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.

Johnny Monell signs with KBO’s KT Wiz

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 06:  Johnny Monell #19 of the New York Mets runs back to the dugout after he scored in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on July 6, 2015 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Former Mets catcher Johnny Monell signed a contract with the KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization, per a report by Chris Cotillo of SB Nation. The 30-year-old originally struck a deal with the NC Dinos on Thursday, but the deal appeared to fall through at the last minute, according to Cotillo’s unnamed source.

Monell last surfaced for the Mets during their 2015 run, batting a dismal .167/.231/.208 with two extra bases in 52 PA before the club DFA’d him to clear space for Bartolo Colon. While he’s had difficulty sticking at the major league level, he’s found a higher degree of success in the minor league circuit and holds a career .271 average over a decade of minor league play. He played exclusively in Triple-A Las Vegas during the 2016 season, slashing .276/.336/.470 with 19 home runs and a career-high 75 RBI in 461 PA.

The veteran backstop appears to be the second MLB player to join the KT Wiz roster this offseason, as right-hander Donn Roach also signed with the club last month on a one-year, $850,000 deal.

Phil Bickford suspended 50 games for drug of abuse

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10:  Phil Bickford of the U.S. Team pitches during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at PETCO Park on July 10, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Brewers’ right-hander Phil Bickford received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a drug of abuse, per the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin. This is the second time Bickford has been suspended for recreational drug use, as he was previously penalized in 2015 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the amateur draft.

Bickford was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft and was later dealt to the Brewers for lefty reliever Will Smith at the 2016 trade deadline. He finished his 2016 campaign in High-A Brevard County, pitching to a 3.67 ERA, 10.0 K/9 rate and 5.0 BB/9 over 27 innings.

Two other suspensions were handed down on Friday, one to Toronto minor league right-hander Pedro Loficial for a positive test for metabolites of Stanozolol and one to Miami minor league outfielder Casey Soltis for a second positive test for drugs of abuse. Loficial will serve a 72-game suspension, while Soltis will serve 50 games. All three suspensions are due to start at the beginning of the 2017 season for each respective minor league team.

Brewers’ GM David Stearns issued a statement after the Commissioner’s Office announced Bickford’s suspension (via Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America):

We are very disappointed to learn of Phil’s suspension, but we fully support the Minor League Baseball Drug Prevention and Testing Program and its enforcement by the Commissioner’s Office. Phil understands he made a mistake, and we fully anticipate that he will learn from this experience.