Ladies and Gentlemen: Your First Place New York Mets

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Mets high five.jpgThere aren’t many people who have ragged on the Mets more than I have over the past few years. But if you’re going to be negative, you have to be fair, and fairness demands that the Mets be given their due. Correction: fairness demands that the first place New York Mets be given their due. Because there they sit, at least for now, alone atop the National League East. How did they get there?  A bunch of reasons really.

  • The starting pitching has been excellent, with Mike Pelfrey and Jon Neise stepping up behind Johan Santana admirably. Doubters may cite the less-than-impressive offenses of the Cubs, Braves and Dodgers on which the Mets have recently feasted, but are they bad because they’re bad, or are they bad because they faced the Mets’ pitching?
  • Ike Davis has been a godsend. No, I don’t expect him to post a .980 OPS this season, but first base has suddenly gone from a sucking black vortex to not a problem.
  • Little stuff:  The defense is better than last year. The rains have come at the right time. The bullpen has been getting them out of jams that, statistically speaking, a team shouldn’t always get out of. They’ve also had the good fortune of playing 15 of their 21 games at home thus far. You can call all that luck if you want to, but last I checked wins due to good luck still count in the standings.

It’s still early so it’s not worth either (a) making sweeping pronouncements or (b) analyzing it to death, but the fact is that everything is coming up blue and orange lately, and it should have Mets fans feeling pretty happy right now.

And it should have them showing up in greater numbers.  Early season attendance has been pretty pitiful so far this year. I’ll grant yesterday’s day game was a lost cause because of the previous night’s rainout, but after averaging over 38,000 per game last year, the Mets have only cracked that total twice in 15 home games this season, one of which was Opening Day.  In that time the team has set the record for the lowest attendance in Citi Field’s brief history — 25,684 a week ago against the Cubs — and have had more games in the 20,000s than the 30,000s.

Time to step up Mets fans. Your team is winning. If an avowed hater like me can give them their props, the least you fans can do is to start showing up.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉