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Noah Syndergaard Is Hurt, The Mets Are The Mets

Neither one of these things is good, but the second one is more complicated than the first.

by David Roth
May 1 2017, 6:50pm

When it's all going according to plan. Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Rafael Montero does not look comfortable pitching in Major League games. You wouldn't either if you were him, because the people you'd be pitching to are all giants—big rectangular hamsteaks with freaky fast wrists, wormy-wiry guys with alarmingly wet-looking hair, supremely skilled people who wish your pitches ill. But Rafael Montero, in a dark twist that is as unpleasant for him as it is for Mets fans, must pitch to Major League batters in Major League games as part of his job. On Friday, Montero will do just that for the New York Mets when he steps into the rotation spot previously occupied by the team's towering ace Noah Syndergaard. On Monday, the team announced that Syndergaard is out indefinitely with a partial tear of his right latissimus dorsi muscle, which he suffered in Sunday's game against the Nationals; a similar injury knocked Steven Matz, another talented young Mets starter and currently shelved with an entirely different injury, out for two months back in 2015.

There is no universe in which any of this is remotely good for Mets fans. What is most telling, in the unhappiest possible way, is that this terrible news is something like the best case scenario for the Mets. In this universe, Syndergaard recently had his turn in the rotation delayed due to what was initially termed bicep soreness, then unofficially revised to He Actually Couldn't Lift His Pitching Arm. Matt Harvey, who has already had Tommy John surgery and thoracic outlet surgery, was informed two hours before the game began that he'd be slotting into Syndergaard's spot that day; Harvey had worked out hard the day before because he had not expected to start 24 hours later, and he was shelled. When Syndergaard finally took the mound on Sunday, he suffered through a five-run first inning and then left the game holding his armpit after getting one out in the second inning. A torn lat is not a great injury for a pitcher or anyone else, but in the context of the week leading up to it, the Mets should count themselves lucky that Syndergaard's injury wasn't Comprehensive Torso Meltdown or Full Ligament Defenestration.

The one constant in all this, besides a significant amount of bad luck and a correspondingly significant number of important injured players—Lucas Duda and Yoenis Cespedes were also placed on the 10-Day DL last week—is the Metsiness quotient of it all. This is a term that is easier to understand in the moment than it is to explain in the abstract, but the Metsing was impossible to miss where Syndergaard was concerned, and the way in which the Mets screwed this up is a good working example of how Metsiness works. From the obfuscatory slow-rolling of the injury to the retrospectively bizarre decision not to give him a MRI test after the mysterious debilitating arm pain—Syndergaard didn't want one, the team didn't insist—to the ambient pettiness and high-handed passive-aggressive weirdness around it, everything the Mets did and, more saliently, did not do, conspired to draw out the situation and make it worse. The Mets are not the only team that makes stupid mistakes. What sets them apart is their ability to turn these mistakes into sprawling tragicomic operas of obfuscation and denial.

Luridly botching the health of the team's most important pitcher is something the Mets have done before, but it's also something other teams do. Being so unwilling or unable to use the disabled list that the team is left to play with just one available bench player, as the Mets have already done this season, is not something other teams generally do. Cespedes, the team's most important hitter, was recently held out but not DL'ed with a gimpy hamstring, eased weirdly back into action despite evident persisting discomfort, and then finally placed on the DL with a retrospectively inevitable hamstring strain that he suffered running out a double. This is basic executive malpractice, all down the line, but it's also Metsiness in action. The groggy drift of it, the anxious and defensive opacity during and after, the unwillingness or inability to act one way or another at various decision points—that's both what Metsiness feels like and what it is.

There's no reason to give up on this season for the Mets; for all the club's obvious issues with diagnosing and responding to injuries, placing eight players on the disabled list during the first 22 games of the season is just the sort of cosmic boning that baseball and the universe sometimes deals out, and there is time remaining in the season for things to even out. Cespedes will reportedly be ready to play when he's eligible to come off the DL; Syndergaard's injury, bad as it is, could well have been worse. What's more troubling, and what will persist after the Mets get back to something like full strength, is the way that all this Metsiness still persists and presides over everything.

For a long time before the team's dreamlike 2015 postseason run, Metsiness was all the Mets were. The listless and pissy mood-disorder vibe of the team's management was mirrored perfectly by the thwarted and dreary team on the field. The Mets are not really like that anymore, because their players are better and their decision-makers are more competent than the ones that came before. But there is still some Metsiness in the team's culture, holding them back and slowing them down and tripping them up from one moment to the next and adding an ambient anxiety to everything they do. Every gun-shy shellacking that the team has endured during its brutal recent skid—they have lost eight of their last 11 games—has been shot through with the purgatorial vibe of Metsiness.

At some point, it's not Rafael Montero's fault that he can't really get big league hitters out—he's the team's eighth starter, more or less, and there isn't an organization in baseball that has an effective one of those. But when a Mets fan thinks about how Montero fails—slowly, anxiously, nibbling cautiously on the corners of the strike zone before finally being backed into throwing pitches that he knows to be doomed—and then thinks about a future in which the team will ask Montero to fail like this every five days, it can be difficult to tell Montero's specific problems from the broader ones. The specific issues can be addressed specifically. The bigger one is bigger.