Were We Wrong About the Mets?

The Mets were alive, then they were dead. Now they're thriving. What's going on?
By Michael Shapiro ,

Welcome to the latest installment of 3 Up, 3 Down, our weekly stock watch of who’s streaking and who’s slumping throughout Major League Baseball. Our latest edition includes notes on the the latest Astros trade swindle, the Braves’ troubling addition and yet another unexpected star in the Bronx.

↑ In Brodie We Trust? ↑

Mocking the Mets at the trade deadline is seemingly an annual occurrence in MLB, and the first deadline of the Brodie Van Wagenen era was no different. With the entire league waiting on potential trades sending Noah Syndergaard and/or Zack Wheeler out of Flushing, the Mets doubled down, acquiring Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman for two of New York’s top 10 prospects.

Many assumed Van Wagenen would recognize his error from November 2018, when he acquired Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz from the Mariners in exchange for a pair of promising prospects. What has he gotten in return? Canó is slashing a meager .252/.295/.415 and was recently placed on the IL with a torn left hamstring. Díaz has a 5.32 ERA with a 1.45 WHIP. Barring a strong stretch from Díaz and a playoff berth in 2019, the deal is likely an unmitigated disaster.

Perhaps the Stroman acquisition will prove to be more prudent. The Mets have won 12 of their last 14, and they now sit just 2 1/2 games back of the second NL wild-card. New York enters the pennant race with one of the best rotations in the NL, and no team wants to face Jacob deGrom in a potential one-game playoff. We shouldn’t crown the Mets for beating up on the Pirates, White Sox and Marlins. But they’re now firmly in the playoff race, and Van Wagenen acquired a legitimate impact piece in his first deadline as general manager.

↑ Urshela Channels the Babe ↑

As the Mets dominated the trade deadline chatter, the neighboring Yankees stayed conspicuously quiet, much to the dismay of the Bronx faithful. But the Yankees haven’t quite needed any reinforcements via the trade market in 2019. They’ve been just fine mining their system and churning out one success story at a time.

Mike Tauchman has shined this season with a .541 slugging and Clint Frazier impressed on offense with 11 dingers and 34 RBI in 186 plate appearances. Yet the Yankees’ most pleasant surprise this season has been Gio Urshela. The 27-year-old had a reputation as a strong fielder in his first two seasons with Cleveland and 19 games last year with the Blue Jays, but his OPS from 2015-18 was just .608. He’s become a completely different player in the Bronx. Urshela sports a .314 average and .882 OPS in 2019, with 12 homers in 320 plate appearances. His .522 slugging is better than that of All-Stars Michael Brantley, Matt Chapman and teammate Gleyber Torres. As the Yankees’ injuries mount, Urshela has been a steadying force. Don’t be surprised if he makes a true impact in the postseason in a utility and pinch-hitting role.

↑ Jeff Luhnow is a Wizard ↑

The Astros made the premier deal of the trade deadline when they acquired Zack Grienke from the Diamondbacks, but their more under-the-radar deal paid immediate dividends Saturday. Houston sent Derek Fisher to the Blue Jays for righthanded starter Aaron Sanchez and reliever Joe Biagini before the deadline, and Sanchez entered his first start with Houston with an MLB-worst 6.07 ERA. Three years removed from an All-Star appearance and the AL ERA crown, Sanchez represented the ultimate reclamation project.

The turnaround may already be complete if his start Saturday is any indication. Sanchez spun six scoreless innings in the bulk of a combined no-hitter, striking out six batters in the process. His 29% curveball percentage marked a season-high, perhaps a sign of things to come with the Astros’ analytics-heavy coaching staff. Grienke will rightfully earn more headlines from Houston’s deadline deals, but Sanchez can make a legitimate difference as the Astros battle New York for the AL's best record.

↓ Atlanta's Bullpen Woes Continue ↓

The Braves appeared to take a major step toward solidifying their postseason roster at the trade deadline, acquiring All-Star closer Shane Greene from Detroit. Greene was stellar with the Tigers this season, boasting a 1.18 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 38 innings. He hasn't been quite as good in Atlanta. Greene blew a save Saturday against the Reds, then allowed three earned runs in the 10th inning of a 6-4 loss on Sunday. Atlanta may have acquired a quality reliever, but not the lockdown closer many had hoped. Greene’s 4.02 FIP ranks 12th of the 14 relievers with 20-plus saves. His production prior to 2019 was closer to league-average than that of an All-Star. He could be regressing to the mean at an inopportune time for Atlanta.

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↓ So Much for a Title Defense ↓

The Red Sox stood pat at the trade deadline, opting not to add relief help despite sitting just 3 1/2 back of the second AL wild-card on August 1. Yet it wasn’t the lack of relief pitching that cost Boston in its disastrous four-game set with the Yankees over the weekend. Red Sox starters allowed 18 runs in the last three games of the series in New York, including an eight-run effort from Chris Sale in 3 2/3 innings. David Price didn’t fare much better on Sunday night, exiting to “Who’s Your Daddy?” chants after allowing seven runs in 2 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox staff has scuffled throughout 2019, and its inadequacies were on full display at Yankee Stadium. Price and Rick Porcello aren't aging gracefully and Sale is nothing like the pitcher he was in the first nine years of his career. The Red Sox are 5 1/2 games back of Tampa Bay for the second wild-card. Their season is slipping away, and the future of their pitching staff is very much in doubt as we approach 2020.

↓ Trout Still Searching for Help ↓

Not exactly breaking news, but Mike Trout is still the best player in baseball. We won’t exhaust you with the details, but Trout leads the American League in homers, RBI, OBP, slugging and OPS in 2019, in line for his third MVP in eight years. But despite Trout’s heroics, the Angels enter Tuesday two games under .500 at 56–58. 

Trout’s lineup mates are largely to blame. Los Angeles hitters have a .627 OPS in the team’s last six games, with 51 strikeouts over a 1-5 stretch. David Fletcher has just three extra-base hits in his last 17 games, slashing .225/.276/.268 since July 17. Shohei Ohtani has similarly struggled of late with seven hits in his last 35 at-bats, and the rest of Los Angeles’ lineup has failed to pick up the slack. Reinforcements should be on the way in the next decade, namely with elite outfield prospect Jo Adell potentially ready for opening day 2020. But in 2019, the Angels are simply too short on talent to compete.

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