The New York Mets may not be playing the best baseball of any big league club right now; the Los Angeles Dodgers, at least, would have something to say about it. But after six straight streak wins — started with a two-game sweep of the then-rotating Yankees in late July and continued, over the past two weekends, with four-of-five and two-of-three wins over division rival Braves and Phillies – it’s hard to say which team is having a better time. Pete Alonso accumulates own product points and damn near catapults over the canoe railing to celebrate his teammates. Luis Guillorme takes advantage of the last moments of a tense match to break the bravest piece of field trigonometry you will see this season. Jacob deGrom returns to Citi Field after 13 months away, proves that “getting foggy in Skynyrd” is not yet an entirely barren area of human emotion and shoots 5⅔ perfect innings.
Of all the examples of great vibes emanating from Queens recently, my favorite was the face sequence made by Taijuan Walker – translatable in print as proceeding from Yeah? at Shit yeah! – when informed on the first night of the recent Atlanta series that closer Edwin Díaz would return for the ninth inning after firing two strikeouts (via two sliders to kneecaps) in a 1-2-3 eighth.
That’s the story of the Mets’ year, which saw them get off to a torrid start, push back long term injuries and a few mid-summer slumps and, like a climber who trusts in a sufficient footing to pull himself up, comes to believe that the good things that are happening will continue to do so. The National League East, a draw three weeks ago, now has the Mets 75-40 5.5 games behind Atlanta; FiveThirtyEight gives them a 95% chance of making the split streak. Among the main reasons? Que Díaz and shortstop Francisco Lindor – who before this season looked like the last in the franchise’s tradition of sunk disappointments – have become the cornerstones that they were made to be.
Dishes traded for Díaz ahead of the 2019 season as the headliner of a bizarro blockbuster that also brought Robinson Canó to Queens, and Díaz — who led baseball with 57 saves in his final year with Seattle — set to work. stink the seal. He missed seven of his 33 save opportunities and his ERA went from 1.96 to 5.59. In 58 innings, he allowed 15 home runs, including two in a nightmarish outing in philadelphia in late June, when the Phillies scored five runs in the ninth inning in a first-round victory. “I always try to stay positive”, Díaz told the New York Times a few days after that loss, the saving grace of which was that it came to the road and thus protected him from what had become the habitual malice of the mob. “I’ve had a few ups and downs this year.”
In the seasons that followed, Díaz mostly avoided disasters of such magnitude, even though he couldn’t regain his place among baseball’s greatest players. In the shortened COVID-19 in 2020, he managed an ERA of 1.75, with heavy underlying stats that suggested the kindness of sympathetic angels. In 2021, the ERA stabilized at 3.45 and seemed to stay pretty much there going forward. Like so many shooting star lifters, Díaz was only able to access his former dominance occasionally.
In 2022, however, there has been nothing casual about Díaz’s dominance. At Citi Field these days, he comes out of the bullpen with a strobe trumpet while everyone is present lose your mind. On the mound, he raises his knee to his jaw and unleashes one of two pitches: a four-seam fastball that spits flames around its edges, like a meteor hitting ozone, and a slider that ceases everything. simply to exist when it approaches the plate. . Two small changes changed everything. For the first time in his career, Díaz launches this cursor – the 11th best pitching all over baseball to draw swings and misses — more than the fastball, and he’s throwing first-pitch strikes at a higher clip than he ever has. Embarrassment has hardened into overwhelming fearlessness: what could go wrong that hasn’t already?
The numbers are bold. In 47⅓ innings, Díaz allowed 42 base runners and struck out 94 batters. More than 52% of the batters who faced him fanned. His ERA, 1.33, is something Mariano Rivera has never matched; its WHIP, 0.866, MB improved twice in 19 seasons. As you might guess from the immediate reach of high-quality historical comps, no other reliever this season comes close to what Díaz is doing.
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Díaz talks about his phoenix number rising from the ashes in simple terms, as if it were expected. “I changed my mechanics, my confidence – I put everything in place. I just try to throw strikes,” he said. said when he returned to the All-Star Game in July. But Mets manager Buck Showalter recognize the rarity of what his star reliever has achieved, returning to greatness in a sport (and a city) that tends to ban re-entry: “A lot of people don’t bounce from this here, or anywhere else.”
Showalter might as well have been talking about Lindor, who after six unassailable years as a Cleveland shortstop put on a Mets cap in 2021 and became really attackable, real quick. Back in Ohio, Lindor had been the prototype five-tool, having gone on to four straight All-Star seasons winning either a Gold Glove (2016 and ’19) or a Silver Slugger Award (’17 and ’18). His freshman year in New York saw his OPS drop to .734 (from 0.833 during the pre-New York portion of his career), while his defensive WAR, 1.9 at its peak by Baseball-Reference.com, was cut almost in half. Because he played for the Mets, for whom no downturn is complete without radio fodder, he also responded to boos in naturehow all hope of a happy introductory season is gone.
Lindor’s 2022 rejuvenation isn’t nearly as garish as Díaz’s; he doesn’t lead the league in anything, and he wasn’t one of the four Mets among the NL All-Stars. But in its sum, it can be even more significant.
Although a quarter pace has slowed since his early twenties, Lindor remains a defensive asset, all trackers quick and curly and well-oriented versions. And after a start to the season that seemed to reverse Queens’ curse in 2021 – he broke a bone in his finger slamming it into a hotel door in early June, and by the end of that month his OPS was down at .735 – he found himself to the plate. Since July 1, batter Lindor has slashed .322/.404/.537, the kind of cross-category excellence (left and right, bloop singles and bombs) that can only put him in the center of things. as the competitions get bigger. In those five games against Atlanta, Lindor walked three times and had eight hits, the most groovy of them a double. that he belted dead in the center and bounced off the orange strip at the top of the outside wall. It earned him a pair of RBIs, but the most complete indicator of Lindor’s talent in the right place all the time is that he scored at least one run himself in every game of the set, some of that which became a franchise record. 13 consecutive matches.
Now, Lindor’s numbers are seen less as “salvage production” and more as “darkhorse MVP.” Sound 4.9 wins over replacement doesn’t just give him first place among the Mets; he leads all major league shortstops and ranks sixth among positional players across baseball. His OPS is up over .800, for the first time since joining NL East. With a third of the season to go, he’s already tied last year’s 20 homer mark, and if you factor in recent form, 30 seems like a low estimate of where he’ll finish. In June, after hitting a pair of homers with bandaged fingers with his mother in town, Lindor predicted brighter days ahead, speaking in the third person of a superstar regaining full self-esteem. “The real Lindor has always been there,” he said. said. “I just struggled, and this year I’m playing a bit better.”
It’s a lesson from the Mets’ blessed season: if a player is worth paying, it’s also worth being patient with him. Sport in general, and baseball in its cruel details, produces cynics; you will never look stupid predicting that something that goes wrong will stay that way. But misplaced talent is not the same as stale talent. The pitcher who was untouchable may wake up one day and remember what it feels like. The shortstop who lost his verve amid expectations and vitriol can find it again. And the franchise where careers have historically gone to die can, against all odds, bring some of them back to life.
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