just two years ago — a pitching-rich club with just enough lumber to labor through the summer, get you over 90 wins and a seat at the October table? Do the acquisitions of Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier have you scrambling for season tickets?
More to the point, do you trust them this year? Few teams in any town have given the natives more heartache than the Mets. Whether it’s the ’80s team that should have won a fistful of rings yet yielded only one, the Generation K club that fell apart like cotton candy, the squad that lost six- and seven-game leads in September a decade ago, you’ve been tested, teased and tormented beyond reason.
This iteration, seemingly set a couple years ago, fresh off a World Series appearance, is the latest chapter in an epic novel about injuries, ineptitude and even a Ponzi scheme. The latter sent Steve Phillips on a Twitter tirade. The former Mets general manager said the Wilpons’ passion for the fans and franchise transcends our understanding. It was an odd rant from a man canned by the team, but the Mets have always dwelled in the surreal.
Like signing Tim Tebow. Not that the Heisman-winning quarterback can’t chase his dreams. In fact, that’s part of Tebow’s charm, his numbness to odds and critics and haters. Perhaps no team is more historically suited to take on this sideshow than the New York Mets. If their goal was to spike minor-league ticket sales, it’s a clever monetary move. If, as general manager Sandy Alderson suggested, he’s got a path to the MLB club, then that’s something else. Something wholly Mets. If Tebow is in the middle of their order at any point before September call-ups, the team is likely in deep trouble.
If healthy — a major variable, for sure — the Mets’ rotation is easily in the top five in the National League. You can count on Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to pitch to the back of their baseball cards, but the difference between contending and pretending will likely pivot on Steven Matz and Matt Harvey. If you want a silver lining, this is the first time all five Mets starters — Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz, Harvey, and Zack Wheeler — will be healthy and pitching at the same time when the 2018 season starts. And Harvey, who will be eligible for free agency after this season, will never have more incentive to return to his brief but iconic Dark Knight contours.
Syndergaard was brilliant in his spring training debut, matching Justin Verlander pitch for pitch and even cracking triple digits on the radar gun. But Mets fans might already be bracing for bad news. Already we’re hearing of nagging injuries to deGrom — who may not be ready for Opening Day — as well as to Cespedes and even newly signed reliever Anthony Swarzak. All the troubling news poured out during their 8-2 loss to the Astros in Florida on Tuesday.
For most teams, getting nicked up is part of getting in shape, almost a rite of spring. But when you’ve been as unlucky as the Mets, their fans surely feel cursed or snakebitten or otherwise haunted. This club, on paper is more than good enough to make noise deep into summer and September and perhaps beyond. We just don’t know which Mets we’re getting, the spunky, charmed group 2015-16 or the team in tatters in 2017, that dissolved into irrelevance and pushed manager Terry Collins out the door.
The Mets have a new skipper, Mickey Callaway, who stewarded a fine rotation in Cleveland last year. As pitching coach of the Indians, Callaway lorded over the best staff in the sport. Maybe his mojo or leadership can turn this baseball tanker back around. They have the parts, they just need direction, a little luck and a willingness to ignore their ignominious history.
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