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When Roles Diverge

Posted By Howard Megdal On May 11, 2012 @ 9:31 am In Citi Field,Today's Mets headlines | Comments Disabled

So I’ve been getting this question, from Twitter, on some of my pieces here and at Capital New York, from my wife’s co-workers, basically sounding like this:

“This Mets team is really good, right? RIGHT? Why aren’t you more optimistic? What the hell is wrong with you?!?”

I’m paraphrasing, but the basic story is this. The Mets are 18-13! And it is an attention-getting 18-13. They’ve swept three divisional rivals. They’ve had 11 come-from-behind victories. Rookies are hitting game-winning home runs. David Wright is playing like George Brett, 1980.

So my skepticism is getting treated like some kind of an agenda in certain quarters. (I’ve never been clear on how an agenda is supposed to work, if I had one- that by writing pessimistically about the Mets, I can convince the fan base wholesale that the Mets aren’t really winning the National League pennant, all evidence on the field to the contrary?) I must have it in for the Mets, despite my lifelong fandom, because of a previously-resolved disagreement [1] I had with the Mets this winter.

Here’s all I can tell you: I am loving this season so far. First of all, it is baseball, every day. If the Mets were terrible, I’d still enjoy that. But they haven’t been terrible. They’ve been terrific, and the games have been disproportionately entertaining. For a fan, that is great. For someone whose job it is to write about the team on a daily basis, that is even better.

But no, I’m not convinced that a team, for all that has gone right, is still in third place in their division, is going anywhere this season. This looked like a 67-win team to me at the start of the year, and beginning the season 18-13 doesn’t change my opinion much, though playing so well in a very challenging part of the schedule probably bumps them up into the low seventies, win-wise, if the rest of the year goes as expected.

It’s not like this start is unprecedented. The 2010 Mets started 39-28, finished 79-83. That Omir Santos home run in Boston, which Jordany Valdespin’s home run on Monday in Philadelphia quickly drew comparisons to, lifted the Mets to 23-19 back in 2009. They finished 70-92.

But what’s great about 2012 is that the future isn’t already written. Just because previous Mets teams that were structurally flawed, began well but ended poorly, doesn’t guarantee that this team, which has begun well and appears to be structurally flawed, will as well.

The problem for me is, my two roles, fan and analyst, are not the same. As a fan, I am taking delirious pleasure in seeing the Mets win games. I sat in an Indian restaurant with my daughter and listened to the Mets complete a sweep of the Marlins on my phone, with the two of us high-fiving over some yellow dal the day after she learned to say “Nieuwenhuis”. I woke my wife to the sound of Gary Cohen excitedly calling Jordany Valdespin’s home run this week. I missed the Mets playing on an off day, and I’m irrationally excited about the showdown between Johan Santana and the Marlins in Miami tonight.

I would also be remiss professionally if I pretended that starting 18-13 meant anything definitive. The sheer length of the baseball season can fool us. A baseball team in a slump, that loses six in a row, seems like it won’t ever win another game. Two hot weeks can seem like a pennant is preordained.

But for all of their success, the Mets have played 31 games. Let’s say the season-to-date simply repeats over the next 31 games. Surely that would be enough to prove the naysayers wrong, right?

Well, that would make the Mets 36-26. They’d be in third place, four games ahead of the Marlins, assuming Miami underachieves in its next 31 as well.

And there would be still be 100 games to go. 100 games with a roster that frankly, looks to me like the fifth-best in the division.

So it is a long season. In a perfect world, the Mets will keep on playing well, I’ll have important games to write about all season long, and as a fan, I’ll get to cheer the best kind of contender: an unexpected one.

But at this point, the odds are still against it, in my opinion. And I would be doing you all a disservice if I pretended otherwise when discussing the long view because in your heart, just like mine, we have visions of an October at Citi Field. As a fan, I’ll exult over wins. As a writer, I’ll analyze what the underlying process appears to mean for the future. I’ll point out why I think so. And it will be up to you to decide whether my reasons are convincing or not. Rest assured; those are my reasons. If anything, any negative conclusions I reach are done in spite of my intense desire, as a lifelong Mets fan, to believe this team is a legitimate contender.

And I certainly hope that when I do point out the limitations of the roster, why they exist, and what complications that creates for the Mets, it doesn’t take away from your ability to enjoy the baseball season.

It certainly doesn’t do that for me. It’s just my job.

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