2017 Mets: Only October matters


Up next: It’s not Tim Tebow, who’s attracted can’t-miss attention for his must-miss performance. While Tebow does the press conferences and the paparazzi snaps pictures, Amed Rosario will be in the majors long after Tebow is back on the SEC network. The Mets are in no rush to promote Rosario, who hit .324/374/459 and stole 19 bases last year at two levels, but that’s only because Asdrubal Cabrera is coming off his best major-league season. If Cabrera performs more like his norm, all that publicity Tebow is getting will be Rosario’s. And that will be nothing if Rosario and the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres are as good as the hype; shortstop in the next decade may be to New York what center field was in the 1950s.

What he said: “As talented as those five guys are, no matter which five they are, if you got 33 starts out of every one of those guys, I’ll take my chances where I am at the end of the year.” Mets manager Terry Collins on his young pitching staff. What he meant: “I’d be happy to get 33 starts out of one of them.”

Outlook: Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard declined to participate in the World Baseball Classic, saying, “Ain’t nobody made it to the Hall of Fame or win a World Series playing in the WBC.”

His sentiment was clearer than his sentence structure, and he delivered his refusal the way he pitches — bluntly, harshly and at times misguided. He’s right that nobody ever made it to the Hall of Fame or won a World Series by playing in the WBC, but it’s hard to have done the former since it was first played in 2006. Nobody’s made the Hall from how they did in spring training games, either, which was Syndergaard’s other option, and nobody’s won the World Series in March, although a lot of teams may have thought they would.

Syndergaard once said he would start a World Series game with a knockdown pitch, and Royals leadoff batter Alcides Escobar seemed surprised when the first pitch was up and in. Syndergaard wasn’t kidding then and he wasn’t this month about the WBC, which is a missed opportunity not just for the pitcher but baseball, too.

Syndergaard’s reaction isn’t just the impetuousness of one 24-year-old; it’s typical of many fans and players in the United States. Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, the best player and pitcher on the planet, aren’t playing. Even if they weren’t as brash as Syndergaard in explaining why, they’re just as absent.

This isn’t as much of a problem for other countries. It’s befuddling why other countries care more about competing at our national pastime than we do, and maybe our apathy is a defense mechanism for our ego. If we don’t care about the WBC, we won’t care when we lose (Canada long ago got over the insecurity of not being as good as the Soviet Union on the ice and did what we should do when we’re beaten at our game: they got better).

Instead of competing, we retreat into our cocoon of indifference. Or maybe we’re incapable of caring about a 21st-century event that isn’t ESPN-sanctioned and comes without a bracket. This isn’t America poo-pooing soccer because there’s not enough goals; this is us disinterested by our own game. If only Tim Tebow were playing, maybe the WBC could get more attention.

That’s an attitude not shared by most of the remainder of the baseball-playing world. Miguel Cabrera dragged his battered 33-year-old body to the plate Monday night and hit a game-tying home run for Venezuela. Carlos Correa, just 22, defers to Francisco Lindor and mans third base; he’s batting .500 for Puerto Rico, which has yet to lose (Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States but competes under its own flag in international sports competitions; if you’re old enough, you can remember Marquette’s Butch Lee, born in Santurce, pouring in 35 points for Puerto Rico and almost beating the U.S. in basketball in the 1976 Olympics).

The Dominican Republic drew crowds to Marlins Park of 100,000 fans for its first three games, which it’s doubtful the Marlins ever have. That’s about 20,000 more than came to see the U.S.

Someone is interested in the WBC, even if Americans and Noah Syndergaard aren’t.

The Mets are paying attention enough to notice that closer Jeurys Familia was brought into the Dominican Republic’s 10-3 victory over Colombia on Sunday with a seven-run lead in the 11th (maybe the best game of the tourney thus far; Jose Bautista threw out the winning run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth. If he hadn’t, Colombia would have advanced and either the U.S. or the Dominican Republic would have been eliminated).

According to the New York Daily News, “Off the record, however, two Mets sources admitted they were not thrilled to see Familia pitching Sunday. And at least one person in the organization reached out to let Familia and the Dominican Republic team know.”

That’s rich, given the Mets’ track record for handling young pitching. It seems safe to say Familia’s shoulder and elbow are in better hands pitching for the Dominicans than the Mets, who lost three-fifths of the best rotation in baseball last year to injury. That’s not counting Zack Wheeler, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014, and whose own injury came with little preventive care.

(Familia pitched 77.2 innings last year, tied for 10th among relievers in MLB. It’s the third straight year he’s been in the top 10, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Dominicans told the Mets they’d already established that Familia can handle a heavy workload.)

The Mets’ chances for 2017 depend on the health of their pitchers, which wasn’t good by the end of 2016. That the Mets won 87 games and made the playoffs was impressive given the health of their pitchers and infielders, but sometimes staying healthy is a skill, too.

2017 isn’t off to a good start, with the unfortunate David Wright already hurt again. Wright has played a combined 75 games over the last two seasons, and try as he might, his career seems to have taken that Don Mattingly turn to an early and abrupt end.

Still, the Mets have plenty of talent. They finished eight games behind the Nationals in the NL East last year, but might have a better chance to win it all, thanks to all that young power pitching.

If they do, here’s hoping Familia saves it and he makes a point to say how the WBC helped him do so.

Team song: Charlie Parker: Autumn in New York

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