In a Season of Challenges, the Mets See a Unique Opportunity, Too

In the final 60 games of last season, the Mets went 39-21 for a mighty .650 winning percentage.

“So if we can pick up where we left off and go through a 60-game sprint,” Brodie Van Wagenen, their general manager, said on Monday, “I think we’re going to be in a position at the end that we’ll be happy with.”

It’s a fun little factoid, isn’t it? No other National League team, even the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals, was better than the Mets in those final 60 games of 2019. (The Los Angeles Dodgers were also 39-21.) If the Mets simply do it again for Major League Baseball’s upcoming mini-season, they will be playing this October.

Of course, as you’ve noticed, the world has changed since those final 60 games last summer. The coronavirus pandemic shuttered spring training in mid-March, and as teams prepare to host three-week summer training camp at their home ballparks, uncertainty reigns.

Several players announced Monday that they would not be playing this season for personal safety reasons, including Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross of the Nationals, and Mike Leake of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Minnesota Twins informed two coaches — Bob McClure, 68, and Bill Evers, 66 — that they would be sidelined for the season, citing health concerns. McClure and Evers will retain their salaries, but the players may not.

For their part, all of the Mets are planning to travel to New York in time for the first workout on Friday at Citi Field, Van Wagenen said, adding that only one player on the 40-man roster, whom he did not name, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

To keep it that way, Van Wagenen emphasized repeatedly on a conference call with reporters, the players will have to act responsibly. Playing during a pandemic, while adhering to more than 100 pages of detailed safety protocols, will require diligence and self-control.

“We all want to play baseball; I know that the fans want to watch as much baseball as they can,” Van Wagenen said. “That’s what we’ve all got to work for. Provided we can all work together to comply with these protocols and respect each other, respect the rules, I’m optimistic that we can make this happen.”

Van Wagenen sells optimism; his win-now vision for the Mets convinced the Wilpons to hire him before last season after a successful career as an agent. His biggest trade — two top prospects and three others to Seattle for second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz — was a flop, but now he has a reprieve in the designated hitter, which will be used in the National League this year.

Cano, 37, posted a meager .736 on-base plus slugging percentage last season. It was his worst figure since 2008, and injuries held him to only 107 games. Now, with introduction of the universal D.H., Cano can spend time there as one of several strong options for the new manager, Luis Rojas.

“We feel like our lineup can be as deep as anybody’s in baseball,” Van Wagenen said. “We think we have punch. We think we have guys that can impact the game with the bat, so we’re looking forward to utilizing the D.H. spot both to protect our guys’ health and to put up some offensive force.”

Van Wagenen said he was optimistic — there’s that word again — about Yoenis Cespedes, who had surgeries on both heels in 2018 and missed last season after fracturing his right ankle in an incident involving a boar at his ranch in Florida. By the time of the 2020 opener, on July 23 or 24, it will have been more than two years since Cespedes’ last major league appearance.

Even so, Van Wagenen said, “His bat can be a real impact and be a little bit of a separator for us as we compare ourselves to the rest of the teams in the league.”

Cespedes, a two-time All-Star, has lifted the Mets in late summer before, sparking their run to the World Series in 2015 and helping them to a wild-card appearance the next October. How much he has left, at 34 years old after so much inactivity, will be a fascinating subplot.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 24, 2020

    • What’s the best material for a mask?

      Scientists around the country have tried to identify everyday materials that do a good job of filtering microscopic particles. In recent tests, HEPA furnace filters scored high, as did vacuum cleaner bags, fabric similar to flannel pajamas and those of 600-count pillowcases. Other materials tested included layered coffee filters and scarves and bandannas. These scored lower, but still captured a small percentage of particles.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Starter Noah Syndergaard will miss the season after having Tommy John surgery, but the Mets have five experienced starters: the two-time reigning N.L. Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, plus Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo as multi-inning options out of the bullpen who should play pivotal roles.

“We may see shorter starts from certain pitchers early on in the year,” Van Wagenen said. “We may see bullpen arms pitching in situations earlier than they otherwise have been accustomed to. But we’re going to use it with the mind-set that every out counts, not just every inning.”

To be precise, every game counts 2.7 times more than usual in a 60-game season. It will be different and exciting, Van Wagenen said — but it will work only if the players and the staff take the perils of the pandemic seriously.

“We’re not going to create penalties or fines for players when they leave the ballpark,” Van Wagenen said. “But we trust them, they trust us, and we trust each other. That’s how we feel like we’re going to get through this in the best way possible.”

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