Michael Cuddyer’s experience and leadership is making waves through the Mets clubhouse
The Mets are a young team at it’s core. Sure, they have veterans spotted around the clubhouse, but not a lot of bodies who have experienced playoff baseball.
There’s Curtis Granderson who spent many Octobers under the lights with the Tigers and Yankees. There’s Bartolo Colon, who in his 18-year-career has had his share of playoff experience. Juan Uribe has had moments of glory in his day, as has Kelly Johnson. There’s David Wright who has played a total of ten playoff games and not for the last nine years. Tyler Clippard has had a taste, too.
But Friday’s showcase in Southern California will be a first for many under the spotlight of October, especially those among the projected starting pitchers in the Mets rotation against the Dodgers.
In fact, two of those pitchers – if Steven Matz – is included, have yet to pitch full seasons in the big leagues.
So for these Mets, they are in unchartered territory as their first shot at the Commissioners Trophy lies ahead.
But Michael Cuddyer – who carries a .338 career postseason average into the 2015 playoffs – thinks that inexperience could be a good thing.
“I think theres a beauty to that inexperience,” Cuddyer explained on Tuesday. “It doesn’t allow you to realize the magnitude of it. The biggest shock to me [in my first playoff experience] was how similar it was to the regular season. I was expecting to feel different and have this overwhelming feeling going out for my first game. But it really wasn’t. Once that first pitch was thrown, it was exactly the same as the regular season.
“I think that inexperience is good,” he continued. “Where experience comes into play is pre- and post game. Dealing with questions, dealing with the media, dealing with the production of the playoffs. There’s nothing I can say about that. You just have to go through it.”
Among those leaning on the veterans is rookie OF Michael Conforto, who doesn’t seem likely to start in most of the games in the first round, has been leaning a lot on Cuddyer and his tutelage.
“He knows so much about the game,” Conforto explained. “He’s always there to help. He’s someone I look up to, he’s a great role model and I want to play the game the way he does.
“I can’t say enough about what he’s done to help me feel comfortable here,” he said.
Cuddyer believes the greatest challenge of the playoffs is dealing with the increased number of off-days and staying sharp ahead of their games.
“We play 162 game sin 180 days, so you aren’t used to days off like that,” he explained. “As far as how to stay fresh, you go out and get your work in … and take that workout seriously. Not going through the motions.”
I think that’s also where experience comes into play,” he continued, “realizing how important these workouts are to stay fresh and on top of your game.”
Cuddyer figures to start two of the first three games, if not more in this Division Series against Los Angeles. Terry Collins has said Conforto is likely to come in later to a game if Don Mattingly turns to right-handers.
As such, he could be of great import as the Mets try and gain an advantage over Clayton Kershaw, Brett Anderson and the other Dodger left-handers.
“You never know with production, but I’m excited, “he explained. “I’ve gotten at-bats against everybody in that rotation. I’m preparing like I do everyday. To go out, play the game and help our team win. If I get into a situation where hopefully i can make an impact on the game, I hope to come through.
“The big thing is to prepare for those situations to where you know you’ve done everything you could. After that, you let the results take care of itself.”
Cuddyer thinks his experience against Kershaw and Zack Greinke could be beneficial, but also that the team has faced them twice this year already, going 2-2 in games started by the Dodger duo, although he doesn’t feel like their record in those games matter too much.
“It does help to have faced them before. Whether we won or lost, I don’t think that really plays into it,” he said. “The fact you’ve faced them before, guys have had at bats against them, they know the arm angle, they know what the pitch look like, they know the shapes of the pitches. That all helps. So as a hitter, the more times you face a guy, the more comfortable you are against them.”
But Cuddyer doesn’t think the guys behind their top duo are any kind of slouch.
“We all know [Kershaw and Greinke are] both of the two best pitchers in the game, and the guys they’ve got following aren’t terrible either.”
Many industry experts are almost shocked the Mets were able to overtake the Nationals and win the division, feeling they were at least a year away from what they ultimately accomplished in 2015.
But not Cuddyer, which is why he signed with the Mets 11 months ago to begin with.
“Its what I expected, it’s what I envisioned. Facing this team last year, I knew this team was going in the right direction,” the veteran said.
And for he and the Mets, winning the division is far from satisfactory.
“We’ve got a lot work left, but we are excited. It’s an excitement but there’s an element of focus in there as well. it’s not crazy where everyone is in disbelief as to where we are. We all as a team expected to be here which is why we have that level of focus, which is encouraging to see.”
They have quite the challenge right off the bat, but it’s the shoulders of Cuddyer as well as the other veterans this young group of Mets seem to be leaning on the help guide them towards that championship light.
But as he said, once the lights go on at a quarter to seven in Los Angeles on Friday, it’s just baseball, as Cuddyer said.