It’s finally Christmas!
After what felt like a forever winter of boring games and losing results, the Mets responded with the most thrilling win of the season.
Someone tweeted the other day how many moments the Mets had already experienced by this point on the 2022 schedule; it’s May 17 and we finally got our first real big moment of 2023 with the next and current generation of stars delivering in a dramatic come-from-behind victory.
Kodai Senga looked like the ace of the staff. Mark Vientos delivered a fairy tale home run. Top prospect Francisco Álvarez reminded us this team can punch back. And ol’ reliable Pete Alonso, feeling “sick as a dog,” took a swing that might represent the turning point of the season.
“To have a night like that, they deserve it,” manager Buck Showalter said after the game. “They refused to roll over.”
You could say the same about many people in the chat and reading this newsletter.
We got a jam-packed newsletter this morning. I will talk about the impending roster decision with Gary Sánchez and the promotion of Mark Vientos. But first, let’s re-live last night’s awesome win.
🍎 RAISE THE APPLE: A few days ago the Mets hadn’t hit a home run in 56 innings. This is why baseball can drive you insane. Last night, they hit three in the final four frames to overcome three deficits and send the few brave souls who hung around at Citi Field home in a euphoric state. Any one of these home runs could turn into a season-turning moment; it took all three to make it possible that any of them might be.
❶ First, it seemed the night would be defined by Mark Vientos, whose two-run homer in the seventh inning was the exact infusion of life the offense has desperately been seeking and exactly why he found himself in the lineup after being called up from Triple-A earlier in the day.
❷ Next, it seemed like the demons of 2023 would take away any chance of fun. As quick as the Mets tied it, Adam Ottavino coughed up the lead and the Amazins eventually found themselves down three runs and one out away from their 17th loss in 23 games. That is, until Francisco Álvarez’s had his say.
❸ Finally, it still felt like the Rays were too good or the Mets too bad for this game to end with New York in the lead. But down two runs in the 10th, Pete Alonso landed the knockout punch.
Three swings like three shots of vodka, and the New York Mets and their fans finally had something to feel good about. Especially so when you consider the start they received from Kodai Senga that preceded all of the fireworks.
🇯🇵 STRIKEOUT KING: Yes, before the home runs, it was Kodai Senga making a statement to his teammates and his family seeing him pitch for the first time in his new city that he can pitch as if he’s the ace of this staff.
Following his worst start of his short big-league career, Senga offered his best. He struck out 12 Rays in six innings of three-hit, one-run ball. His signature forkball was absolutely nasty, inducing seven whiffs on ten swings. The 12 Ks are the most ever recorded by a Japanese pitcher for the Mets.
“Soon, it’s going to be a cat-and-mouse game,” Senga said through an interpreter, via MLB. “Are they going to look for the fastball? Are they going to look for the splitter? I just need to make sure to make the right decision on what they’re looking for, and throw what they’re not looking for.”
It was exactly the start Buck Showalter’s group needed after Justin Verlander failed to answer the bell in his Citi Field debut on Tuesday. For Senga, he was just happy it was a pleasant environment for his family to see him pitch.
“I'm just glad I didn't get booed when they were here,” he quipped.
👁️ EYE INSERTS: Tomás Nido recently had “punctal plugs” inserted into each eye to try to address his vision problems. As described by MLB.com, “the devices cover the openings of his tear ducts and help his eyes stay lubricated, thereby easing the symptoms of dry eye syndrome.”
“It’s kind of alleviated the eye pressure that I had,” Nido said. “I felt like I had somebody pushing on my head. I had a headache for like 72 hours straight.”
Already eligible to come off the IL, he is catching from a pitching machine and taking batting practice to adjust to the new contacts. The bigger question is whether it makes sense to put him back on the active roster with Francisco Álvarez doing his thing, and with Michael Pérez acting as a suitable backup while the team considers the possibility of promoting Gary Sánchez. Meanwhile, Omar Narváez isn’t too far from returning from the IL.
🔺 LAST CHANCE: The front office has an approaching deadline to decide if Sánchez offers an upgrade at the catcher position. He has an opt out in his contract if he isn’t added to the 40-man roster by Friday. He exercised a similar opt-out with the Giants to become a free agent and sign with the Mets.
After looking dreadful in Sacramento in April, Sánchez has started to hit with Syracuse, batting .300 and reaching base 50% of the time over his first six games. He has also come through several times in the clutch, going 7-for-18 with two outs and runners in scoring position. The big-league club could sure use that!
These are the type of moves that are easily overlooked but could prove consequential. The Mets have have five catchers for two spots. We all want to see Álvarez continue his development path, but who he works with in tandem will make a difference. It’s also not impossible the scouting department decides the 21-year-old Álvarez could use some extra seasoning in the minors, even as a a pit stop.
⏭️ UP NEXT: It’s an afternoon affair for the rubber game of this series with Tylor Megill (4–2, 4.02) set to take on top prospect Taj Bradley (3–0, 3.52 ERA). We will quickly learn if last night’s win builds any momentum for the Mets, or if we are rolling our eyes again at another listless performance by the offense.
Behind the excitement of calling up Mark Vientos are plenty of questions. A few that have already been answered, and some that we will learn about in the coming days and weeks.
🔹 Whose roster spot does he take?
We already know the answer to this one. A loyal reader has been asking for me to write about Luis Guillorme. I guess today is the day after the Mets took advantage of his optionality to send him down to make the requisite roster space for Vientos.
Guillorme gave the Mets versatility in the infield, but not much else. He was batting an anemic .233 with an OPS+ 33 points below league average. Still, it admittedly wasn’t easy on the manager to tell him he had to go down to Syracuse.
“Luis has been a guy, when you’re around him as much as we are and his teammates (are), it’s kind of a fallout of not playing as well as we need to,” Showalter said, via Newsday. “So you hate to . . . it's not his fault completely. All of us share in some of the challenges we faced.”
We know Buck favors veterans, perhaps to a fault. When the team was winning 101 games last season, chemistry could be credited to the balance between young and old voices in the clubhouse. That’s hard to sell when the team was in the midst of losing 16 out of 22.
Optionality aside, with Escobar finally hitting (9-for-22 with three homers in his last 10 games), the Mets made the right choice to go with the players who give a struggling offense the best chance to get going.
🔹 Where does he fit in the lineup?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect fit. As a right-handed hitter limited to playing along the corner infield, he technically has three areas where Buck can insert him into the lineup. Against left-handed pitching, he could obviously DH, or spell Brett Baty at third, as he did last night. He could technically give Pete Alonso an occasional day off in the field as well.
However, if you want him to receive more at-bats than the occasional start or pinch-hit opportunity against a lefty, it gets a bit more tricky.
Buck was able to find playing time for the left-handed-hitting Guillorme at second base when he moved Jeff McNeil to the outfield. He doesn’t have that option with Vientos, so he would likely need to sacrifice some of Vogelbach’s time at DH to give the power-hitting prospect more playing time. For all the criticism heaped on Vogie, he is still hitting 36 points above league average against righties. The Mets have remained committed to his platoon advantage.
However, Vientos has proven he can hit at least Triple-A right-handers, accounting for eight of his 11 home runs this season. His power numbers were close to evenly split against both righties and lefties last year. He has proven difficult to get out no matter which side of the rubber the ball is coming from over the past six weeks.
Last night, facing righty Ryan Thompson late in the game, Showalter stayed with Vientos instead of opting for Baty and Vientos rewarded him with a game-tying home run.
🔹 Will he stick around?
“It’s kind of up to him,” Showalter said of Vientos’ playing time. “Play good and we’re always looking for ways to get good players in there.”
Vientos has worked on reducing his strikeouts as a key developmental step to receiving his latest promotion.
“Instead of chasing and swinging at pitches the pitchers want me to swing at, waiting for my pitch and not trying to miss it,” Vientos explained. “I feel like I’m in a better spot, like I’m a lot better than I was last year.”
His new approach resulted in an eye-popping .416 on-base percentage in Syracuse with his strikeout rate down from 28.6% to 20.5% this year. He has also made his contact count. We saw it in spring training when he finished with the second-highest average exit velocity in baseball at 97.5 mph. There is no questioning his raw power that has been graded as a 70 and resulted isolated power numbers - which only takes into account extra-base hits — that are off the charts.
🔻 An often overlooked consideration in baseball: you aren’t always looking for the player who can hit 15 points above league average over 500 plate appearances, you are often trying to identify which role player you can slot in to hit 25–30 points above league average over a condensed window. That’s where we are right now with Vientos. The offense has been scuffling, why not try to inject some life with a young, hot bat?! After one game, it has worked.
◾️ Yankee starter Domingo Germán has been suspended 10 games for getting caught with sticky stuff on his hand in a game against Toronto.
◾️ Dodgers flamethrower Dustin May will be sidelined 4-to-6 weeks with a flexor pronator strain.
◾️ Zac Gallen became the second Diamondbacks pitcher of note to accidentally kill a bird with a pitch.
🔗 Mets’ influx of young power bats may be just what they need for turnaround, by Joel Sherman, NY Post: “Buck Showalter cites the wisdom of his first major league general manager, Gene Michael, the way a philosophy major might Socrates. And in the pregame Wednesday, he noted that the one-time Yankees general manager insisted you had to “avoid staleness” in roster building. That even a successful team has to make changes and not just believe the largesse of one season would automatically blend into the next.”
🔗 Against Rays, Mets show what they can become in best win of the season, by Tim Britton, The Athletic ($): “One May swing (or even three) does not save a season. But combine it with one outstanding starting effort, with one game played more crisply, and you get a night that felt like more than just one win. “Play better,” manager Buck Showalter has said a lot these past few weeks. Wednesday, the Mets obliged.”
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So....I went to the game and left in the top of the 9th. A sacrifice had to be made. You’re welcome, everyone.
the ONE TIME I go to bed early...