Look At History to See Why Mets Could Surprise This Season

Published on: 2nd April, 2013

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Tom Seaver
Seaver Won 16 Games in 1967 As A 22-year Old

circa 1975: Portrait of New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver posing on the field with his glove over his head, 1970s. He wears his uniform. (Photo by Photo File/Getty Images)  | read this item

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New York — For all of the so-called experts who have predicted gloom and doom for the 2013 New York Mets, I’ve got a little secret for you.

You may want to take a second look at the baseball history books.

Sure, there’s little or no chance of the Mets winning their division, not with everybody’s current darlings and division-rival, the Washington Nationals, practically anointed the 2013 World Series champions. Not to mention, the pundits seemingly have reserved a place in the baseball Hall of Fame for 20-year old Bryce Harper and 24-year old Steven Strasburg, the two wunderkinds of Davey Johnson’s team.

But, I strongly urge all of you naysayers to consider the names of Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. Those three were pretty fair pitchers for the Atlanta Braves who, as youngsters in the earliest stages of their big-league careers began to make hay in the National League.

And while you’re thinking about the Braves’ troika of sure-fire Hall of Fame pitchers, go back to your Mets history books and look up the year, 1968. Then, scroll down to the names of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, and Jim McAndrew.

Back in 1991, the Braves were coming off a decidedly mediocre previous season, much like these Mets. They had finished in sixth place, had fired their manager, Russ Nixon after just 65 games, replacing him with Bobby Cox. Their lineup was unimpressive, their defense questionable and Braves fans were staying away from Fulton County Stadium as if there was some sort of baseball plague emanating from the home dugout.

All of a sudden, the Braves began to win games in 1991 because their little-known pitchers suddenly grew up and began to dominate National League hitters. Maddox, with his unhittable back door fastball that he threw inside to lefty batters only to see it tail back over the plate. Glavine, the lefty artist whose pitches could barely break a window pane but he could throw to both sides of the plate with precision. And Smoltz, he of the 97 mph fastball and ridiculous 12 to 6 curve ball.

Glavine, Smoltz, and Maddox dominated for a decade

 

 

 

Imagine what opposing teams were thinking when they had to go play the Braves in a four-game series and three of the pitchers were future Hall of Famers? The Braves lineup wasn’t scaring anyone in those early years but manager Bobby Cox discovered something important about the sport. Great pitching and the ability to catch ground balls and fly balls can win you a lot of games. The Braves went from a 65-97 record in ’90 to  94-68 and a division championship the next year.

Twenty-two years earlier, the Mets were coming off another last place finish in 1967, having lost 101 games to only 61 wins. There were only 10 teams in the league in those days so as adorable and lovable as those terrible Mets teams may have been, their losing act began to grow thin for their fans.

Despite the mediocrity, Mets manager Gil Hodges walked around spring training at the beginning of 1968 as if he knew something no one else knew. His confidence seemed misplaced.

He looked at his roster and thought he had the makings of something special. The strength of his club was on the mound, he decided. Despite the lack of hitting and almost no team speed, Hodges felt his team would progress and begin to win games if he brought in smart players who could catch the ball, hit the cutoff man, and run the bases properly. All in support of the young; live arms he saw during that spring training.

In Seaver, Koosman, Ryan, and McAndrew,  his starting pitchers, he knew he had young, sometimes erratic, hard-throwers who were learning on the job but had specific and unique talents. They all could throw the hell out of the ball and intimidate National League hitters.

Hodges was a smart guy but he couldn’t keep the secret for long. The 1968 season opened the National League’s eyes to the talents of his super pitching staff. The very next year, the Mets, behind the core of that pitching staff, were World Champions.

Fast forward to 2013. It’s very early in the season and nothing has been proven, yet, by these young Mets but remember the names, Jonathan Niese, Matt Harvey, and Zack Wheeler. These are the young pitchers who National League teams will be preparing for as they face the Mets in three and four-game series. There’s not a whole lot of reasons for anyone to fear these pitchers, at this stage of their careers. After all, Niese is in his third season in the majors, Harvey pitched in just 12 games last year for the Mets, and Wheeler has yet to make his major league debut.

But, if you listen to baseball scouts and baseball lifers, guys who’ve been around the game for most of their lives, these young Mets pitchers have all the makings of building not just good careers but dominant ones. Each of them has the talent and the ability to be a consistent winner at the major league level and do so in ace-of-a-rotation fashion.

Will it happen or will these three become the Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen, and Paul Wilson disappointments of the late 1990’s. Of course, time will tell but unless 100% of the scouts are completely wrong in their assessments of these youngsters, it appears the Mets of 2013 can draw real parallels with the Braves of 1990 and the Mets of 1968.

These 2013 Mets will be playing an aggressive brand of baseball, this summer. Just a bunch of young loosey-goosey kids, baseball babies, really, who will be trying to get better every day with little expectations heaped on their young psyches. But, there will be three very hard-throwing, talented starters trying to keep their teams in the games while firing 95 mph fastballs at National League hitters who will not be comfortable facing the likes of Wheeler, Harvey, and Niese.

There will be mistakes made that will force Collins to be at his most patient. There will be many days when this seemingly weak lineup will be overmatched by opposing pitchers. But sometimes, in baseball, good pitching covers up for lots of team weaknesses.

Just think back to the 1990 Braves or the 1968 Mets. You could learn a lot from history.

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