I had this chat with Matt before the Mets doubleheader with the San Francisco Giants, so the questions do not include the Mets record after the doubleheader against the Giants.
Ehsan: The New York Mets are off to an impressive 8-6 start so far. Is this something you saw coming or is this a complete shock to you?
Matt: The quick start isn’t a complete shock to me, but it definitely is a little bit of a shock. I knew that this team had talent; if you take a look at what they have on paper, it easy to see that they can compete with the rest of the division, it’s just a matter of putting everything together, which they haven’t done during recent years. Now that the fast start is done and we’re getting into May, we’ll see what kind identity this team has.
Ehsan: Who has been the biggest surprise for the Mets so far? Who has been the biggest disappointment?
Matt: So far, my biggest surprise has been Kirk Nieuwenhuis. When Andres Torres went down on Opening Day with yet another strained calf, my first thought was, “Well, here we go again, more injuries.” Thankfully, Captain Kirk has invigorated this lineup with his talent (.325/.400/.525) and fans are pleading that he stay in center upon Torres’ return, but that won’t happen. My biggest disappointment without a doubt is Ike Davis. He had a tough spring, but I was banking on the fact that he would come into the season being the true cleanup hitter that we needed. He showed some life during their first road trip, but .148/.207/.315 just isn’t going to work.
Matt: You know what, I do miss Jose. I miss him dearly. It’s hard not to miss a player like him with the type of enthusiasm he has for the game. However, I feel that this team as a whole is not missing him as much because they’re playing better together. When Reyes was a Met, everyone said that if he’s in the lineup, we play well. Obviously, him staying in the lineup was an issue recently, so we were able to use his absence as a crutch. Now that he’s gone, it’s almost as if they are set free from that. Plus, Ruben Tejada is playing fantastic, and at 22-years-old, he’s going to progress into a very respectable ballplayer.
Matt: For now, the financial issues and lawsuits against the Wilpons are done; they were able to settle before going to trial, owing about $185 million, which is a short cry from the more than $300 million it was looking like. Even though I’d like them to cut their losses and sell the team, they will be sticking around because in the settlement, it’s stated that they don’t have to start paying back that sum of money until three years from now, allowing them to deal with the Madoff estate to gain the funds they owe. So, they’re not going anywhere, anytime soon. Yay!
Ehsan: How much of a difference has moving the fences in at Citi Field made for the team?
Matt: It has made a difference; there have been a handful of home runs already at Citi this year that wouldn’t have been round trippers last season, but I think the difference is more psychological for players. Now that the dimensions are similar to what they were at Shea, they don’t feel like they need to change their swing in order to yank a ball out of the yard. So, someone like David Wright, who openly said he tinkered with his swing because of the fences, is hitting .439. So, I’m happy about the moved-in fences because it took away that excuse and crutch that they leaned on for the first three seasons.
Matt: In regards to match-ups, everything I really want to see if happening tomorrow. There is no way I wouldn’t be most excited for a Josh Johnson-Johan Santana match-up; both aces are looking for their first win still, so that will be a great chess match. As far as pitcher-hitter duel, it’s Johan throwing against Jose. This is a match-up I never thought I would see (except in intra-squad games). Out of all the at-bats Jose will have at Citi this week, the first one will be the most emotional, and I want to see how Johan decides to go after him.
Matt: I mean, I have to be optimistic and say that the Mets will take two out of three here. I wouldn’t be a good fan unless I said that! In all honesty, I do think that Santana and Dickey will bounce back from rough outings last week and pitch very well. For the Mets to come away with a series win, the hero is going to have to be Frank Francisco; after some rough outings and a sit down talk with Terry Collins, he needs to come back and shut the door like he did against the Braves at the beginning of the month. On the other hand, goat will be Manny Acosta; with pitching being the highlight of this series for me, middle relief is going to have to come up big, but I don’t anticipate him being effective at all.