The Week That Was: The Mets had come off the loss to Josh Johnson with three nice wins in a row including Chris Young’s memorable Met debut on Tuesday, and had roared all the way back from a seven-run deficit to tie the game Wednesday night in Philly. The pressure on the Phils was as palpable as the Met momentum. But the pen could not hold, and the offense was played out. Will this comeback be the season’s high point?
The Met announcers loudly repeated Pelfrey’s almost comically abominable road record against NL east teams on Wednesday, and he most certainly lived up to this in FLA and PHI. Still, this does not mean that Pelf might not yet have a nice season, as he did in 2008 and 2010, albeit with some serious hiccups. Just because Big Pelf is not a number one, we cannot deride his value as a number three or a number four. It’s not his fault that he became the number one more by default than by merit.
The teams followed this up Thursday by featuring Halladay and Niese showing the difference between an ace and a back-of-the-rotation hurler.
Dickey seems prepared to have another good season. He is a crafty pitcher, a good hitter and fielder, and a good influence on others to be sure. But, like Pelf, he is certainly not an ace. As for Niese, he now has 40 MLB starts, with very mediocre results. His minor league numbers were decent but certainly nothing much better than decent. He’s thus far a number four starter at best.
The Mets returned home and lost two of three to the rather anemic Nationals; a team statistically near the bottom offensively and defensively any way one measures things. Mediocre Met pitching and no offense highlighted the first game, a decent start by Capuano combined with a good pen effort and timely hitting from Beltran and Ike won game two, and a largely listless battle and terrible plate discipline combined with a bad right fielder resulted in a loss in game three. One cannot help but notice that in the three games the Mets struck out 34 times while managing to draw 8 walks; today it was 3 walks and 17 Ks—no matter how one spins things, this is unacceptable. Especially against a very weak pitching staff.
Much about this week screamed .500. Sure, we are getting some offense, but almost exclusively from three players; Reyes, Wright, and Ike cannot do it all. The lack of overall team strength was highlighted by Wednesday’s loss, when the offense roared back from being down 7-0, but could not overcome the pitching. Sunday’s loss wasted a great start from Chris Young. In addition, Beltran’s needing Sunday off allowed the mediocre-fielding minor leaguer Duda to play RF; most RFs would have caught Pudge’s double, which began the Nets’ rally in the 8th. Clearly the 2011 Mets will have a miniscule margin of error with the current roster.
The team has fielded a rotation with several back-of-the-rotation pitchers, a bullpen with a couple of truly bad hurlers, a journeyman bench player starting in left, a rule 5 pickup who has yet to hit at all at 2B, a minor league slugger playing RF when Beltran sits, and a vastly overrated offensive player in CF.
It is too early to make any definitive judgments to be sure. The strength of Reyes, Wright, and Ike, as well as the pitching of Dickey and the hopeful return of Young to form will keep this team from being awful, but after the last week, it is hard to imagine much more than .500 at best.
Serious Reasons for Optimism: The Wilpons did not spend the money to bring in Alderson and two ex-GMs as his assistants to watch the team continue to wallow in mediocrity. These three men will not watch this team pile up losses for six months.
The feeling here is that if we do not see a serious run of .500+ ball over the next sixty or so games, with good performances all over the roster, that just about anyone short of Wright, Ike, Thole, Reyes (yes, a few more walks this year would be nice, but Jose is going nowhere) and maybe Young and Niese will be available come late June.
The first nine games are indeed a tiny percentage of the season, but with a few exceptions, we have seen very little other than more mediocre baseball.
The clear upside of all of this is that we may indeed have a new “core” in Wright, Reyes, and Ike. Should Pagan continue to play like the mediocre offensive player he has been for most of his career, Thole might move into the number two spot before too long. Reyes-Thole-Wright-Ike is a nice top of the order for the future; Thole will see many more pitches to hit in the three hole. Should Beltran remain productive and should the untradeable Bay ever produce again in the five or six spot, the offense will be on the road to recovery.
There is hope. The bottom line is that either improvement will come soon or change will come before too long. As the appropriate postgame moves demoting Duda and jettisoning the awful Boyer clearly show.
But the reasonable fan must remain patient. Alderson and Collins cannot fix a team entrenched in mediocrity overnight. They should be commended for not overreacting this offseason, and giving the current group a chance to show what they can and cannot do.
A Look at the Top: The Phils remain the class of the division with a 7-2 record after nine games. While they have received one clunker each from Lee, Hamels, and Blanton, their offense right now runs number ones across the league board in runs, hits, BA, SLG, OBP, and OPS. Every position player has produced; most of them in outstanding fashion. Their bullpen has been good despite missing Lidge, and their schedule does not get significantly more difficult for quite a while.
So, in other words, all signs point to continued division dominance for the Phils. Should they build a large lead and then regain the services of Utley and Lidge, this could be a seriously (and annoyingly) good team.
Jose-Jose-Jose-Jose-Jose-Jose: Jose Reyes appears to have everything together. There are seemingly no lingering effects from the thyroid or the leg issues of recent years. Jose is running beautifully, hitting the ball with authority, and fielding very well. While he is not walking much, stats apparently show that he is seeing nearly as many pitches as ever; he can be forgiven for wanting to pile up extra base hits and swinging freely now that he is finally healthy again. All signs point to his game being well on the way back.
As this space has suggested, while Alderson would have been crazy to offer Jose a huge long-term deal before he re-established his game, this is now well underway. The feeling here is that should Jose keep this up through the first half of the season, we will see extension talks quietly begun by sometime this summer. There’s just no way the Mets will let a healthy Jose go. Perhaps all of the money coming off the books will not be spent, but much of it surely will be spent on Jose should his resurgence continue unabated.
Bay-Watch: Omar Minaya’s office may be occupied by someone else, but as long as Jason Bay is around, Omar’s revenge will continue to be extracted from this team. At this point, one must seriously wonder whether Bay’s coming to Collins’ minicamp or showing up in Florida a week or two early as David Wright did might have helped him to get in shape enough to avoid the ridiculous injury he currently suffers from.
Bay was hurt while hustling last summer, to be sure, but after doing nothing baseball-related for the next six months, one can be forgiven for wondering whether his aging body might have benefitted from getting an early start at getting back in shape for the very repetitive daily activities a baseball player needs to be conditioned for. If he had been working out two to four weeks earlier this winter, maybe he would have been in baseball shape sooner and not hurt himself as he did.
The Week Ahead: It does not get easier. Quite the contrary. Next are four home games against the first-place Rockies, whose pitching staff has amassed excellent stats. Then it is on to the Mets’ personal house of horrors, the home of the Braves. Should the Mets somehow escape with four wins, it would have to be considered a very successful week.
A difficult next week to be sure, and as the mood of much of the fan base is angst at best and apathy at worst, the circling sharks in the sports media will be on this team like Mo Vaughn at a Las Vegas buffet should we see something like a 2-5 week.