July 14, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: There’s an All-Star Game Every Day…Kind of

By Joe Rini

Did you miss the All-Star Game this week? Don’t worry, there’s practically an All-Star game every day in 2023. Like an All-Star Game, a game with multiple pitchers pitching short stints shouldn’t be hard to find. Yet, from a pitching perspective, today’s daily boxscores resemble the boxscore of a 1960s-era All-Star Game. Watching four pitchers wind their way through nine innings today, even in a low-scoring game, conjures up images of All-Star Games past, albeit without the multiple future Hall of Famers.

All-Star Game Every Day

A game in 2023 typically sees at least three pitchers get through nine innings. Complete games are rare and there’s usually a setup man between the starter and the closer. For instance, a glance at the 15 boxscores from a week ago on July 7 shows only three games where a team used two pitchers across nine innings. Contrast that with a look at the similarly spaced Friday before the All-Star game in 1969. On July 18, 1969, there were 14 games played (two doubleheaders), and eight of the 14 winning teams featured completed game victories.

Therefore, watching the NL or AL All-Star teams use four pitchers to get through nine innings resembles the current game in that sense. The innings distribution varied because the ASG starter would only go three innings but the subsequent “relievers” (who were invariably starting pitchers) would also pitch two 0r even three innings. For example, from a New York Mets fan’s perspective, it was a typical day at the office when Tom Seaver opened the historic 1970 All-Star Game with three scoreless innings. Five years later, his teammate Jon Matlack picked up the victory and co-MVP honors with two scoreless innings in relief.

More Exhibition Than a Contest

Another similarity between a current regular season game and a 1960s-era ASG is the starters stayed in the game. For instance, not only did the NL win the 1967 All-Star Game in 15 innings, but 11 position players from both teams played the entire game. Catcher Bill Freehan caught all 15 innings and had six plate appearances (no All-Star break for Bill!). Perhaps more incredible by today’s standards, Jim “Catfish” Hunter pitched five innings in relief but was tagged with the loss.

However, the All-Star Game of today is very different from its ancestor. None of the pitchers pitched more than an inning. No position players played the entire game. The intensity of past All-Star games is diminished by inter-league play.  It’s more “exhibition” than “mid-season classic.” However, the NL’s 3-2 victory featured late-inning heroics by an unlikely hero, Elias Diaz. Fans enjoy the Home Run Derby, seeing everyone play, and hearing mic’d-up players in the middle of the game. Is it better today? Is it worse? Perhaps it’s best to say, it’s just different.

July 1, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: Giants Outlast Mets 5-4 at Citi Field

By Joe Rini

The San Francisco Giants outlasted the New York Mets 5-4 at Citi Field on Friday in another crushing loss for the Amazins. A crowd of 30,116 cheered for most of the evening but ultimately departed disappointed as the Giants pulled away for good with a three-run eighth inning. For the Mets, Jeff McNeil doubled twice and knocked in two runs and Tommy Pham collected three hits but the Mets ultimately lost their 17th game in 26 tries in June.

The Mets opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, Francisco Lindor lined a single to right field off starter Alex Cobb. The first pitch swinging, left-handed swinging McNeil laced a double down the leftfield line scoring Lindor for the 1-0 lead. Cobb subsequently stranded McNeil as he retired the next two batters.

The Giants outlasted the Mets by quickly evening the score in the top of the second. Thairo Estrada singled off starter Carlos Carrasco with one out and Blake Sabol reached on a fielder’s choice, beating the throw on a potential inning-ending double play. The Giants took advantage of the “extra” out as Luis Matos and Brandon Crawford punched consecutive singles and pushed across the tying run for a 1-1 game.

Shoddy fielding by the Giants helped the Mets regain the lead in the third inning. After Pham singled, first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr. dove and smothered a hard ground off the bat of Brett Baty. However, in attempting to turn a double play, Wade’s throw ended up in centerfield. One out later, Omar Narvaez skied a short sacrifice fly to centerfield scoring Pham as Matos’ throw home skipped to the backstop.

Giants Tie the Score Again

The Giants outlasted the Mets by overcoming their errors in the second inning. They tied the score in the top of the fifth inning on a home run by ex-Mets favorite Wilmer Flores. Brandon Nimmo robbed Wade of a potential home run with a leaping catch in deep right-center leading off the inning. However, Nimmo barely caught his breath before Flores sent him running to deep left center. This time he ran out of room at the wall and Flores’ blast tied the game 2-2.

But the Mets answered the Giants’ run and regained the lead in the fifth inning. After Nimmo singled with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning, once again McNeil doubled down the left field line scoring Nimmo from first with the lead run. With that run, the Mets led 3-2 entering the sixth inning as each team reached into their bullpens for the final frames. Taylor Rogers relieved Cobb in the sixth inning but Tommy Pham launched a drive down the left field line just inside the fair pole and the Mets led 4-2 going into the seventh.

Giants Erupt

Buck Showalter summoned closer David Robertson to pitch the eighth inning to protect the 4-2 lead. After striking out Flores for the first out, Joc Pederson lined a hard grounder to Pete Alonso behind the first base bag. However, Alonso compounded bobbling the ball with a wide throw to Robertson covering first and Pederson reached on an E3. Robertson subsequently walked JD Davis to put runners on first and second whereupon catcher Patrick Bailey deposited a Robertson knuckle curve deep into the New York night in center field and the Giants snatched a 5-4 lead from the Mets.

Giants Pen Holds the Lead

The Giants outlasted the Mets in the final innings with scoreless eighth and ninth innings. Tyler Rogers held the Mets scoreless in the eighth inning setting up closer Camilo Doval in the ninth inning. Pinch hitter Luis Guillorme walked with one out and Starling Marte replaced him as a pinch runner at first base. With Nimmo as the potential winning run at the plate, the flame of the Mets’ budding threat was doused quickly as Bailey threw Marte out attempting to steal second. Doval subsequently struck out Nimmo to end the game, giving the Giants the 5-4 victory as boos cascaded from the stands.

Good Riddance June

Sean Manaea picked up the win in relief to raise his record to 3-3 as Robertson’s record dropped to 2-2. With the Giants outlasting the Mets, the loss concludes a dreadful month for the Mets. They entered the month four games out of first place and exit it 18.5 behind the first-place Atlanta Braves. Whereas the Mets were clearly in the wildcard race a month ago, their path to the postseason is now as murky as the smog from the Canadian wildfires that hovered over Citi Field this evening.

June 15, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: Mets Edge Yankees 4-3 in Ten Innings

By Joe Rini

The New York Mets edged the New York Yankees 4-3 in ten innings on Wednesday before a sellout crowd of 44,121 at Citi Field. Good pitching and timely hitting by the Mets powered the come-from-behind win and helped them overcome a few costly physical and mental miscues that had them trailing 3-1 in the seventh inning. For instance, three innings after Brandon Nimmo’s base running lapse short-circuited a Mets rally, he delivered the game-winning double in the tenth inning. The Mets’ win gave them a split of this two-game series against their neighbors from the Bronx.

Mets Edge Yankees

Rival starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Gerritt Cole each allowed only one run in six innings and kept the game scoreless until the fifth inning. Francisco Lindor’s leadoff double broke up Cole’s budding perfect game in the fifth inning. After advancing to third on a fly ball out, Cole struck out Brett Baty. However, Tommy Pham delivered the clutch two-out RBI double to right center and the Mets led 1-0.

The Yankees wasted no time tying the score in the top of the sixth inning. Jose Trevino doubled down the left field line leading off the inning and advanced to third base on a flyout to right field. Jake Bauers, who saw 19 pitches in his first two hitless at-bats, only needed to see five in his third at-bat to tie the score. He delivered a single to right over the drawn-in infield, tying the game at one run apiece. Verlander limited the damage by inducing a 543 inning-ending double play on his 107th and final pitch of the night.

A Wild Seventh Inning

The Mets edging the Yankees seemed unlikely in the top of the seventh inning. A combination of physical and mental errors by the Mets in the top of the seventh gave the lead to the Yankees. Reliever Jeff Brigham walked Josh Donaldson and hit Anthony Rizzo with a pitch to put runners on first and second. One out later, the Yankees capitalized on a Mets error. Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit a soft grounder to Lindor who flipped it to Jeff McNeil at second for the force play. However, McNeil’s throw to first skipped past Mark Vientos scoring Donaldson from second base and the Yankees led 2-1.

Brooks Raley relieved Brigham but Kiner-Falefa subsequently stole the show. He started by stealing second and advancing to third base on Francisco Alvarez’s errant throw into center field. As Raley peered intently to face Billy McKinney at the plate, he didn’t notice Kiner-Falefa streaking home. By the time he did, his throw to Alvarez came closer to hitting McKinney than throwing out Kiner-Falelfa. He stole home, the Yankees stole a run and led 3-1.

The Comeback Begins as Mets Edge Yankees

The Mets edged the Yankees by picking themselves up from the ashes of the top of the seventh. In the seventh, the Mets loaded the bases with two outs on singles by Alvarez, Pham, and a walk to Vientos against reliever Jimmy Cordero. Ron Marinaccio relieved him and proceeded to hit Nimmo to force in their second run. Starling Marte lined a hard single to left scoring the tying run. However, Nimmo failed to notice that Vientos was held up at third base and was thrown out trying to claw his way back to second base.

The respective bullpens kept the game tied at 3-3 at the end of nine innings and extra innings followed. Mets reliever Dominic Leone retired Donaldson with two on in the top of the tenth setting up the Mets to win it. Nimmo’s one-out double off the base of the wall in right-center against Nick Ramirez scored the ghost runner Eduardo Escobar, and the Mets had the 4-3 victory. Leone raised his record to 1-2 with the Mets’ victory while Albert Abreu’s record dropped to 2-2 with the loss.

LWOB Question to Buck Showalter

Before the Mets edged the Yankees, LWOB asked Buck Showalter about the emotional impact of recent losses where the Mets squandered leads. He said, “That’s a good question and I think about it. I try to think I’m ‘half-full’ without being blind to something obvious. Our guys have responded very well to those things.”

Showalter said, “It’s just a phase of the game we can’t quite finish off. It’s very frustrating for them” because they’re working hard. However, he said, “The game doesn’t always cooperate with you. There are good players on the other side.” He doesn’t see the team “getting bogged down in ‘woe is me,” but added you have to look at things that are “self-inflicted.” Perhaps this win is a first step forward for the Mets.

June 3, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: Bassitt Shuts Down Mets 3-0

By Joe Rini

Chris Bassitt shut down his former teammates as the Toronto Blue Jays topped the New York Mets 3-0 at Citi Field on Friday. The postgame featured a fireworks show but the Mets barely managed a fizzle batting against Bassitt. The Mets elected not to re-sign and pay Bassitt in the offseason and he made them pay tonight. He pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings, scattered three hits, struck out eight batters, and raised his record to 6-4. Additionally, Bassitt pitched this game knowing he’d immediately be boarding a plane to Toronto to be with his wife who is in labor. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a routine day at the office for Bassitt.

Bassitt Shuts Down Mets

Rain delayed the start of the game by ninety minutes, but the Blue Jays wasted no time scoring in the first inning. George Springer launched Justin Verlander’s second pitch of the game 422 feet into the center field night and the Blue Jays led 1-0. This early lead proved to be insurmountable as Bassitt shut down the Mets.

The Mets squandered a scoring opportunity in their half of the third inning. After Mark Canha singled and stole second base, Francisco Alvarez reached on an infield error by Vladimir Guerrero. However, with runners on the corners and no outs, Bassitt quickly retired the top of the Mets lineup on two harmless pop-ups that sandwiched a strikeout.

Verlander held the Blue Jays scoreless after the leadoff home run as he gutted his way through six innings. Verlander worked hard to keep the game at 1-0 in the sixth inning. Bo Bichette slammed a single off Verlander’s leg and a walk to Guerrero put runners on first and second with no outs. Verlander battled back to strike out the next two batters but Whit Merrifield lined a single to deep shortstop to load the bases. With his pitch odometer rising and gas tank lowering, Verlander struck out Daulton Varsho with his 117th pitch of the night.

1-0 Seemed Like 10-0

Bassitt shut down the Mets as he retired 14 batters in a row before Starling Marte singled with two outs in the seventh inning. Marte subsequently stole second base but Mark Vientos grounded out to shortstop to end the inning. Bassitt left the game with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning as Tim Mayza retired Brandon Nimmo to end the inning.

The Blue Jays solidified the game in the top of the ninth inning with a two-run homer by Varsho. With one out, Merrifield lined a single to left field before Varsho hammered a 3-0 cutter from Jeff Brigham into the upper deck in right field increasing the Blue Jays lead to 3-0. Jordan Romano retired the Mets in the ninth inning to pick up his 14th save of the season.

LWOB Question to Billy Eppler

Before Bassit shut down the Mets, General Manager Billy Eppler met with the press in the Mets dugout.  LWOB asked Eppler about the progress of building starting pitching depth in the organization. Eppler mentioned meeting with player development leadership earlier on Friday to talk about pitching specifically. He said they’re “on the verge of some player movement” because some starters in the minors have pitched well. He added, “The enhancements we made in our pitching program are starting to take shape from a systems and process standpoint,” allowing the organization to do more “more objective-aided development in our system.” Eppler said, “Things are trending in a good direction there.”

May 22, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: Mets Winning Streak Reaches Five Games

By Joe Rini

The New York Mets winning streak reached five games as they topped the Cleveland Guardians 2-1 on Sunday night. Before a nationally televised audience and 29,862 fans at Citi Field, the New York Mets edged the Guardians 2-1 in a battle of former Cy Young award winners. Justin Verlander battled Shane Bieber to a tie until the Mets scratched out the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning to prevail 2-1. Both hurlers pitched eight innings and Brooks Raley pitched a scoreless ninth inning to save the win for Verlander. The win capped a sweep of a day-night doubleheader where the Mets won the opener 5-4.

Verlander Starts Slow then Revs Up

The Guardians threatened the Mets’ winning streak three batters into the game. Jose Ramirez hit a no-doubt home run with two outs that nearly made the flight schedule of nearby LaGuardia Airport as it landed in the upper deck in right field. However, Verlander recovered to retire Josh Naylor for third out and kept the Guardians off the board for the rest of the game. He subsequently scattered two singles over the next seven innings and kept the Guardians at one run. His eight-inning outing was the longest by a Mets pitcher this year and a welcome relief to the Mets’ bullpen. Verlander walked no one and struck out five Guardians in picking up his second win of the season.

Lindor Leads the Way

The Mets evened the score 1-1 when Francisco Lindor led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a home run to left center field. After Verlander left the field to a standing ovation after retiring the Guardians in order in the top of the eighth inning, the Mets rallied. Francisco Alvarez opened the bottom half of the inning by poking an opposite-field single over second baseman Andres Gimenez’s outstretched arms. Starling Marte pinch ran for Alvarez and advanced to third base as Lindor bounced a single to center field with one out. Marte promptly scored as Jeff McNeil sacrificed flied to deep-enough left field and the Mets led 2-1. This Mets’ winning streak featured three come-from-behind wins this weekend.

Mets’ Winning Streak at Five

The victory capped a 5-1 homestand for the Mets and gets them back over .500 at 23-20. After the game, manager Buck Showalter said of Verlander, “He was outstanding…a lot a strike ones. He set the tempo and they had to adjust to him.” Buck said of Verlander after the home run, “He settles in. He doesn’t waver. He’s convicted in what he does and stays with it. He had a lot of pitches working for him tonight.”

LWOS Question to Showalter

After the game, Last Word on Sports asked Showalter about the progress of rookie Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez. The 21-year-old Alvarez caught the victory for Verlander and started the game-winning rally with a single. Showalter said, “He’s doing well. We’re proud of him.” Showalter called him a “sponge” and a “really good listener. Showalter added, “He’s been a tough kid. I love how he absorbs everything and (his) effort and energy has been contagious.” The Mets winning streak will fly out to Chicago with them. They open with three games against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday followed by three games with the Colorado Rockies. Will the Mets win this week?

May 13, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: How Former Cy Young Winners Have Fared with the Mets

By Joe Rini

With his belated 2023 debut, Justin Verlander joined the 14 Cy Young winners who pitched for the New York Mets after winning the award. The success of these former Cy Young winners pitching in the orange and blue has varied. For instance, Bartolo Colon pitched long enough to become a folk hero while Dean Chance’s three games in 1970 barely cast a ripple in Mets history.  One thing all 14 of these pitchers have in common is they never won a subsequent Cy Young in a Mets uniform. Will Verlander defy history?

Battling Age, Injury, and History

Age and injuries figure prominently as to why none of these pitchers joined Tom Seaver, Jacob deGrom, Dwight Gooden, and R.A. Dickey as Cy Young winners for the Mets. Like many former Cy Young winners joining the Mets, the 40-year-old Verlander is near the end of his career. However, he’s the first since Frank Viola in 1989 to join the Mets as a reigning Cy Young winner. A late-season acquisition in 1989, Viola won 20 games in 1990 for the Mets and place third in that year’s Cy Young voting. Unfortunately, he couldn’t duplicate that success in subsequent years.

A decade after Viola, neither Pedro Martinez nor Johan Santana replicated their successful first seasons in New York. Both pitched well in year one before injuries hampered the rest of their time in Flushing. Martinez followed his 15-win 2005 season with three injury-interrupted seasons. Three years later, Santana won 16 games for the Mets and placed third in Cy Young voting. Unfortunately, injuries marred the rest of his career, including two major shoulder surgeries. Fair or not, the injuries nagging Max Scherzer in 2023 ominously call to mind the fates of Santana and Martinez.

Cy Young Winners Verlander and Scherzer

Despite the 2023 reunion of Verlander and Scherzer as teammates, their performances have so far diverged. After missing the first month of the season, Verlander is giving the Mets reason to be optimistic every fifth game. He picked up his first win of the season with seven innings of one-run ball as the Mets edged the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Scherzer’s struggles mirror the current struggles of the Mets as a whole. Scherzer dominated for stretches last year before late-season injuries derailed him. Adding Verlander to Scherzer atop the Mets rotation was supposed to anchor the Mets staff. So far, that has not been the case. For instance, the Mets scratched Scherzer from his scheduled start on Tuesday against the Reds due to neck spasms. Nagging injuries in addition to a suspension have limited Scherzer to one start since April 19 as the Mets have dropped 13 of 18 games, adrift in the NL East at 19-20.

What’s Next?

As the Mets look to rebound, they have multiple options to improve their offense. However, there isn’t a plan B if Verlander and Scherzer fail to anchor the rotation. The Mets need them to pitch well and deep into games. Historically speaking, it’s in the Mets’ best interests if Verlander duplicates the success of Martinez and Santana in their first seasons while Scherzer avoids the injuries that followed them thereafter.

April 23, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: Bargain Bin Contributors Rescuing Mets

By Joe Rini

“Bargain bin” contributors have responded to a slew of injuries in the starting rotation for the New York Mets. Max Scherzer’s 10-day suspension and Carlos Carrasco’s latest injury this week left the Mets with four of their five starting pitchers sidelined. With more than $110 million worth of starting pitching unavailable, the Mets dug deeper into the farm system and the opposite end of the salary spectrum for reinforcements.

First Up, Peterson and Megill

The original bargain bin contributors were David Peterson and Tylor Megill. Peterson beat out Megill to replace the injured Jose Quintana in the rotation at the end of spring training. However, Megill’s planned trip to Syracuse detoured to New York after Justin Verlander’s injury indefinitely postponed his Mets’ debut. So far, Megill has pitched better of the two. Megill’s tidy 3.00 ERA and 3-1 record calls to mind the promise he showed in 2021 and 2022 before injuries derailed his season. However, his long-term durability remains a concern since injuries limited Megill to 56 2/3 innings in 2022.

Given that Peterson started 19 games last season, the left-hander was the logical top candidate to move into the rotation after Quintana’s injury. Unfortunately, his first five starts raise concerns about his continued viability in the rotation. The San Francisco Giants tagged him for seven runs in five innings on Saturday, lowering his record to 1-3 and raising his ERA to an unsightly 7.36. His spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy when Scherzer returns on May 1.

Lucchesi Excels

The latest bargain bin contributor for the Mets is the most interesting. 29-year-old left-hander Joey Lucchesi hadn’t thrown a pitch for the Mets since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2021. He’d only won one game after winning 18 games across 2018 and 2019 for the San Diego Padres. However, Scherzer’s suspension expedited his path from Triple-A to the Mets, and he delivered their best-pitched game in 2023. Lucchesi pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out nine as the Mets topped the Giants 7-0 on Friday. If Lucchesi continues on his road from Tommy John surgery, he could be an option in the rotation if Peterson’s struggles continue.

Jose Butto represents another bargain bin contributor for Buck Showalter’s team. Butto pitched five innings of one-run ball in the Mets’ 4-3 victory over the Oakland A’s on April 16. While Butto returned to Syracuse after the game, look for him to return to the rotation in the coming weeks.

Bargain Bin Contributors Will Remain

Supported by a strong bullpen, the bargain bin replacements in the starting staff have helped the Mets to a 14-8 start. Given the injuries to the staff, opening the current West Coast trip with seven wins in nine games is impressive. However, long-term, the Mets need Scherzer and Verlander to quickly return to form when they return in early May. With the return of Quintana and Carrasco less certain, at least two spots in the rotation will be filled by replacements trying to make the most of their opportunity.

March 28, 2023 – Last Word on Sports: Mets Seek Redemption in 2023

By Joe Rini

The New York Mets seek redemption as the 2023 season dawns this week.  Winners of 101 games in 2022, visions of the World Series disappeared amidst a September fade and the whimper of an early Wild Card series exit against the San Diego Padres. The signing of Justin Verlander quickly dried the tears of Jacob deGrom’s departure and fueled hopes for 2023. However, the season-ending injury to Edwin Diaz leaves a giant void in the closer’s role. Here’s a look at how the Mets roster shakes out in their quest for a World Series title.

Mets Seek Redemption as Core Remains

On the plus side, the core of the Mets lineup remains intact. The NL’s batting champion and RBI leaders, Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso, man the right side of the Mets infield. Francisco Lindor flourished at shortstop and at the plate in 2022, and the Mets shouldn’t expect less this year. A healthy Brandon Nimmo and Starling Marte will be topping the lineup on Opening Day. The 2022 NL Manager of the Year Buck Showalter will helm the dugout once again. He and pitching coach Jeremy Hefner navigated the rotation through the absence of deGrom and shrewdly managed the workload of the bullpen in 2022.

Unlike the batting lineup, most of 2022’s starting rotation will be pitching elsewhere in 2023. However, the addition of three-time Cy Young Award winner Verlander bolsters the top of the Mets rotation with Opening Day starter Max Scherzer. A key question in 2023 will be whether Kodai Senga translates his success in Japan to Citi Field and MLB. Left-handed pitcher David Peterson injects youth into the rotation as he’s elevated from the spot starter role. However, the absence of the injured Jose Quintana quickly compromises the depth of the rotation. While Tylor Megill starts 2023 at Triple-A after an injury-plagued 2022, the Mets will undoubtedly count on him to jump into the rotation when necessary.

As Mets Seek Redemption, Questions Abound

As the Mets seek redemption, challenges lurk in the bullpen and at DH. The closer’s role will be filled alternatively by veterans David Robertson and Adam Ottavino in Diaz’s absence. Robertson saved 20 games in 2022 for the Philadelphia Phillies, while Ottavino had a sparkling season setting up for Diaz. However, both are 37 years old, and Showalter and Hefner will have to navigate their workloads accordingly. Their elevation to closing roles creates gaps in the middle innings of games. Drew Smith and Brooks Raley will pitch important innings out of the bullpen. The Mets also need to fill the former roles of Seth Lugo and Trevor Williams, two pitchers who could pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen.

The Mets did not dramatically fill the need for a DH in the offseason. Therefore, the Mets start 2023 filling that role in-house and with a modest addition. Daniel Vogelbach returns as the DH from the left side of the plate while Tommy Pham takes at-bats from the right side. Pham signed with the Mets in January, and he and Vogelbach should at least provide competence at DH. They hit a combined 35 home runs in 2022, although their batting averages were in the .230 range.

Rookies on the Way

High-profile rookies Francisco Alvarez and Brett Baty will start the 2023 campaign at Triple-A Syracuse. While fans yearn to see them play at Citi Field, both need additional seasoning at the Triple-A level. While Baty showed flashes of pop at the plate in a brief audition last season, he needs to improve his defense at third base. Alvarez, a 21-year-old catcher, socked 27 home runs in the minors last season but suffered growing pains after moving up to Triple-A. Look for Alvarez and Baty to be early call-ups if the offense lags.

The Quest Begins on March 30

Nothing is guaranteed as the Mets seek redemption from 2022 and win their first championship since 1986. At ages 40 and 38, Verlander and Scherzer will battle Father Time in addition to their NL East foes. A tough division battle is expected, but the Mets have enough proven veterans to at least earn a wildcard spot and hopefully extend their season into the World Series.

October 8, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Padres Batter Scherzer

By Joe Rini

NEW YORK, Oct 7 – The San Diego Padres homered four times off Max Scherzer en route to a 7–1 victory over the New York Mets at Citi Field on Friday in Game One of their Wild Card Series. The victory places the Padres on the cusp of advancing to the NLDS in the best-of-three series. Conversely, the Mets stare at a sudden end to their 101-win season. Yu Darvish kept the Mets off balance for seven innings, allowing only a solo home run to Eduardo Escobar. Jacob deGrom starts on Saturday against Blake Snell as the Mets seek to avoid elimination,

The fact that the Padres homered four times off the future Hall of Famer stunned the crowd of 41,621. A somber Scherzer addressed the media after the game, and cited a lack of fastball command. Scherzer said, “I wasn’t able to command that fastball the way I usually can. That’s my bread and butter to be able to set up everything else. When my fastball’s flat and then running, that’s usually when I get hit a lot. Obviously tonight I got hit a lot.”

Padres Homered Four Times

The Padres struck quickly in the top of the first inning. Jurickson Profar blooped Scherzer’s first pitch into short left field for a single. Scherzer subsequently retired Juan Soto and Manny Machado but fell behind Josh Bell 3-0. After taking a strike, Bell launched a home run to deep left center and the Padres led 2–0. Darvish held the Mets scoreless in the first inning, and the Padres rewarded him in the second inning. After Scherzer retired the first two Padres, Trent Grisham deposited Scherzer’s 1-1 pitch over the right field wall for a 3–0 lead.

Darvish kept the Mets scoreless as productive situational hitting eluded the Mets in the opening innings. After a would-be three-run home run by Pete Alonso tailed foul, Darvish struck him out looking with runners on the corners and one out. Starling Marte singled leading off the second inning and stole two bases with one out, but Darvish struck out Eduardo Escobar.

Scherzer Unravels

Scherzer settled down to retire seven in a row, but he unraveled in the fifth inning. The Padres’ onslaught began with a leadoff single by Ha-Seong Kim and Austin Nola doubled to put runners on second and third with one out. With the infield in to cut off a run, Profar belted a three-run home run to right field. The stunned Citi Field crowd watched the Padres’ lead grow to 6–0. Two batters later, Scherzer allowed his fourth home run of the night to Machado, the Padres led 7–0, and Scherzer left the game after 4 2/3 innings to a chorus of boos. Escobar’s solo home run in the fifth inning spoiled Darvish’s scoreless streak but not much else. Robert Suarez and Luis Garcia pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth inning to complete the victory.

Looking Ahead

Buck Showalter pointed to the lack of offense and praised Darvish. He said, “There’s two shapes of breaking balls, really three with the cutter, the slider, and the curveball. When he wants to, he makes pitches with that even to left-handed hitters.” After the game, Game 2 starter deGrom also addressed the media, and he’s looking forward to Saturday’s game. “This will be my first time in seven years pitching in the postseason and first time at Citi Field, so I’m excited. Like I said, you go out there and execute to the best of your ability and leave it all out on the field.”

October 7, 2022 – Last Word on Sports: Inside the Mets’ Postseason Quest

By Joe Rini

The New York Mets begin their postseason quest for a championship a few days earlier than expected. The Mets spent nearly every day of the 2022 season atop the NL Eastern division in first place. Unfortunately, one of those days in first place was not the last day of the regular season. Therefore, they will host the San Diego Padres in the best-of-three wildcard series starting on Friday night.

A 101-win season shouldn’t be considered a failure if it doesn’t end in the franchise’s first championship since 1986. However, a quick exit for the Mets from their postseason quest would be disappointing given the enthusiasm and promise of 2022. The Mets face a stiff competitor in the Padres, a team that defeated them in four out of six games in 2022. Additionally, the outcome of this series would affect the legacy of people like Buck Showalter and Jacob deGrom.

Showalter in Postseason

In his inaugural season as the Mets’ manager, Showalter turned around a team that collapsed into a heap of 85 losses in 2021. The Mets bypassed Showalter during the winter of 2018, but didn’t repeat that mistake two years later. Considered as one of the best managers of his generation, he walked into the Mets’ clubhouse in spring training with perhaps the most gravitas of any new Mets manager since Gil Hodges in 1968. He navigated the Mets through the absence of deGrom for most of the season and might win his fourth Manager of the Year Award.

The Mets are the fourth team Showalter has taken to the postseason. However, his past teams’ performances in the postseason have been spotty. He laid the foundation for World Series titles for the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, yet it was his successors who hoisted World Series trophies over their heads. A trip to the World Series is the one entry not on his sterling managerial resume. However, a very good Padres team is capable of ending the Mets’ season before the foliage brightens the New York autumnal landscape.

Is deGrom deGone?

Veteran Yu Darvish will start Game One for the Padres. The sixteen-game winner is an NL Cy Young Award candidate. More significantly, he handled the Mets easily in 2022. He picked up two wins in two starts, allowing only one run in 14 innings. The Mets’ offense, prone to disappearing acts late in the season, can not afford a slump this weekend.

Max Scherzer matches up against Darvish and he’ll need to improve upon his last performance against the Atlanta Braves. Nerves won’t be a factor for the veteran Scherzer, but he spent time on the IL in September with a left-side injury. Preventing All-Stars Manny Machado and Juan Soto from dominating this series is an obvious key for the Mets’ pitchers.

Ultimately, it may fall to deGrom to clinch the series for the Mets, or keep their season alive. The blueprint for the Mets was for deGrom to pitch himself into midseason form for the postseason. However, the more recent version of deGrom evokes a mere mortal than the other-worldly two-time Cy Young Award winner. After winning five of his first six decisions, deGrom dropped his final three decisions and his ERA ballooned from 1.66 to 3.08. Also, hanging over each deGrom start is the specter that it could be his final appearance in a Mets uniform if he opts out of his contract after the season. Physically ready or not, the Mets are relying heavily on deGrom.

Mets’ Postseason Quest Begins

It’s been a great 2022 for the Mets as a team and individually. Their 101 wins trail only the 1986 champions’ 108 wins. Pete Alonso tied Aaron Judge for the MLB leading 131 RBI to go with his 40 home runs. A late-season hot streak catapulted Jeff McNeil to a batting title and an MLB-leading .326 average. Closer Edwin Diaz dominated the ninth inning all season long for the Mets. Whether the good feelings carry on will be determined against the Padres this weekend.