Why it’s so difficult to figure out how good Mets are
The Mets played a game Tuesday reminiscent of their 12-2 start — what feels like the good ol’ days, albeit only last month in reality.
They have offered such a split personality this season that Sandy Alderson called a pregame inquiry into the true identity of this team “a good question.” The general manager answered with positive spin, as you would expect, and then the Mets responded in the best way possible by clobbering the Blue Jays 12-2 — the Mets’ 12th victory in as many home interleague games against Toronto.
There was so much good stuff bundled into this game for the Mets, but nothing better than offense from places so lacking this season, namely catcher with new acquisition Devin Mesoraco reaching safely five times and Amed Rosario tying a career high with three hits while also driving in two runs.
The Mets entered the fourth inning hitless in 24 straight at-bats with runners in scoring position and then delivered seven hits in such situations between the fourth and fifth to put the game away.
Noah Syndergaard, with RBIs in each of his first two plate appearances, hit better than he pitched, but held it together for five innings that needed 103 pitches and the Mets ended a six-game Citi losing streak and won for just the eighth time in the past 24 games overall.
That is the flip side to the 12-2 start, the 8-16 succession. That before and after has left uncertainty about the true quality of the 2018 Mets.
Mickey Callaway said: “I think we are somewhere in the middle, which is a pretty good team.”
But is it?
Even with a win and a 20-18 overall record, the Mets are fourth in an NL East in which the Nationals have recently hinted at playing to their lofty pedigree while the Braves and Phillies have suggested they are not just pleasant nuisances likely to vanish soon.
As with beauty, the 2018 Mets to date are in the eye of the beholder. If you want to see positives, you can see them. If you don’t, you don’t.
Alderson described himself as “bullish” on his eighth team as GM, in part, due to “improvement” with the rotation. He said, “We have started to get more depth.” Except they already have given up on Matt Harvey. Jason Vargas, three disastrous starts into his Met tenure, threw a simulated game Tuesday because he is being skipped this turn.
The pitching coach, Dave Eiland, tried to tamp down the expectations on Syndergaard because, as he told The Post’s Mike Puma, “He is yet to do a whole lot at the major league level.” Jacob deGrom has been as good as ever, but just did a short DL stint with a hyperextended elbow. Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler still remain as often confounding as consistent.
Alderson praised his bullpen, and the injection of Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo has increased the depth and versatility of the unit. But are you comparing to expectations or the competition? Because the Mets’ bullpen Wins Above Replacement (Fangaphs) ranked 26th out of 30 teams going into Tuesday.
The ineffectiveness of Jerry Blevins has bled into Callaway’s decision-making, shortening the number of arms the manager trusts in big spots. And with three more innings from Lugo, he joins Gsellman and Sewald in the top 11 in relief innings. Will a price be paid for that reliance?
As for offense, Alderson conceded, “We have to score more runs.” They did that against the foundering Blue Jays pitching — four hits and four RBIs from Juan Lagares leading the way. But aside from Asdrubal Cabrera and to some degree Brandon Nimmo, the Mets have not gotten sustained positive performance and ranked 21st in runs per game going into this series.
And the Mets seemed poised to place Yoenis Cespedes on the DL. He did not start Tuesday with what the team continues to call “a mild strain of the right hip flexor.” He probably would have been disabled before this series if the Mets’ Triple-A team was not in Las Vegas and a replacement was easier to get to New York on time.
Trying to orchestrate all these moving parts is Callaway, about whom Alderson said, “I like him more than I liked him in our first interview.” Callaway was in the interview room Tuesday when Alderson provided that answer, but Alderson did cite areas — learning from mistakes, creativity, positivity — that he graded high with the new manager.
But the past few weeks have not been kind to Callaway, most notably with his batting-out-of-order snafu.
Any judgment is too early for him — and his squad. He is presiding over a team good enough to go both 12-2 and 8-16. Twenty-five percent of a season has not revealed who exactly the Mets are.