“Yes, it’s only 14 games, but there’s no doubt the Mets feel like they have ‘it’ right now … while the Washington Nationals most definitely don’t.” — David Schoenfield, ESPN.com, Sunday
Fast-forward to Monday night at Citi Field, where the New York Mets led the Nationals 6-1 through seven innings as Jacob deGrom was cruising along with a four-hitter and 11 strikeouts, the only damage being Bryce Harper‘s broken-bat home run heard around the internet:
Benny “The Jet” busted the guts out of a baseball…
Roy Hobbs had light-tower power…
Bryce Harper hit a 406-ft BROKEN BAT home run. pic.twitter.com/v1ReLAklGM
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 16, 2018
Then … well, the team with “it” imploded, or the team without “it” exploded, and the next thing you know the Nationals led 7-6 after a six-run rally. An insurance run in the ninth made the final score 8-6, and the lesson, as always, is this: The first rule of April is don’t overreact to what happens in April.
The rally began innocently enough, with Moises Sierra grounding a single up the middle. After Michael Taylor struck out, Trea Turner singled on a grounder to left field. Mets manager Mickey Callaway then removed deGrom. You can debate the decision since deGrom was at only 103 pitches and the two hits weren’t screaming line drives.
On the other hand, the Mets’ bullpen led the majors with a 1.51 ERA entering the game and needed to get only five outs with a five-run lead. Furthermore, deGrom had thrown eight pitches to Taylor and eight to Turner, so he already was at 19 pitches in the inning. With Harper on deck, deGrom was only going to face one more batter anyway. No second-guessing here on taking out deGrom.
A key at-bat of the rally followed, as Seth Lugo walked Howie Kendrick on four pitches. OK, Lugo got squeezed on a couple of calls by plate umpire Lance Barksdale. Lefty killer Jerry Blevins entered to face Harper, who broke his bat again, but grounded a soft two-run single into right field. The Mets were in double-play depth, so the shift wasn’t on and the ball slid past second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera.
From there, AJ Ramos fanned Ryan Zimmerman, but Pedro Severino singled to load the bases and Matt Reynolds walked to make it 6-4. Closer Jeurys Familia came on and Wilmer Difo tied the game with another soft two-run bouncer to right field. Familia then hit Sierra and walked Taylor — and the Nats had their six-run rally and a 7-6 lead.
It was very much unlike a typical 2018 big inning: There were no home runs, no extra-base hits, not really a hard-hit ball. Proponents arguing the value of simply putting the ball in play would point to an inning like this one.
Just a brutal eighth inning for the Mets, who use use five pitchers to face 12 batters. That quintet walks in two runs, hits a batter and allows six runs in total. Boos rain down at Citi Field as the 12-2 Mets head back to the dugout.
Nationals 7, Mets 6 mid-8th.
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) April 17, 2018
In a sense, this felt more like a Mets loss than a Nationals win. Tweets from earlier in the game pronounced things like “Now the Mets are piling it on.” One Mets fan with the Twitter handle @JoelMetsNY quickly deteriorated from “Mets kicking the Nationals’ ass in 2018 is what America needs” to “AJ Ramos is hot trash.” This is why Mets fans are the best; no group of fans lives in the moment quite like they do.
On the bright side, the Mets still are 12-3. The Nationals still are under .500 at 8-9. But let’s make a pact: Let’s wait at least until April is over before making any further declarations.
Charlie Blackmon, MVP candidate: Be honest: You had no idea if Blackmon would repeat his 2017 season, when he hit .331/.399/.601 with 86 extra-base hits and led the National League in batting average, triples, runs, hits and total bases. It was a pretty insane year, even for Coors Field, and he finished fifth in the MVP voting. Still, it had the markings of a career season. Blackmon would have been eligible for free agency at season’s end but instead signed a long-term extension with the Rockies. Maybe that has given him peace of mind, because he’s been crushing baseballs.
The Rockies beat the Pirates 6-2 on Monday and Blackmon went 2-for-4, including his seventh home run. He’s hitting .314/.397/.784, and with Nolan Arenado serving his suspension for fighting, Blackmon has homered in all three games he’s started at the No. 3 spot in the lineup.
Two impressive notes about Blackmon’s early power numbers: (1) He missed four games with a quad strain and has played just 13 of the Rockies’ 18 games; and (2) he’s played just three of those 13 games at home, which means he’s hitting .366 with all seven of his home runs on the road.
The Rockies are 10-8 overall and have started well on the road at 8-4. Historically, that’s been their biggest problem, as they have the largest home/road disparity in the majors this century — by a big margin. One reason they returned to the postseason last season is they were much better on the road, going 41-40, tying their best road record in franchise history. If they can play .500 on the road, they’ll be in the playoff chase again.
Aaron Judge hits his 60th career homer in his 197th game, breaking Mark McGwire’s record for fewest games needed to hit that mark in MLB history.
Aaron Judge, MVP candidate: I’m not a fan of the old cliché about “beating up on bad pitching” because every team has a chance to face bad pitching, but the Yankees have a lineup that might really destroy bad pitching. They pounded the Marlins 12-1 and Judge hit his 60th career home run, getting there in 197 games, five fewer than it took Mark McGwire to reach 60.
More impressive is Judge’s season line of .351/.479/.614. He’s been a rock of consistency as Giancarlo Stanton continues to struggle. Yes, Judge strikes out, but he’s drawn 13 walks to go with the high batting average, so he’s the same on-base machine he was as a rookie.
Everyone predicted regression for two primary reasons: It’s hard to hit 52 home runs every season and it didn’t seem possible that Judge would hit .461 again when not striking out. Well, he’s hitting .500 this season when not striking out. It’s possible that maybe you just throw out the rules with Judge.
(I mean, he’s not going to hit .500 all season when not striking out. At least, I don’t think he is.)
Joey Votto update: He hit a double. I’m calling a home run on Tuesday.