New York Mets Series Preview: 7/2-7/3

Don’t Ya Know (MLB Gifs)

(Ed Note: This article has been updated to reflect the Mets’ roster moves before Tuesday’s game.)

Undefeated in Europe, the Yankees travel to the faraway land of Queens to face the scuffling Mets.

Their Story Thus Far

The Mets’ playoff hopes have taken a downward spiral since last month’s two-game set in the Bronx. New York’s other team has a 38-47 record going into play Tuesday, the third-worst record in the National League. They are now 12 games back of the Braves in the division and 6.5 back of a playoff spot.

The biggest culprit of crosstown woes lately has been the bullpen. Edwin Diaz had a remarkable meltdown in Philadelphia, bookended by Seth Lugo struggles in Chicago and back home against Atlanta. The first Lugo blown game led to a blowup of another kind with Mickey Callaway and Wednesday starter Jason Vargas verbally abusing a reporter.

The Mets have three All-Stars: Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Jacob deGrom. The Yankees, fortunately, avoid both deGrom and Noah Syndergaard for the second time this season.

Injury Report

Relievers Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson and Luis Avilan could each return this week as they’re all in the middle of rehab assignments. UPDATE: The Mets activated all three of them from the IL right after this was posted.

As for long-term injuries, Yoenis Cespedes and Drew Smith are out for the season while Brandon Nimmo and Jed Lowrie have had multiple setbacks in their attempts to return from neck and leg injuries, respectively.

Weather Note

Supposed to be thunderstorms Tuesday night, so we may have another doubleheader in store.

McNeil (MLB Gifs)

Player Spotlight: Jeff McNeil

After bursting onto the scene last year as a 26-year-old rookie, McNeil has proven to be no fluke in Year 2. The second baseman/utility man has a .348 batting average to lead the National League and will play in the All-Star Game less than 12 months after his debut.

McNeil is a throwback player in that he puts the bat on the ball constantly. He has walk and strikeout rates of 6.1 and 12.2 percent, respectively, and takes advantage of the spacious confines of Citi Field.

He’s not a fluke, either. He has increased his exit velocity to 89.3 mph this season, up 4.1 mph from 2018, and has an expected batting average also among the league leaders.

The Mets have McNeil playing multiple positions despite his lack of prowess with the glove. With Robinson Cano healthy, he’s mostly relegated to corner-outfield duty.

He went 2-for-5 in both ends of the doubleheader in June, a repeat of his same line from Yankees-Mets last Aug. 17. So can we pencil him in for another 2-for-5?

Potential Lineup

  1. Jeff McNeil, RF (.348/.412/.509, 148 wRC+)
  2. Pete Alonso, 1B (.278/.372/.627, 159 wRC+)
  3. J.D. Davis, LF (.278/.343/.454, 113 wRC+)
  4. Robinson Cano, 2B (.238/.286/.368, 76 wRC+)
  5. Todd Frazier, 3B (.261/.342/.463, 117 wRC+)
  6. Michael Conforto, CF (.247/.364/.480, 124 wRC+)
  7. Wilson Ramos, C (.270/.343/.414, 102 wRC+)
  8. Amed Rosario, SS (.255/.293/.414, 86 wRC+)
  9. Pitcher’s Spot

The Met have a five-man bench right now: Backup catcher Tomas Nido (65 wRC+), INF Adeiny Hechavarria (73 wRC+), OF Juan Lagares (60 wRC+) and 1B/OF Dominic Smith (168 wRC+), with INF Luis Guillorme (6 wRC+) receiving a call-up Tuesday. Smith should be in the lineup Wednesday against German.

Pitching Probables

Tuesday (7:05 PM ET) James Paxton (vs. Mets) vs. Zack Wheeler (vs. Yankees)

Tuesday is the matchup of the two pitchers who were shelled in the June 11 doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. Wheeler allowed nine runs (five earned) to the Yankees and surrendered a pair of long home runs.

The right-hander has regained some form in his past two outings, allowing one run each to the Cubs and Phillies. Wheeler has been connected to the Yankees in trade rumors in the past year or so and could be a potential rental option. Therefore, this would ostensibly be an audition if the Mets were actually willing to trade him across town, which doesn’t seem likely.

Still, even as he sports a 4.51 ERA, there are reasons why Brian Cashman would be interested. He throws harder than just about anyone with an average fastball at 96.9 mph, and has above-average spin on both his fastball and rarely-used curveball. He has a fine K-BB ratio and sports a 3.76 FIP, more in line with his 3.31 ERA/3.25 FIP from his 2018 breakout.

Wednesday (7:05 PM ET) Domingo German (vs. Mets) vs. Jason Vargas (vs. Yankees)

Incident with Tim Healey aside, Vargas is having a resurgent season in Queens after pitching to a 5.77 ERA in 2018. The 36-year-old lefty works in the CC Sabathia/Jamie Moyer old man game while featuring the slowest average fastball in the baseball today.

He comes into this game with a 3.66 ERA over 14 games and 66 1/3 innings. His walks are up this season (3.8 per nine innings) but he induces weak contact and has been able to limit opposing hits.

In the June 11 doubleheader, Vargas flumoxed the Yankees outside of one inning en route to a quality start. He hasn’t allowed more than four runs in a start since Apr. 13.

Vargas throws either a fastball or sinker 50 percent of the time, but he throws his 80 mph changeup the most, fitting as its his best pitch year. The southpaw also changes speeds with a slow curveball.

Bullpen Status

With the Mets’ bullpen, there are a few key names to know. Diaz, as mentioned up top, has gone through a rough patch, but the 25-year-old still has electric stuff at closer. Lugo and fellow right-hander Robert Gsellman are the primary setup men while Wilmer Font may have earned Callaway’s trust with two big innings Sunday.

Outside of them, there are four right-handers: Chris Flexen, Chris Mazza, Stephen Nogosek and Brooks Pounders. Their roles are nebulous as the Mets try to find reliable relievers.

UPDATE: Familia, Wilson and Avilan were actviated for this series, which gives the Mets more veteran arms and the latter two lefties. Furthermore, starter Steven Matz, who had a poor June, will be available out of the bullpen.

Keys to watch:

Jetlag

The Yankees are coming off an unprecedented midseason trip. Luckily, coming back should be the easier part than heading over in terms of time change. Still, if you’re forced to face the Yankees, this is probably the one time you’re glad to see them.

Get to the Mets’ bullpen

The back-end held it together in a win Sunday, but oh boy, these guys have been blowing leads as soon as they’re handed the ball.

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2 Comments

  1. CountryClub

    Sorry for being off topic. But, the Yankees head Intl scout says The Martian has an 80 run tool and that his hit tool is even better than that. Hahaha, sign me up.

    • RetroRob

      The first 90 tool player!

      Much can change with players at this age, but he’s certainly an interesting prospect.

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