As a long-suffering every-silver-lining-has-a-cloud kind of Mets fan, this past weekend seemed depressingly familiar â€“ Mets and Braves battling for first place, and the Mets losing two of three. Do the Mets have enough to make the playoffs or even win the division? I’ve identified five keys to the second half, each with its potential for success and backfire.
1. Carlos Beltran
Pro: An actual #4 hitter will both better protect David Wright in the three hole and take some pressure off poor Ike Davis, who can’t seem to lay-off the breaking pitch out of the strike zone.
Con: Beltran did not smack a single dinger against single A pitching during his rehab. Like Reyes early this season, it may take Carlos a month or so to really get into the swing of things after so much time off. Considering he’s in the middle of the lineup, any lack of production could spell a double-digit GB deficit in no time.
2. Jerry Manuel
Pro: He seems to have produced a cohesive and hard-working team with a great attitude.
Cons: Stop with the sacrifice bunting already! Over the weekend, Jerry had Jose Reyes sacrifice bunting in the first inning, and the team’s second-leading home run hitter, Rod Barajas, sacrifice bunting ahead of â€“ wait for it â€“ Ruben $#@#^% Tejada! I long for Davey Johnson and waiting for the three-run homer.
3. The Schedule
Pro: Of the Mets remaining 74 games, the Mets have 20 against Arizona, Houston and Pittsburgh, the three worst teams in the league, and a total of 39 games â€“ more than half â€“ against current sub-.500 teams. Both constitute a higher number of should-win games than any other East division or wild card contender (assuming Cincinnati and San Diego hold on to win their divisions). (Atlanta 6 vs. Washington, Arizona and Pittsburgh, 33 vs. sub-.500-teams, Philadelphia 4-39, Colorado 13-40, Los Angeles 9-39, San Francisco 13-35, St. Louis 15-35).
Con: The Mets are tied with the Dodgers and the Phillies for the second most road games remaining of the seven East division and wild card contenders with 39, but also have worst road winning percentage, .428 (18-24), of all the contenders (Atlanta 33 remaining road games, .458/22-26 road record, Philadelphia 39/.476/20-22, Colorado 40/.439/18-23, Los Angeles 39/.500/21-21, San Francisco 35/.478/22-24, St. Louis 35/.435/20-26).
4. Starting Pitching.
Pro: With 16 consecutive scoreless innings and one run allowed in his last 23 innings, it looks as if Santana has already started his usual second-half surge (career 62-19, 2.70 ERA post All-Star Game). He certainly is likely to get more run support, has stopped tipping his pitches, and the effects of his elbow surgery seem to be wearing off as he begins to regain some of his velocity, increasing the difference between his fastball and change-up.
Con: Mike Pelfry has seems to have regressed to his usual erratic self, R.A. Dickey seems to have landed back on earth after giving up back-to-back homers in his last outing and has not won a game since June 23, Hisanori Takahashi can’t seem to get through the lineup more than twice, and then there are the twin dilemmas of what to do with Oliver Perez and John Maine. Other than Santana, only Jon Niese seems to project continued consistency, and the best available starter via trade is 35-yo Ted Lilly, a barely .500 pitcher with a career 4.24 ERA.
5. Jason Bay.
Pro: Jason Bay’s line this year is 6 HRs, 44 RBI and a .265 BA, but we know he’s a better hitter than that. His season career average for his first six full seasons is 30/100/.279, which means he’s due for a 24 HR/56 RBI second half (I don’t have wherewithal to figure a projected batting average, but to reach his career average, I’m assuming he’s going to have to hit more than .300 in the second half).
Con: Or, as Kingman pointed out, Bay could be suffering from George Foster/Carlos Beltran first-year-in-NY blues. Worse, CitiField seems to have put the hex on him and he may be trying to over-adjust â€“ he’s already reached his season high in triples with 6 â€“ affecting his performance away from CitiField. He has only 18 RBI and a .253 BA on the road, and both his OPS and slugging average are more than 50 points lower away from CitiField.
Personally, I think Beltran will take at least 4-6 weeks to return to form, Bay will continue his first-year-in-NY struggles, especially on the road, and even if Ike begins to recognize out-of-the-strike zone off-speed pitches better, he’ll not be able to provide either the punch nor the protection for the guys in front of him. This creates a huge donut hole in the middle of the Mets’ lineup, the biggest obstacle for the Mets making the playoffs this year. But as Kingman notes, next year, with everyone healthy, Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez motivated by their walk years, and Ike Davis with a year under his belt, the Mets will field a powerful lineup, needing only one more horse on the mound to dominate like they did in 1986.
On a personal note, I’m proud to announce that my critically-acclaimed 1995 book, “Bums No More: The Championship Season of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers,” is now available as an ebook for the low low price of $2.99.
It’s available for the Kindle through Amazon or via the Kindle app store on your mobile device, and through Smashwords, an online ebook store â€“ for all other ebook readers (Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, et al) and even to read on your desktop or laptop PC. Hopefully in a few weeks, it’ll be available through the Apple iBook store and maybe the Barnes & Noble ebook store.