After 72 games, the Mets stand at 35-37, a whopping and fully expected 9.5 games behind the class of the division in Philadelphia, but a surprisingly few 4.5 behind in the race for the last playoff spot. Now, only the woeful Dodgers, Giants, Astros, Cubs, and Marlins sit behind the Mets in this race, so they would have to do the extraordinarily unlikely and leapfrog seven teams to make the postseason. But still, sitting where they are right now seems pretty acceptable and even encouraging.
When one considers that after the memorable loss to Houston-which prompted Fred Wilpon to add ridiculous and utterly inflammatory comments to his rather lengthy resume of negativity-the team stood at 5-13, a record of 30-24 over the last two months seems very noteworthy for this team.
At this point, Johan Santana has played zero games, and of the team’s 72, David Wright has played 28 and Ike Davis 24. Chris Young looked great-in his four starts. Jason Bay now has his remarkable streak of plate appearances without a single extra base hit up to an amazing 100; indeed, wherever they are, Doug Flynn and Rey Ordonez are surely feeling much better about their slugging percentages right about now.
Aside from MVP Jose Reyes, surprise of the year Dillon Gee, and to an extent Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets right now are a collection of question mark kids, has-beens, never-weres, castoffs, mediocrities, and injury-reclamation projects.
Yes, Carlos Beltran has been fairly productive; in the eyes of some fans a hero for returning to decency in his contract year. Yes, Francisco Rodriguez and his diminished fastball still are good enough to record a nice amount of saves. Yes, Pagan does seem to be recovering the form of a moderately productive starter. And Chris Capuano has definitely given all that could have been reasonably expected. The always enigmatic Mike Pelfrey remains, well, enigmatic, and Jon Niese remains a decent pitcher who someday might morph into a very good one. R.A. Dickey quickly returned to reality, while Pedro Beato did so even quicker, Bobby Parnell remains maybe the worst pitcher in history who can hit 100 on a radar gun, and the rest of the pen is very much a daily crapshoot.
Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada have been pleasant surprises who have cooled off significantly. Daniel Murphy remains a fan favorite whose offense never comes close to actually being what some fans believe it to be, and whose defense and smarts leave a lot to be desired. Thole? Duda? Harris? Pridie?
The picture is one of a team which could have easily folded and begun mailing in the season, as the 2009 and 2010 teams eventually did. First was the horrid start, then the injuries to stalwarts Wright and Ike; and the media frenzy has been a ceaseless assault of tremendous proportions, in both size and exaggeration.
But this group appears to have a much more serious captain at the wheel, and Terry Collins should begin receiving the credit he deserves.
This writer thought giving Wally Backman a chance would have been bold. But Bob Melvin and 2010 country club caddy Chip Hale clearly were not the right choices. Collins is proving to be a fine leader; can a reasonable argument be made that he is not getting the most possible from this team, especially when considering the 5-13 start, the injuries to Wright and Ike, and the black hole in left field?
The best part of this team seems to be its fight. They don’t give up, and do usually fight to the last out. We are not watching 2010’s roster, which often seemed to be competing for quickest at bats and fewest pitches seen. The young players appear to be gaining confidence, and with the exception of the regressed but still decent overall Pelf, Collins really has gotten as much or more than expected out of just about everyone.
Thole and Duda might just not be that good and Murph might simply be a fine utilityman not meant to start; but what we have seen from Tejada, Turner, Gee and Niese alone speaks well to Collins’ ability to manage and motivate players. The performances of Beltran, Isringhausen, Capuano, and Buchholz also seem to show an ability to reinvigorate recovering injured veterans.
But still, other than Reyes and Gee, it is the team’s fight and overall vibe which are the most impressive facets of this team.
They are not giving up, even after seriously tough losses of games and players. Twice this team has come from 7-0 deficits to tie the game, winning one and losing the other. The thought here was not that this team, without Wright and Ike, would be on a regular battle for the .500 mark this far into the season. Most major publications and prognosticators predicted disaster.
After the A’s series, the Mets embark on a seriously difficult stretch which will very possibly determine the direction their season will take. It gets and remains very difficult right up to the trading deadline of July 31. Should the team somehow manage to enter August at .500 or better, serious excitement would be warranted.
The issue of Jose Reyes’ future surely will become a bigger and bigger story as time goes on, but there is every reason to think that as the team adds Wright and Ike and Johan as the season progresses, and players like Murphy and either Turner or Tejada become backups, and one of the current starters moves to the pen, that the team’s everyday lineup as well as its depth will improve significantly.
Is a playoff spot a reasonable goal? Not yet. But should August 1 see that .500 record or better, and should none of the teams the Mets trail in the WC standings have taken an 8-10 game lead, the club will at the very least have serious hope.
Regardless, Terry Collins has done an admirable job, and shown thus far that all of those second place finishes with less than stellar clubs in Houston and Anaheim may have in fact been largely due to his managerial skills.
The debate rages over some in-game decisions, but as time passes, this writer is inclined to think more and more that an extra bunt or a head-scratcher lineup decision here and there might be far less significant over the course of the 162-game marathon that is a baseball season than is the ability which Collins clearly has to motivate his players into coming to play and play hard every single day.
It is this skill of Collins’ which seems to be a huge ingredient in how this team has fought back from adversity off the field, injuries on it, a horrendous start, and a media only too joyous to continue to swarm like jackals to play 30-24 ball over the last two months with a pretty difficult schedule. Collins is clearly in charge, is very honest after both the great wins and the tough losses, has the players’ respect, and most importantly after recent years, has them prepared to play every day, regardless of how difficult the previous game was.
It says here that Terry Collins, his knowledge, his toughness, and his approach are largely responsible for this resurgence.