As the dark clouds crowded over chilly CitiField, the 2010 Mets season came to an appropriately dreary 14-inning end yesterday. With the added financial disaster of being a season ticket holder with no market for unused or second-seat tickets, I’m as, if not more so, disappointed by how the Mets finished this season as anyone. Even the minor hope of winning more games than they lost wasn’t fulfilled.
And yet, I’m glass half full about the future.
One reason is a lineup oddity. The Mets had exactly one player in yesterday’s last game starting lineup as opening day back in April – David Wright. Here’s a comparison between the opening and closing day lineups, by position:
2010 OPENING DAY LAST GAME
1B: Jacobs Davis
2B: Castillo Tejada
3B: Wright Wright
SS: Cora Reyes
LF: Bay Duda
RF: Francouer Feliciano
CF: Matthews Jr. Pagan
C: Barajas Thole
The closest most recent parallel I could find to this anomaly (I’m sure Elias could do a more proficient job) was 2003, when only Roger Cedeno and Ty Wigginton started in both the first and last games of the season, and only Wigginton at his original position. This year’s changeover was additionally radicalized by five of the eight opening day starters not even being on the team anymore, and a sixth (Castillo) soon to join them in ex-Metdom. I’d be surprised if there were many, if any, as radical a starting lineup transformation over the course of a season in major league history.
This year’s roster makeover, I believe, is not necessarily a bad thing. With five rookies starting, it gave us and the assumed new management a chance to see and judge the kids, which will give everyone a better idea of what the Mets have to work with going forward.
My other note of optimism is the Mets, even with this radical makeover, although five of their best players coming into the season missed substantial chunks of time (Reyes, Beltran, Bay, Santana, Rodriguez), last year’s co-home run leader missing the entire season (the nearly forgotten Daniel Murphy, perhaps the future second baseman), the complete collapses of two fifths of the rotation (Perez and Maine), and a conservative manager who seemed to play for one-run matter what the situation, still managed to win nine more games than last season.
That’s not a disappointment. That’s a minor miracle.
With a huge chunk of major league playing time, both Davis and Thole look to grow into solid, reliable major league starters, with Davis emerging as at least a solid number 5 hitter, perhaps even cleanup wedged neatly between righties Wright and Bay. Jonathan Niese may have tired toward the end of the season, but he looks like 12-15 game winner now that he’s put a full year in. We also found a solid bat off the bench in Chris Carter, and of course R.A. Dickey as a 12-15-win starter and Hisanora Takahashi as a reliable closer.
This year’s NL wild card winner won 91 games. This means the Mets merely have to improve next year as much as they did this year to contend. What do the Mets have to do in the off-season, player-wise? Not add, but subtract – Perez, Castillo, Rodriguez (except, and maybe not even, at a much humbler price), and let’s see how the kids will grow in their sophomore season. To me, it feels like 1984-85, the eve of adding one or two final pieces on the way to the World Series.
I contend that it’s not only possible to contend with full seasons from the current star veterans mixed with maturing youngsters, but a reason to be optimistic.
Some final final game notes: When Manuel removed Wright and Reyes in the eight inning in a tie game, many fans gave the two franchise cornerstones a nice round of applause, but most were either stunned or outraged that Manuel was jeopardizing the game’s outcome for a few seconds of cheap sentiment. Most in my section (319) felt it was a slap in the face to the loyal fans who showed up and deserved to see the team given a fair chance to win this final game…When Perez started his parade of walks in the 14th, the few fans remaining in section 321 started sarcastically shouting “MVP! MVP! MVP!” bringing a bit of laughter to an otherwise dismal and cold finish (could anyone hear it on TV?). But Perez being brought into the game instead of Feliciano or Dessens – or ANYBODY – then leaving him in long enough to walk in the winning run perfectly summed up this manager’s cluelessness. Farewell to a nice man but a frustrating manager.