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Series Preview: Don’t worry, they’re still the Mets

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It’s tough to say they’re cursed, but they’re their own brand of weird.

MLB: New York Mets at Arizona Diamondbacks Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets overhauled their front office over the winter, bringing in a player agent to become their new general manager. It was a bold move that still felt like a very Mets move. GM Brodie Van Wagenen proceeded to remake the team with bold moves that still felt like very Mets moves.

The big one was the trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz in exchange for Jay Bruce and a bunch of other players, including one of the Mets’ top prospects. Cano was suspended for PED use last season, but in the previous three seasons (ages 33-35), he posted an OPS+ of 129 in 1,711 plate appearances. Edwin Diaz was the best closer in baseball, racking up 57 saves in 2018 along with 124 strikeouts in 73.1 IP.

This year, Diaz has seen his ERA inflate by 1.5 runs year over year, and his FIP double (1.61 in 2018, 3.69 so far in 2019). Meanwhile, Robinson Cano is hitting .241/.287/.371 in 45 games (181 PA) and is now on the injured list. Veteran Jed Lowrie signed a 2-year deal but has yet to play an inning of the regular season so far due to a knee injury and complicating rehab.

The list goes on and on in terms of free agent signings, younger players, and their superstar, Yoenis Cespedes, getting hurt or staying hurt for most or all of this season, when they’re not simply underperforming. Not only is Edwin Diaz struggling, but after superb 2018s, Carlos Beltran trade chip Zack Wheeler and R.A. Dickey trade chip Noah Syndergaard are struggling mightily, with both serving up 80-something ERA+ seasons approximately 75 innings into their seasons.

The Mets are a mess. The Mets have always been a mess. Even when they’re winning it’s an uneasy alliance between clean and messy, and it’s very rarely clean. It feels impossible to put all the blame on their owners, the Wilpon family, but then again, it’s hard to argue against the idea that “it all starts at the top”. And when you dig down even a little bit, it’s clear that Mets fans have it right:

The Mets are the Baseball Knicks, and the Giants will be spending the next three days standing next to their exploded nuclear reactor, absorbing their radiation in this clumsy Chernobyl comparison because I just finished watching the excellent HBO miniseries.

For their part, the Giants are just as messy, but mainly due to their extreme success earlier this decade. If the Mets are serious about staying competitive in a tough NL East — they’re 4.5 games out of first place with a 28-31 record — they’ll rise to the occasion and paste the Giants. Then again, they are the Mets, and they don’t seem to know what they’re doing half the time.

Hitter to watch

This is a tough call. Pete Alonso was the Mets’ second round draft pick in 2016. He’s a 24 year old first baseman with a .940 OPS through his first 58 major league games (239 PA, all this season). He’s also third in baseball with 19 home runs. Since we’re in the middle of the MLB Draft, I figure watching a dude who was selected just three years ago and is now destroying the league is worth your valuable time.

But there’s also Michael Conforto, the 26-year old outfielder whom the Mets have been wary of letting loose. Remember when they were platooning him because they didn’t want him to struggle so much against left-handed pitching? He has a .387 OBP overall on the season, but it’s just .306 against lefties. Did the Mets have it right? Not so sure. He’s also slugging .474 against lefties and a .780 OPS against on the season — that’s pretty good. He should be out there against Madison Bumgarner tonight, and he should be considered the best hitter on the team for the moment.

Pitcher to watch

If you have a heavily curated Twitter timeline like mine, then you might have a lot of Mets fans squawking all the time. Pitch to pitch, practically. And virtually every tweet makes it sound like a pitcher has given up a grand slam or a hitter has struck out on two pitches after grounding into a double play, and the most recent target of this Metshysteria has been their fifth starter, Jason Vargas.

It’s definitely a sign of a healthy fan base to go so hard on a fifth starter, and Jason Vargas is one of the fifth starteriest fifth starters you can find. He has completed five innings or more just four times in eight starts, and in five of his eight starts he’s allowed just a run. In one of the other starts, he allowed just two runs. He had a 2.81 ERA in three May starts and he’s exactly the kind of soft-tossing lefty who gives the Giants trouble. Can Tyler Austin alone improve their chances of hitting him hard?

Prediction

Recent DFA-ee Aaron Altherr hit a home run in his first Mets at bat, but since then he is hitless, drawing just a walk over his last 11 plate appearances. He’ll have at least an extra base hit this series, almost certainly against Madison Bumgarner.