By Joe Rini
The cheers will be a little louder at Friday’s New York Mets home opener at Citi Field versus the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Mets will be sitting in first place in the National East’s standings as they stand for player introductions. The unveiling of the long-overdue Tom Seaver statue at Citi Field will inspire cheers and perhaps, tears, across generations. However, while this week’s sampling of seven games fueled optimism for 2022, struggles by the bullpen raised concerns.
Opening on the road against two division rivals, the Mets won an impressive five of seven games. They won three of four against the Washington Nationals and two of three from the Philadelphia Phillies. The arms of the starting rotation accounted for much of this early success. A week ago, Tylor Megill was the unlikeliest of Opening Day starters in the absence of Jacob deGrom. Two starts and 10 1/3 scoreless innings later, Megill’s record stands at 2-0. Also, Chris Bassitt, who starts the Mets home opener, pitched six scoreless innings against the Nationals in a 5-0 Mets win. Overall, the Mets starters pitched at least five innings in six of seven games. While not herculean, it’s a promising start by the rotation considering the truncated spring training preparing for the regular season.
Yet, even with the good start by the rotation, the Mets called upon the bullpen to obtain a significant amount of outs per game. Unfortunately, outs number 22, 23, and 24, aka, the eighth inning, posed some early-season issues. The bullpen blew saves in consecutive games to the Nationals and Phillies. On Sunday, the Mets bullpen surrendered three runs eighth-inning runs to the Nationals in a 4-2 loss. The next day three Mets relievers surrendered five eighth-inning runs as the Phillies gut-punched the Mets 5-4.
There’s no reason to panic about the bullpen this early in the season. For one thing, the blown saves occurred while Edwin Diaz was on bereavement leave. Also, Buck Showalter is still sorting out the roles each reliever will play this year. For example, he allowed Drew Smith to pitch the eighth inning in the Mets 2-1 win over the Phillies and Smith rewarded that confidence with a 1-2-3 outing. However, with hopes high at Citi Field, the bullpen needs to be reliable all year and not just at the Mets home opener.