Let’s be honest. This 2020 MLB season, if it’s ever played, is going to come with an asterisk.
If a player gets off to a horrid start, (asterisk!) it’s because spring training was halted, throwing off his rhythm. If a player hits 25 home runs in, say, an 80-game season (asterisk!), fans will wonder if he could have kept up that pace.
Every accomplishment or failure will come with an asterisk: Yankees win the World Series – * season shortened.
It’s a can’t win season. Same with the NBA and NHL and all the other seasons that have been interrupted by this plague known as COVID-19. The season of the asterisk is the tertiary damage of the novel coronavirus.
Years from now, any athlete that misses this season won’t be differentiated from athletes that play.
So, although Mets pitcher Noah Syndegaard will not pitch in 2020 because he needs Tommy John to repair an acutely torn UCL with acute compression of the ulnar nerve, it’s the perfect season to miss. The season with the asterisk.
Don’t be mistaken. This is a sad turn for the Mets pitcher who has teased us with his Viking god-like physical stature and power pitching. It’s a sad turn for the Mets who still might be considered a playoff team but that road just got more daunting.
It’s not as if Syndegaard had a choice. The injury needs surgery and it needs it now. If all goes well, Syndegaard could be back on the mound by June of 2021.
Boston’s Chris Sale also will have Tommy John surgery. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Sale decided to have his surgery now to avoid missing significant time in 2021.
It doesn’t matter. Five, 10 years from now, the empty stat line for Syndegaard and Sale won’t warrant a second glance. This is the season of the asterisk.
One of the first narratives regarding Mets pitcher Noah Syndegaard was not a positive one. He was spotted by David Wright eating in the clubhouse during an intrasquad scrimmage in March of 2015.
This was little more than a rookie error. Syndegaard should have been watching the action, learning one more piece of information or soaking up via osmosis what being a Major League pitcher is all about.
Wright chewed out Syndegaard. Bobby Parnell tossed Syndegaard’s plate in the trash.
If this is the biggest mistake Syndegaard ever makes as a Met that would be OK. But OK, as the AT&T ad states, is not OK when it comes to Syndegaard.
From that rookie season when he struck out 166 batters in 150 innings, Syndegaard standing at 6-6 and weighing around 240 pounds with that lightning blond flow, began drawing hushed comparisons to other previous Texas flamethrowers such as Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan or pre-injury Kerry Woods.
There was that game last May when Syndegaard four-hit the Reds and drove in the game’s only run with a solo homer. And the one in late-September when he two-hit the Giants, striking out 11 and walking one.
Every time Syndegaard dominated, he raised the bar for himself and for the Mets. Every time he didn’t reach those heights, as was the case at times last season (10-8, 4.28), there were whispers of doubt: Maybe he’ll never be destined for Cooperstown.
Syndegaard did nothing to deflate expectations for this season. There were the shirtless photos of him early in camp, showing off that Greek freak physique. There was today’s first spring training outing when he worked the standard two innings, striking out two, allowed one hit and left with Mets fan feeling good until Edwin Diaz showed off his dreadful 2019 form.
With Jacob deGrom and Syndegaard, the Mets can have the best 1-2 front end of any rotation in baseball. That has been the hope for the last five seasons. But this could be the year that deGrom and Syndegaard combine to lead the Mets to an October parade.
Syndegaard, 27, spent the offseason in Los Angeles sharpening his mental approach to pitching. The hope is that a better plan, combined with his 97.6-mph four-seamer, his 91.1-mph changeup and an unhittable curve when the first two are working, will establish him as one of the best in the game.
“It was a top-notch pitching program the performance people put together for me,’’ Syndergaard told The Post. “I followed it to a T. Previous offseasons I would go into spring training lackadaisical on the mound, figuring, ‘Oh, I will just figure it out there.’
“Now I’ve had 10 mound sessions under my belt already. Our analytics guys came out to LA a few times to really figure things out. I have a much better grasp now on everything.’’
Wouldn’t that be something to witness? Syndegaard standing on the mound at Citi Field, knowing his stuff can blow away any man in the box, knowing exactly what’s the best pitch to throw, and executing it? We’d cater the clubhouse spread.
We’re still smack in the dead of another bizarrely warm winter and with the way things are going we certainly could see snow on March 26, when the Mets host the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals.
It’s at this time of the year that the Gregorian calendar goes out the winter. The Mets held first full team workout today. Spring feels a little closer.
If you’re a Mets fan, you can’t help yourself. It’s in your DNA.
Despite all the ridiculous chapters in Mets history, even recently: Yoenis Cepesdes breaks his ankle in a tangle with a wild boar; the sale of the team is deep-sixed at almost the 11th hour – again; Carlos Beltran doesn’t get to manage even one spring training game – Mets fans believe that this will be the year.
The feeling here is that this emotional state of being, call it the Miracle Syndrome, began in 1969, the greatest year in Mets history and one of the most amazin runs in sports history.
You know the story. You witnessed it yourself or heard it from your father or grandfather or uncle.
The Mets, who began their residence in Queens by losing 120 games, were nine and one-half games behind the Cubs in mid-August.
The rest is mystery.
Behind one of the great pitching staffs in baseball history the Mets overtook the Cubs and upset the mighty Orioles in the World Series.
There was no time to prepare for such exuberance. Teachers stopped classes and put radios on their desks for all to listen to playoff games. A city riddled with crime and graffiti needed a salve if not a savior, the Amazin Mets came through.
No wonder that no matter the number of broken dreams and tear-stained jerseys, Mets fans remain more exuberant than a rooster in a henhouse.
Which brings us to 2020, 51 years after the Miracle Mets. As was the case in 1969, when the Mets actually finished the previous season with some success, the 2020 Mets were in the 2019 playoff hunt until the final weeks.
As was the case in 1969, the Mets have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndegaard, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha offer dominance and depth.
The bullpen hopefully has been bolstered. Seth Lugo is proven. Robert Gsellman can swing from starter to pen. The acquisition of Dellin Betances could help. Edwin Diaz can’t be any worse.
There are questions, of course, as is the case with most teams at this time of the season:
Luis Rojas seems universally liked in the organization and there’s no doubt he knows the game, but he’s never managed before and he never played in the Majors.
Pete Alonso can own this town by notching another 40-plus home run season but opposing pitchers have had an entire winter to study him.
Were the Mets the team we saw in the first half of the season or the second?
“We agreed on the things we need to do in order to get the edge that we need, as far as being successful this year and to achieve our goal — which is winning,” Rojas told reporters about his message to the team. “We have a lot of competition out there and this is where it starts.”
Yes, this is where it starts every spring for the Mets and their fans. They need the slightest of reasons to believe. This team provides many. Which means it also provides the perfect setup for more broken dreams and tear-stained jerseys.