One of my favorite things about the beginning of the baseball season is how early successes and failures always seem way more important than they really are. For instance, after six starts last April, the Athletics Jesse Chavez sat third in the AL in ERA, batters were hitting.199/.242/.298 against him, and he was striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings or about two more batters than his career average. Chavez had a fine season overall, but that 1.0 fWAR he accumulated through April essentially made up the entirety of the 1.3 for the entire year. If you’re wondering, his 3.45 ERA at season’s end was the lowest of his Major League career so that was certainly nice.
Also, I love reading the overreaction, stay-the-course articles. Everyone panic. No one panic. It’s still early. Don’t want to fall too far behind. Small sample size. Man, if Player X could just continue to hit .528/.595/1.111 and draw walks at nearly double his career rate—no, see, those offseason meditation sessions really are paying off—then this team could make some noise. It’s only April, but who says this isn’t our year?
The uncertainty makes it fun. Also, we’re fresh off watching the zaniness of March Madness, so it takes a little time to settle into reasonable fan mode. By May a bad Stephen Strasburg start will essentially end with a shrug of the shoulders instead of twenty articles about why he’s broken and can’t be fixed.
That being said, and with all the early season caveats aside, I’m excited to see the Mets sweep the Phillies and claim a tie for first place in the East. It feels good to sit atop this lofty perch for a day or so. Last night’s game seemed like it could have gone ugly many times. Jon Niese didn’t look anything close to dominant, allowing nine hits over 6 1/3 innings with a pair of walks added in for fun (after the third inning, the Phillies had at least two runners on base in every inning until Alex Torres pitched a clean ninth), but he got the outs when he needed to, Chase Utley gifted Niese with a bunt in the fifth and a strikeout in the seventh (allowing me to close the forgiveness gap for the homerun against Matt Harvey Tuesday), and there was that whole Andres Blanco grounding into a double-play in the sixth where Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy nearly collided at the bag because Tejada had decided that one error in the inning wasn’t enough so why not hospitalize the starting second baseman too.
It’s still early. There’s work left to do.
Anyway, maybe we’re a mere nine games in, but the Mets sit in first, and it’s the latest in the season the team has been atop (tied or otherwise) the division since sharing a tie on June 3, 2012. That’s 1047 days. So there you go. No, the Nationals defense won’t continue to destroy their starting pitchers’ will to live, the wins will pile up, and we’ll forget about the no man’s land of misplayed fly balls that somehow exists between Michael Taylor and Bryce Harper. Lucas Duda won’t continue to hit .353 and likely won’t remain on pace to reach 126 RBI, breaking David Wright’s and Mike Piazza’s shared team record for RBIs in season of 124. Whatever. Small sample sizes are stupid, and I’ll enjoy the ides of April because so far everything has sort of gone to script.
Despite the fact that I worry every time a ball is hit anywhere other than third or center and I complain openly about how the team has focused on pitching and defense without the ability to play defense, I still find that I enjoy watching them. They’re likable. For every Wilmer Flores misadventure at short, there’s a moment where Kirk Nieuwenhuis nearly wrecks his knees to catch a ball down the line.
For every Juan Lagares popup to center, there’s a Duda drive down the line that somehow finds its way past the shift as he jogs in safely for a double. Matt Harvey has provided three or four “oh, damn” moments with each start, and by season’s end he’ll hit 110 on the radar.
So revel in the moment, I say. If Curtis Granderson wants to justify his $16M salary by walking twice a game and slapping singles to left, go for it. I don’t even care that he’s hit five home runs for the team since last August, a span of 61 games. His 10 walks lead the Majors, and that stolen base of his accounts for 20% of the Mets team total so far. I’ll even argue that Jerry Blevins looks more intimidating in Mets road gray than he ever did as a Nat. I must be drunk off of the early season Kool Aid.