Mickey Callaway is likely going to be canned, pretty much every decision General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen made in the offseason has blown up in his face, and the New York Mets are 39-48.
Yes, Wright was a third baseman, and Reyes was a shortstop. Meanwhile, Alonso is a first baseman, and McNeil plays all around the diamond. But that’s not the point here.
A decade ago, the Mets lineup was rocking with high-profile and/or intriguing players. They were a yearly threat to make the playoffs and owned one of the best left sides of the infield in Major League Baseball in Wright and Reyes. They were each premier fielders at their respective positions, highly productive hitters, and two of the best infielders in the sport.
Wright could flat-out rake. He was a line-drive hitter, a double machine, and difficult to strike out. Reyes was a speeding bullet. He beat out infield groundballs, was a contact hitter, and won the National League batting title in 2011 — which was Reyes’ last year with the Mets the first time around.
Wright and Reyes were the Mets’ identity. You went to Mets’ games to see them, and they were the building blocks that kept hope alive in Queens, even when times were rough. Today, times are also rough. The Mets went into spring training with postseason aspirations. Instead, they’re in fourth place in the NL East. At the same time, they have a positional duo to be excited about.
Throughout the offseason, there was a vibe that Alonso, who had been highly regarded in the organization, was going to get the starting nod at first base in 2019. Sure enough, he did, and Alonso has produced above and beyond what the Mets could’ve asked for.
Alonso has totaled 28 home runs and 64 RBIs while hitting .278. He also went into the Mets’ Wednesday night matchup with the New York Yankees with a .995 OPS, which ranks seventh in MLB. He’s demolishing baseballs, and while he’s striking out at a high rate (Alonso has totaled 91 strikeouts, compared to 87 hits), Alonso doesn’t have the trendy uppercut swing. He’s a power hitter, but one who has a level swing and can make hard contact anywhere in and out of the zone; he’s not limited to just hitting a hanging curveball, or fastball down the plate.
Alonso owns a 17.9 barrel percentage, which ranks in the top two percent in MLB. Having the 24-year-old in the Mets lineup gives them the power bat they’ve been devoid of since Yoenis Cespedes was last fully healthy in 2015. He’s giving Mets fans, and baseball fans in general, a positive reason to check the team’s box score.
Alonso has been what Aaron Judge was for the Yankees when he took on the full-time right field gig in 2017: an intimidating power hitter who blasts home runs at a high rate, hits second in the order, and invigorates hope. Alonso’s power will be on full display when he partakes in the 2019 MLB Home Run Derby on Tuesday night in Progressive Field.
Simultaneously, McNeil is stringing together a captivating season. Currently hitting an MLB-best .349 while owning a .928 OPS and totaling 96 hits in 73 games, he has been one of the best pure hitters in baseball. McNeil is a contact hitter. He puts the ball in play often, has wheels, and is as difficult as anyone in the sport to strikeout.
McNeil is an irreplaceable figure for the Mets defensively. While a natural second baseman, the Mets have played McNeil around the diamond due to infield logjams and injuries. He has played the hot corner, as well as both corner outfield positions. At some point, the Mets are going to have to find a permanent role for him, but as they experiment throughout what may be a lost season, having McNeil fill the holes created by others serves its purpose.
McNeil is a late bloomer. You don’t often see players make their big-league debut when they’re 26, play well — like McNeil did last season — and then grow into an elite hitter the ensuing season. Some will say he came on the scene too late. Here’s another way of looking at it: McNeil has been humbled by playing in the minor leagues for so long, continues to improve, and the bulk of baseball’s premier players are around his age.
Alonso provides the power. McNeil provides the energy. It’s the perfect offensive combo.
For years, the conversation with the Mets has been centered around their pitching staff and the future of those calling the shots. Can the rotation stay healthy? Can the bullpen do its job? When is Callaway getting fired? The losses aren’t going to eliminate those questions, but the Mets finally have something they can point to as progress.
Jacob deGrom won the NL Cy Young Award last season with 10 wins. While a pitcher’s win-loss record can be a deceiving way to measure their production in 2019, it speaks to how deGrom — who recorded a 1.70 ERA — received little to no run support. Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz have also been given little run support over the years.
Is the Mets offense remarkably better than it was last year? No, but it’s respectable, and that’s significantly generated by Alonso and McNeil. No longer are the Mets simply a team with good pitching. They now have franchise players who are in the field every day, as opposed to every fifth day. Such a duo hasn’t existed since Wright and Reyes were taking the field in their prime.
In all likelihood, the Mets are going to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season. The Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Washington Nationals are simply better than them. But the Mets have a nice mix of budding, young players and savvy veterans.
Alonso and McNeil are going to the MLB All-Star Game next week. Chances are you’re going to be seeing them there many more times as their careers ensue.