Mets playing like team worth fans’ money despite disappointing Citi Field attendance

Mets playing like team worth fans’ money despite disappointing Citi Field attendance

It’s OK to come back.

I get it, Mets fans. You are skeptical … or worse.

The Mets underperformed last season. They sold at the trade deadline. They did not replenish the galaxy this past offseason. They followed a strategy under new head of baseball operations David Stearns that felt more Milwaukee than Broadway. Then they opened the season, at home, winless in five games.

I see why you have been staying away from Citi Field, frustrated how a year of promise imploded in 2023 and feeling betrayed that Steve Cohen didn’t try to problem solve again with his wallet.

And I don’t want to tell you how to spend your money. Times could be tough. A day at the ballpark might be stretching the budget too far. But if you are just playing prove-it-to-me with your favorite club, then this group should be ebbing closer to winning you back by doing what most often attracts fans — winning.

They did that for the 10th time in 13 games in a Wednesday matinee in which they completed a three-game sweep of the Pirates with a 9-1 rout. They are doing it with fewer luminaries, but with the smaller pieces assembled by Stearns adding up to perhaps sum-thing special.

Mets Starling Marte is greeted by New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor after he scores on his home run in the third inning on Wednesday. JASON SZENES FOR THE NEW YORK POST

Stearns’ imports such as Luis Severino, Harrison Bader, Tyrone Taylor, Jorge Lopez and Jake Diekman provided impact Wednesday, so did a sacrifice bunt by Jeff McNeil and turning three double plays behind Severino. But it all happened before an announced crowd of just 18,092.

Yep, it was a workday. It was overcast with a threat of rain. But this also fits a pattern. It first struck me when there were only 22,222 at Citi Field on the first Sunday of the season — Easter Sunday — and then really resonated when there was well short of a sellout for Dwight Gooden’s number retirement ceremony on Sunday.

The Mets went into Wednesday 18th in home attendance, averaging 24,015. That fell to 23,464 Wednesday through 11 home dates, compared to 32,994 through 11 last year. The 2023 Mets were coming off 100 wins and Cohen had inflated the payroll to nearly a half-a-billion dollars with the luxury tax included. That raised expectations, and interest too. And then the Mets Mets-ed in 2023 and here are lots of empty seats in 2024.

“It has been cold and maybe just not as excited about this year, with all the hype that was around the past two years and maybe not feeling as hopeful this year without quite the big moves in the offseason,” Brandon Nimmo theorized about the downturn in attendance. “Success would definitely bring people back. This is kind of a show-it town, so it depends on if we remain successful and keep winning series. If we do that, like in ’22, we will have a packed stadium.”

It is four straight series wins and now the fans get a further litmus test before deciding what to do with disposable income. The Mets have a six-game road trip beginning Friday in Los Angeles against Yoshinobu Yamamoto, part of the Dodgers star factory. They return home a week from Friday, and who knows if the Knicks and/or Rangers will be subverting interest.

Luis Severino is off to a strong start for the Mets this season. JASON SZENES FOR THE NEW YORK POST

Look, Cohen will not need a tin cup if no one shows up at Citi Field this year. And my commission is $0 if you attend or not. But if a team with still MLB’s largest payroll can be an interesting underdog, then this group might just grab your attention in a $340 million Little Engine That Could kind of way.

The payroll for tax purposes remains heavily inflated, namely because of the dead money absorbed to turn Max Scherzer and Justin Veralnder into prospects. But Stearns’ proven skill in Milwaukee was assembling a winning jigsaw puzzle, short on stars and big on substance. He seems to be doing that in New York. Severino and Bader, disasters last season with the Yankees, have been helpful pieces. Taylor, a useful fourth outfielder for Stearns as a Brewer, has been an invaluable 10th player. But it is what is emerging in relief in front of the brilliant Edwin Diaz that might be most encouraging.

Mets right fielder Tyrone Taylor hits a single to load the bases during the 8th inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field on Wednesday. JASON SZENES FOR THE NEW YORK POST

In saying he expects the Mets to contend all year, Pirates manager Derek Shelton emphasized, “Their bullpen is better. They have a lot of good arms, a lot of ways to attack you and match up against you and they have that guy [Diaz] in the end.”

Lopez, Diekman and Grant Hartwig went nine up, nine down as the pen dropped its ERA to 2.97 and its batting average against to .202. In the last 10 games, Mets relievers have surrendered one homer in 40 innings and the Mets are 8-2, completing a series win in Atlanta and taking out teams who came into Citi Field hot in the Royals and Pirates. Perhaps Kansas City and Pittsburgh hold no allure or the absence of Scherzer and Verlander still stings or rain and cold is not a reason to sit outdoors.

Got it.

Let’s see how they do on the West Coast. Because when they return, the Mets might be a show worth seeing in person.