I’m givin’ up.
The Yankees will not finish 97-65, nor the Mets 79-83 — the records I predicted at the season’s outset and reiterated on Twitter rather often — which means it’s time for my annual mea culpa.
How did I underestimate the two local clubs? I have some thoughts.
1. Next man up. While I really liked the DJ LeMahieu signing, a look through my files leads me to conclude that I didn’t check in on the re-signing of Gio Urshela to a minor-league contract, nor the trade for Mike Tauchman. Those two guys alone accounted for over seven wins above replacement, as per Baseball-Reference.com. I mean…who am I, supposed to be, freaking Carnac?
2. It’s all right to be (nearly) all right. The Yankees added LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki (remember him?) to a roster of position players that already leaned heavily to the right. While they did bring back the lefty-swinging Brett Gardner, he seemed close to his 18th hole, and his fellow lefty hitter Didi Gregorius wasn’t going to start the season on time due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
That imbalance really did not hurt the Yankees, whose righty hitters handled righty pitching perfectly fine. Through Wednesday’s action, the Yankees’ .820 OPS against righties ranked second in the American League, behind only the Astros’ .842. And their lefty hitters actually dragged them down! Their righty bats tallied an .837 OPS, second only to the Astros’ .846.
3. AL East mastery. On Opening Day, after the Yankees easily disposed of the Orioles, I wrote about how the Yankees needed to dominate the AL’s crappy teams. Maybe the Yankees misinterpreted the column’s instructions, as they sure as heck destroyed those Orioles, going 17-2, yet they went a modest 11-8 against the Blue Jays, 3-3 versus the Tigers and even dropped the season series against the White Sox, going 3-4. They did post a 5-2 mark over the Royals.
Where they cleaned up unexpectedly, however, was in games with their top two challengers, the Rays (12-7) and the rival Red Sox (14-5). That’s quite a showing. That’s how you pick up your 98th win in Game 150.
1. Alonso and McNeil. Whether Brodie Van Wagenen’s aggressive approach to his first front-office job produces a perennial contender in Queens remains unresolved, but that philosophy did pay an immediate dividend in Year One. By not playing the service-time game with Pete Alonso and rewarding him with the Opening Day job he earned, the Mets got themselves one of the finer, funner rookie seasons we’ve ever seen in the Big Apple.
Now, that aggressiveness nearly cost the Mets Jeff McNeil, as he was discussed heavily in the disastrous trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, and it cost McNeil a regular position even after he stayed put. That McNeil nevertheless produced a spectacular first full major-league season, bouncing around the outfield and infield like the new Ben Zobrist, is a credit to him. I thought he and Alonso both would be good, but not this good.
2. The starting pitchers. Given the injury histories of Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler in particular, and given that the uninspiring Jason Vargas began the season as the Mets’ fifth starter, I didn’t hold much optimism for this unit to replicate its stellar 2018 showing. And I sure as heck didn’t believe in the depth beyond this quintet.
The depth, it turned out, didn’t matter much. It appears that the Mets will receive only eight starts from their “depth” — four from Walker Lockett, three from Wilmer Font and one from Chris Flexen. Even if none of Matz, Syndergaard and Wheeler pitched at an ace level — which Jacob deGrom very much did, again — they provided innings and right around league-average performance. Throw in Vargas’ surprising contributions following his tutorial with time-traveling James Madison and Vargas’ trade-deadline departure in favor of Marcus Stroman, and you have a major asset.
3. They’re the Mets! Yes, my third reason in last year’s mea culpa, when I over-projected these guys, was “They’re the Mets,” no exclamation point. Their terrible organizational culture did them in again.
That disease hasn’t necessarily been cured. This season brought plenty of Mets-ness, and major questions linger over the team’s future. Yet part of what makes the Mets the Mets, why their fans just can’t quit them, is they occasionally stun us in a good way as they did this season. They were 40-50 at the All-Star break and 52-55 at the trade deadline, and here they were, mathematically alive in the season’s final week until officially being eliminated Wednesday night. For a healthy chunk of this season, I thought I aimed too high on the Mets once again. Here I stand now, though, too low, tipping my cap to them.
This week’s Pop Quiz question came from Joseph Piro of Jersey City: In the 2002 film “Deuces Wild,” which takes place in 1958, Bobby (Brad Renfro) has his glove signed by a future Hall of Famer. Name the player.
The Morris Jumel Mansion in upper Manhattan is hosting “Home Plate: A Celebration of the Polo Grounds” through Dec. 31, and while I haven’t seen this one, I’ve seen previous baseball-themed exhibitions by the curator, Neil Scherer. His work is always great.
Your Pop Quiz answer is Duke Snider.
If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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