The last month has been revelatory. We have seen basically a complete transformation from the 2009 Mets, and we have seen a team which stumbled out of the gate jettison its clearly valueless members, replace them wisely (and economically), and then begin playing a style of ball most of us did not expect to see again this soon. Whether one is the sunniest of Catatonic Optimists or the most disagreeable of the Nattering Nabob of Negativity, everyone must agree that there is an awful lot to like about this team.
The team is playing largely error-free ball. The starters are giving quality efforts almost every time out. The pen is keeping the game close and protecting leads. The offense is moving runners over and getting key RBI. The baserunning has been aggressive but smart. The overall vibe of this team is one of a young, emerging group which cannot wait to take the field again. No deficit seems too large to overcome; no lead seems too small to not add on to.
In other words, we are seeing a hustling, winning team which plays great fundamental ball. The anti-2009 Mets.
Much credit simply must be given to Jerry and his coaches.
The 2009 Mets were a mess in just about every possible way. The entire season was marred by out-of-shape players, terrible fundamental baseball, dropped popups, unintentional comedy on the basepaths, and the feeling that they clearly often did not have their heads in the game.
As spring training began this year, Jerry stated that fundamentals would be stressed. Some of us rolled our know-it-all eyes at this statement. Indeed, folks last year insisted that players at this level either played with good fundamentals or they didnâ€™t; they canâ€™t still be taught! Wrong! We have seen nothing but crisp, clear, heads-up ball much of this year, and all of the last month.
The pitching staffâ€™s performance has been nothing short of a revelation. Johan is still a fine pitcher and a battler, but is clearly beginning the downside of his career. Ollie and Maine were expected to magically return to 2007-2008 form (by this writer among others). Niese, like any young pitcher coming off an injury, was simply a huge question mark.
Despite the constant pelting Warthen receives from all of us who think we know it all, he apparently is a very good pitching coach. The Brilliant Jacket was unable to develop Pelfrey into what he apparently has become under Warthenâ€™s tutelage. Niese has shown lately that he may in fact be a pitcher who just goes out and throws 7 strong innings every time out. Takahashi, despite a few blips, has been largely very good. And Dickey continues to develop his mystifying knuckler, while also fielding his position very well and projecting the countenance of an unflappable wise old pro. The front end of the pen has been very good as well, where again Jerry and Warthen have experimented and apparently come up with a productive 8th inning tandem.
When examining all of this, the only rational response is that Dan Warthen may in fact have some idea of what he is doing.
The feeling here is that Jerry Manuel probably did not beg Omar and the Wilpons to go out and get him two true pieces of baseball drek in Mike Jacobs and Gary Matthews Jr. Watching these two utterly unproductive players start the first month of the season, along with Maine and Ollieâ€™s continued declines, made this team nearly impossible to watch. Met players simply had to be somewhat disappointed and distracted by looking at the lineup card and seeing Mike Jacobs batting cleanup. Seeing GMJ patrol CF with his complete allergy to driving in runs, while the Angels were paying him $20 million to go very far away, could not have been a motivating factor either.
But these situations were all relatively quickly resolved, wisely and inexpensively.
Ike Davis has been eased into the bigs, gradually working his way to the cleanup spot. Jerry tried to invigorate the offense with Jose batting 3rd, then again reacted and tried to better the team by moving Jose back to leadoff, and now Jose appears to be on the verge of being his old self again. Jerry started playing Pagan every day and he has been everything we could have hoped for. Jerry put Wright in the 3 hole where the best hitter probably belongs, and he is leading the NL in RBI. Jerry shuffles the 6-7-8 spots depending on matchups and who is hot; this is a great way to operate as Francoeur is a very streaky player. Jerry has found a 1-5 which works, and he is apparently sticking with it.
The bottom line is that a manager and his staff must receive credit for the positives if they are going to be hammered for the negatives. The mentality that says â€œWell, they are winning IN SPITE of Jerryâ€ just doesnâ€™t wash. It is like the most unreasonable of fans who on the one hand says that David Wright canâ€™t drive in a meaningful run, but then when confronted with the idiocy of this argument backed by Wrightâ€™s actual RBI stats, comes back and says â€œWell, look at all the RBI chances he hasâ€”he SHOULD lead the league!â€ Just ridiculous.
The players clearly are playing hard and smart at all times, which is why Jesus Felicianoâ€™s failure to run hard his very first MLB at bat and the time Barajas tried to stretch a single and was thrown out at second stuck out so very much. This is not your 2009 NY Mets. They appear to want to play hard for Jerry, and they truly seem to be bonding and developing into a tight group.
Which came first, the chemistry or the winning? A debate for the ages.
But the winning has been coming; this is beyond debate.
After we hopefully finish a 1986-style 6-game beatdown of two of baseballâ€™s true dregs, we play the Yankees, Tigers, Twins, Marlins, Nats, Reds, and Braves heading into the break. Thatâ€™s a rough dancecard.
The next 3+ weeks are going to truly show what this team is. Winning at home and beating the bad teams anywhere are signs of a good team. Beating the Yanks, Nats, and Marlins on the road while playing at least .500 ball against the Tigers, Twins, Reds and Braves will almost certainly show us that this team is here to stay.
Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, Davey Johnson, and Bobby Valentine without question largely set the tone for their pennant-winning teams. It appears that Jerry Manuel, despite the incessant complaining from those of us who think we know better, might very well be laying the groundwork for a very similar happening.