“We are still in the pennant race,” Mets manager Terry Collins said at his postgame press conference following the Mets’ 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals on Sunday. “We were in the same position last year as we went into the All-Star Game break and we wound up playing in the World Series,” he added.
Collins had to deliver a reassuring message but he certainly realizes that there are a lot of differing factors between last year and this.
For starters, Washington Nationals manager in Dusty Baker is a vast improvement over his predecessor, Matt Williams, who was fired last October. The addition of ex-Met Daniel Murphy has given that talented lineup even more firepower. Much to the chagrin of Mets fans, Murphy has looked like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams rolled into one whenever he has faced his former teammates. His replacement at second base, Neil Walker, was almost as hot as Daniel was for the first two months of the season but his bat has considerably cooled.
Forgetting the competition for a minute, injuries have been the unfortunate story. On the offensive side, franchise face and seven-time All-Star, third baseman David Wright, is done for the season after undergoing surgery to repair herniated discs in his neck. The team’s most intimidating slugger, centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes, pulled a quad muscle in his right leg last Friday night and the Mets are hoping that the All-Star Game respite will give him enough time to recover without going on the disabled list.
The news on the pitching front was equally bleak. Flame thrower Noah Syndergaard left the game in the fifth inning Friday night complaining of a dead arm. Medical tests taken shortly afterwards thankfully found no structural damage and the Mets are hoping that he will be able to take the mound in Chicago next week when the Mets face the Cubs.
Of course the big story of the Mets’ last homestand is that onetime ace Matt Harvey will be lost for the rest of the 2016 campaign because of needed surgery to correct Thoracic Outlet Syndrome which has affected the nerves and blood flow between his neck and pectoral areas.
Harvey has a very pedestrian 4-10 record. While Matt has not been the dominant pitcher Mets fans have come to expect, his won-loss stat is a bit misleading because the Mets’ bats were frequently asleep when he had been on the mound.
His current replacement in the rotation, Logan Verrett, does not give the Mets the anywhere near the same chance to win as even a mediocre Matt Harvey does. Lacking velocity, he depends on location and guile to get by big league hitters. That may work for a few innings but he understandably has problems the third time through an opposing lineup. The Nationals made that quite evident Saturday.
The Mets will be in Philadelphia this weekend and while there is still plenty of baseball left to be played I consider this series to be a very big litmus test for them. The Phillies are not a great team by any means but they have some exciting young players such as All-Star centerfielder Odubel Herrera, third baseman Maikel Franco, first baseman Tommy Joseph, and pitchers Aaron Nola and Jared Eikhoff. They also play very hard for manager Pete Mackanin.
Having said that, our Flushing heroes had better take two out of three games from the Phillies or I can easily see the wheels falling off the truck as far as this season goes. The road trip only gets harder after that as the Mets take on the Cubs at Wrigley Field and then onto Miami to play the Marlins who have basically shared second place in the National League East with them all season long.
This will be the only weekend that the Mets will be in Philadelphia during 2016. If it were up to the Phillies accounting department they would be there at least once a month. The one-two punch of New York being the nation’s most populous market along with the geographic proximity of the two cities means more customers than usual coming to beautiful Citizens Bank Park.
If you have never been to Citizens Bank Park, or it has been awhile since you were there, this weekend is a good time to do so. The Mets will be away from Queens until July 25 so if you are a fan of the Amazins it’s worth the 100-mile trip. Phillies ticket prices are less than comparable seats at Citi Field. The fact that the Phillies are not the dominant team that they were a few years ago means that ticket availability is not a problem.
Philadelphia hotels are generally very quiet during summer weekends and nearly all of them offer bargain weekend packages. The city has changed a lot since I was a kid as there plenty of new museums, trendy restaurants and retailers, and exciting nightlife in Center City so by all means do more when you are there than just go to a ballgame. For more information on the city’s best deals log onto visitphilly.com
It is always fun to get to Citi Field early to watch batting practice. Besides watching major league hitters deposit balls into the stands with mammoth blasts you can also do some celebrity watching. A few weeks ago Carmelo Anthony stopped by the ballpark. Last Thursday singers Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato were outside of the Mets dugout talking with players and posing for photos from both baseball photographers and paparazzi. Jonas wound up taking some swings in the Mets indoor batting cage.
Most baseball players generally escape from the city in which they are working to either return to their hometowns or take quick vacations at exotic locales. A pair of newcomers to the Mets, outfielder Brandon Nimmo and first baseman James Loney were looking forward to enjoying New York. Nimmo was looking forward to seeing some Broadway shows and trying new restaurants. When I asked his plans for the upcoming off days, Loney quickly replied, “ I hear that Queens has some nice beaches!” He’s right about that.