David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The sight of Terry Collins having a lengthy, and occasionally animated, conversation with principal owner Fred Wilpon on the outfield grass before Tuesday’s batting practice was not all that unusual.
But in the context of the Mets’ sluggish start, coupled with the sky-high expectations swirling around this team, just toss that pregame summit onto the April bonfire. We can’t just say everything is meaningless this time of year, right?
These games, like Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Marlins, do count after all. It’s not the Grapefruit League, and if we remember correctly, the Mets weren’t so hot down there, either. The early defeats just seem to sting a little bit more this season than the others because that’s the deal when you’re the defending NL champs.
Or currently the holding the NL East title belt, and happen to drop the first two home series to the Phillies and Marlins. Last season, the Mets didn’t lose their second Citi series until May 29-31.
“I’m not sitting here down in the dumps thinking the season’s a waste,” Collins said after their fourth straight loss, “when we got a stinkin’ marathon ahead.”
Back in February, Collins laughed off the suggestion his job this year might be even more challenging due to the World Series or Bust label attached to the Mets. With this rotation, and an improved lineup, Collins liked his chances.
He still does, obviously. But this past week has reminded him how toasty this place can be when people don’t get what they anticipated, whether it’s for seven games or six months. A four-game losing streak is part of the seasonal rhythm for every team. This market, however, is more volatile.
“It’s drama here,” Collins said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s not drama in Milwaukee. It’s not drama in Houston. It happens. And you’ve just got to get through it.”
The Mets figured they had the perfect vehicle to change this conversation Tuesday with Noah Syndergaard making his ’16 Citi debut. Syndergaard was superhuman a week earlier in taming the world champs at a hostile Kauffman Stadium. And after what we’ve witnessed from the rest of the rotation, the Mets badly needed a boost.
Matt Harvey has looked ordinary in two losses, and Steven Matz failed to survive the second inning Monday night. Other than Syndergaard, the only Mets’ starter with a victory is Jacob deGrom, and he left the Citi opener prematurely because of a sore lat muscle. He’s also missed a start and may be headed to the DL.
That’s what made Syndergaard’s second turn feel more important than merely Game No. 7 of the regular season. Syndergaard did his part in striking out six of the first seven Marlins he faced — all swinging — by featuring the same 100-mph fastball and 93-mph slider that bewildered the Royals.
The problem, on this night, wasn’t Syndergaard. The Mets just didn’t give him the opportunity to be the solution. He struck out 12 over seven innings, and allowed only one run, which scored on Derek Dietrich’s two-out, shift-beating single in the fourth inning. Suffice to say, Syndergaard held up his end, but he wasn’t sweating the lineup’s April failures.
“It’s still early in the season,” Syndergaard said. “There’s a lot of baseball to be had.”
The Mets, however, blew two big threats against Fernandez and then vanished. They left two on in the first inning after taking a 1-0 lead. In the second, David Wright flied out with the bases loaded.
“We just need one of those days where we can put up a seven or eight spot,” Wright said. “So we can relax a little bit.”
Through seven games, however, they’ve scored 18 runs for a whopping 2.57 average. We can point to the cold, or the erratic schedule, as the Mets have done. But after settling back into a routine over the past five games, all at home against division opponents, they’re 1-4 during that stretch. This is not what a title defense is supposed to look like.
“We come to the ballpark every day and keep getting hit with a pie in the face,” Collins said of the recent media treatment. “Telling us we’re not very good.”
There’s a very good reason for that, Terry. Lately, the Mets haven’t been very good.