The New York Mets: Fair or Foul Weather Ahead?
Good morning. It’s Friday. The Mets are scheduled to play their home opener today. We’ll get an assessment of their chances for the season from our baseball editor.
Credit…Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
The Mets are scheduled to play their home opener at Citi Field this afternoon. I know, I know, they’re off to a dismal start, all things considered. On Monday and Tuesday the Milwaukee Brewers scored a combined total of 19 runs off the Mets, who scored none. Then the Brewers beat them again on Wednesday — by one.
Still, to quote Tug McGraw, as Mets fans so often do, you gotta believe. So I asked Benjamin Hoffman, our baseball editor, to talk about the possibilities for the Mets season and the money that the financier Steven Cohen has poured in since taking over in 2021.
In the standings the Mets are 3-4, but their losses to injuries are more troubling: Edwin Díaz will be out for the season and Verlander for who knows how long. They were going to be two of the big stars of the season. Why shouldn’t Mets fans just give up now?
Losing Díaz was a bummer. He is one of the most dominant closers in baseball, and his intro is the best part of a game at Citi Field. It was also a bummer to have people blame the World Baseball Classic, since the injury — on the mound as he celebrated winning a game with Team Puerto Rico — was just a freakish postgame accident.
Verlander’s injury was more predictable. He’s 40 — the fourth oldest player in the majors — and pitched only six total innings in the two seasons leading up to his 2022 comeback with Houston. He had been complaining about his mechanics as spring training wound down, and a trip to the injury list shortly followed.
All hope should not be lost. The Mets built depth into the bullpen, and David Robertson, an experienced closer, can fill in for Díaz. He won’t fully replace the team’s ace reliever, but he’s a huge luxury. In Verlander’s case, the injury was characterized as minor, and he said he would have been able to play through it if the circumstances called for that. He should be back soon.
Have the Mets adjusted to the new pitch clock?
There are going to be some awkward moments as players get used to the pitch clock, and an automatic strike against Jeff McNeil last week in the first game of the season (when Pete Alonso didn’t get back to first base fast enough after McNeil hit a foul ball) is probably the weirdest so far.
But the first four days of games averaged fewer than one violation per game leaguewide, so players are handling things well. And to McNeil’s credit, two pitches later he ripped a two-run double. Let’s just ignore Monday’s blowout loss, with four Mets violations.
How the clock plays out on a long-term basis should be interesting. As our James Wagner wrote last season, many players on the Mets like to take deep breaths to center themselves. In a long season, taking that away could lead to sloppy play.
The Mets signed Kodai Senga, a right-hander from Japan, for $75 million. He brought the ghost fork with him. What is that, anyway?
Unlike Daisuke Matsuzaka’s famed (and fictional) gyroball, Senga’s ghost fork is real and it is devastating. In his first start, he recorded eight strikeouts, and every single one of them ended with a ghost fork.
Despite the nickname, the fun logo of it stitched onto his glove and the general sense that we’re being shown something new, the pitch is just a forkball. A really, really good forkball. Pitchers like Jack Morris and Dave Stewart thrived with the pitch in a previous generation, so older fans probably recognized it. But for younger people, a fork is a pitch thrown with your fingers wide across the ball in which a pitcher snaps his wrist upon release. It looks like a fastball but drops off significantly as it reaches the plate. In Senga’s case, batters have said it disappears — hence, ghost fork.
The pitch is known to be effective, but it has a reputation for causing injuries. Stewart said that is not a real concern provided the pitch is thrown properly, but Senga was frequently injured in Japan, is adjusting to a larger baseball and will be used more often, so the team will have to monitor his health closely.
Major League Baseball is worried that attendance was falling even before the pandemic-limited seasons in 2020 and 2021. Is the Mets’ way of filling the seats at Citi Field simply to spend the money for star players?
Baseball attendance is a funny thing. Ask anyone what the golden age of baseball interest was in the United States and they might say the 1920s (Babe Ruth!), the ’50s (Mickey Mantle!) or maybe even the ’80s (Rickey Henderson!).
In reality, baseball’s best per-game attendance averages came in a three-season period from 2006 to 2008 (… Albert Pujols!). It then began slowly trickling down, and the 2021 season was a mess of Covid-related restrictions. In 2022, baseball recovered to 94.2 percent of the per-game average in 2019, and things seemed to improve as the season went along.
It is certainly a concern for M.L.B., but there is optimism that it will rise again this year, particularly with the popular new rules.
As for the Mets, they were 11th in attendance last year with an average of 31,663 a game. It is not a particularly high number when you consider New York’s population (the Yankees averaged 38,719) but it represented an increase over the last few prepandemic years. And with Steven Cohen bringing things like Old-Timers’ Day back, fans seem happy.
Cohen has shown he’s willing to spend and spend big, but do the players like him?
By all accounts the players love Cohen. And not just Mets players. Having an owner who is willing to give Francisco Lindor a $341 million contract and Max Scherzer a record for average salary for a pitcher (which he matched for Verlander), puts pressure on the other 29 owners to increase spending as well.
So do you expect to see the Mets in the postseason?
Yes, though that isn’t the strongest of endorsements.
With an expanded playoff field, the Mets could qualify for the postseason by winning their division or capturing one of three N.L. wild-card spots. The depth created by a record-setting payroll should make a wild card the bare minimum of expectations. But for all of Cohen’s off-season spending, the Mets did not get appreciably better. Add in some injuries, and getting to 101 wins again isn’t likely.
Today won’t touch yesterday’s record or near-record temperatures — the 79-degree high in Central Park tied the high for the day from 1947, and records were set at Kennedy and Newark Airports. Expect a cooler day today with temperatures in the low 60s under a partly sunny sky. At night it will be mostly cloudy, with temps dropping to the high 30s.
Suspended today (Passover).
The latest New York news
New York City Council
Running for Harlem City Council: Yusef Salaam, who was one of the wrongly imprisoned Central Park Five, is running for City Council — and he says that the indictment of the former president, who infamously called for the death penalty for Salaam, is “karma.”
Weight discrimination bill: The City Council is looking at passing legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on a person’s height and weight in employment, housing or access to public accommodations.
More local news
From battleships to planet-saving lab: The Brooklyn Navy Yard, once a building ground for battleships, is now a sprawling manufacturing complex where companies can test out technology for a greener future.
Michael K. Williams death: The heroin dealer who sold a fatal dose to the actor Michael K. Williams pleaded guilty to narcotics charges and faces between 24 to 30 years in prison.
Guilty in four murders: A retired police officer who briefly shared a cell with the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was convicted in the murders of four men. Prosecutors said that the retired officer, Nicholas Tartaglione, had been running a drug ring and suspected that one of the four had been stealing his money.
On the C
I was on a downtown C train. There was a man in front of me with a hat and curly hair.
Across from him was a young woman.
I noticed that she was doodling on a piece of paper.
She was drawing him.
When she was done, she showed him the drawing.
He smiled and took a picture. Then she showed the drawing to me.
— Ardavan Nozari
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you on Monday. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero, Shivani Gonzalez and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].