The Royals return to Citi Field in New York tonight for the first time since they won their first championship in 30 years last October. The site is home to the everlasting image of Eric Hosmer sliding into home to the horror of the Mets fans in the stands, and where Wade Davis embraced Drew Butera as the Royals celebrated.
But there are two sides to every story, and of course, there is the story of those stunned, horrified Mets fans, thrilled at their October ride until it was met with a royal thud in the World Series. The Mets gave their fans quite a ride last year, and look to be a contender again this year with a rotation that is the envy of baseball. We talked to Steven Schreiber or Amazin Avenue on what the Mets have been up to since we saw them in the first series of the year.
There was a lot made about the Royals possibly retaliating against the Mets for Noah Syndergaard's brush back pitch in last year's World Series, but we didn't see anything in the season-opening series. Do you think there is bad blood between these teams? These fanbases?
Steven Schreiber: Thor goes in the series opener on Tuesday, so you never know what could happen, especially after he threw behind noted asshole Chase Utley last month. That being said, I would be somewhat surprised to see anything happen the next two days between the two teams. The bad blood kind of returned for Mets fans during the opening series this year and I wouldn't be surprised if Mets fans felt it again. Just know that with how poorly they're playing, most of the anger Mets fans are feeling nowadays is directed at their own team rather than at the opponent.
Daniel Murphy has been tearing the cover off the ball for the Nats, but Neil Walker has filled in pretty well at second for the Mets. Are Mets fans okay with how that played out or do they think the team should have tried harder to keep the NLCS MVP?
Steven Schreiber: Given hindsight and how poor the offense has been, the Mets would probably like that one back. At the same time, I don't think even the most optimistic fan of Daniel Murphy saw a .358/.399/.595 line coming (and that's with many of us seeing that Kevin Long made some swing tweaks to improve his power). Murphy's got a .237 ISO so far and this is from a player who topped out at .168 last year and averaged around .120 from 2011-14. That's clearly a massive increase in power. Most assumed his postseason home run barrage was just that but clearly, it was more a sign of things to come. Unfortunately, the Mets caught the short end of the stick.
In fairness, Neil Walker has been quite good himself. He's had his own power spike (.212 ISO) and Kevin Long changed up his stride from the right side, which has turned him from a platoon hitter to a legitimate threat against lefties (he's nearly doubled his career output in HR from the right side already). Walker's also more sure handed at second base and has been better by UZR.
The thing the Mets really seem to miss is Murphy's penchant for contact, which hasn't really been Walker's game this year. Not only is his strikeout rate up by 4%, he's also been pretty awful in opportunities with runners on base, which is likely why he only has 28 runs batted in. Thinking about it, Walker's almost a microcosm of the Mets offense through the first three months this year.
It looks like David Wright is likely out for the year at third base. How do the Mets plan to fill that hole?
Steven Schreiber: First of all, please allow me to grieve for a second. David hit home runs in each of his last 3 games before a herniated disk took him out. Even as a shell of his former self with clearly diminished bat speed, David was still an important cog in the lineup.
For now, the plan is to play Wilmer Flores at third base and it's actually gone somewhat okay, so far. Nobody's ever going to mistake Wilmer for Brooks Robinson (or maybe George Brett is more appropriate here), he's a pretty bad defender. But his bat is what he's in the majors for and he's hit an excellent .333/.400/.521 with 3 doubles and 2 home runs in June.
Flores also offers a more contact oriented approach, which the Mets don't have a lot of. The problem has always been he's made lots of bad contact in the majors (weak groundballs and popups). Hopefully this stretch is a sign of things to come because otherwise, the Mets are going to need to acquire a third baseman.
What has been wrong with Matt Harvey this year?
Steven Schreiber: There were a lot of theories but he's had some mechanic flaws that have cropped up early on. In my unscientific opinion, I would guess this comes as a consequence of arm fatigue and throwing 216 innings fresh off of Tommy John surgery last season between the regular season and postseason. At times he's had a loss of velocity, especially after 3 innings or so, and has struggled with fastball command and with locating all of his secondary pitches. He's also had some issues from the stretch with repeating his delivery.
The good news is that he's had a bit of a bounce back, as he looked much more like the Matt Harvey of old in three of his last four starts, both in terms of performance and stuff.
What do the Mets need to do to get back in the Fall Classic this October?
Steven Schreiber: It's easy - they need to hit. The starting pitching has been excellent (short of Harvey) and the bullpen has shown some cracks this month but was lights out in April and May. All told, the Mets' offense is second in the National League in home runs, yet somehow just 13th in the NL in runs scored, ahead of only the lowly Phillies and Braves. This is all despite their position players averaging a solid, middle of the pack 101 wRC+. In translation: they've been woeful as a team with runners on base and in scoring position.
So from what I can tell, there are a couple of ways to interpret this: one way is that these hitters are too good to keep struggling at that pace with RISP and will eventually see breakouts from Walker and Curtis Granderson, which will make things look much better and make all the handwringing moot. The other way is that maybe these hitters aren't equipped to improve a ton there, given the penchant for strikeouts, which means that they may keep struggling and may need an acquisition or two to give them a boost.
I tend to lean towards the former here but given that the BABIP gods are notoriously fickle in their decision making, there's certainly a scenario where the latter continues or more likely, they end up somewhere along the spectrum between those two scenarios. Either way, they need help and will get some in the form of Travis d'Arnaud's return tonight. Hooray, no more Kevin Plawecki!
Royals fans will get to see Bartolo Colon pitch in this series, which means they will get to see Bartolo Colon hit. Please describe as best you can, what a remarkable experience that is.
Steven Schreiber: Have you ever tasted a rainbow? Watching Bartolo Colon hit is just like that except unspeakably better than that. You all know he hit a home run, right? He swings out of his shoes. He loses his helmet. When he hits the ball, he jogs to first base and typically doesn't even bother to drop the bat. It's a treat. Enjoy it!
Many thanks to Steven Schrieber for his time. You can read all the latest Mets news and analysis at Amazin Avenue.