The 5-13 start now seems to be the anomaly. Really, it was a 2-12 stretch after a 3-1 start. They are 40-29 since. Many teams have two bad weeks; the Mets just happened to have theirs at the beginning of the year, and with a particularly vengeful group of media following them. To really put that start in an even brighter spotlight, had they just gone 9-9, they would be 49-38 now, with the 3rd best record in the division-and the 3rd best in the league-trailing the Braves by just 2.5 in the wild card race.
Last week, after looking like the Big Red Machine of the 1970s for an amazing 4-game stretch on the road winning both series against the first place Rangers and Tigers, the Mets lost to Verlander and came home to lose two more to the Yanks. They appeared to once again be teetering on the edge.
What happened? A stunning comeback win against the Yanks, and three crisp, well-pitched wins in LA to get right back above .500; the team now sits a season-high 3 above that mark. The battle for relevance became the battle to reach .500, and that has morphed into the battle to stay above .500. Is it time to prepare for the battle to approach serious postseason contention?
The real surprise about the tenor of the season has been the way the team started so poorly with most of the roster intact, and how it has rebounded after losing Wright, Ike, and Young. It still says here that much of this must be laid at the feet of Terry Collins.
As this space has repeatedly suggested, Collins’ reputation probably did not deserve the hits it took after the Angels’ situation. Collins’ Astros and Angels years both resulted in annual second place finishes with less than star-studded teams.
Collins knew this group, learned from the past, and was ready to lead again. As Angel Pagan recently stated, in concert with Wright’s comments to Larry Bowa last year, the culture was in fact quite awful and slack under Manuel, and has completely changed under Collins. Despite the bleats of the Nabobs, the team did jettison Slappy and Ollie, and began to turn the corner in the spring.
After the freak injury to Ike, the disabling of Wright, and the ending of the season of Chris Young, things did not look promising. But the team simply has refused to die.
The record sat at 26-30 before series with Atlanta and Milwaukee which this writer repeatedly-and incorrectly-suggested would be the beginning of a schedule stretch which could doom this team. Which could result in series loss after series loss, demoralize the undermanned roster, and bury the orange and blue. As Rod Stewart sang way back on his very best album, “Look how wrong you can be.” Every game does indeed tell a story. And as the First Lady of TRDMB MetsFan4Decades (she started watching at a VERY young age; perhaps even before she was born) reminded us all, never fear the schedule; that’s why they play the games.
The Mets have gone 19-12 since then. They have lost series to the Angels and Yanks and split with the Pirates (all winning teams) while winning series with the Brewers, A’s, Rangers, Tigers and now Dodgers-and winning two with the Braves. This series in LA is only the second series in six weeks with a team that currently has a losing record.
We saw one 5-2 stretch where the team allowed a total of 11 runs with two shutouts. We saw one 4-game winning streak where the team scored 52 runs. We saw the terrible balk-off loss in Atlanta which led to a 1-4 run of games; the team immediately rebounded by winning 6 of 7. We’ve seen Reyes win several games and we’ve seen flashes of the 2006-2008 Beltran. But we’ve also been led by Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy. Collins has the team pitching when the hitting is off, and hitting when the pitching is subpar; he has everyone contributing.
So here we are, four games before the break, and for the first time in at least three years, we have a team which is fun to watch. A team which, unlike the Manuel groups of the past two years, comes ready to play, does not give up, hustles and makes errors of aggression rather than errors of laziness, and clearly is not going to fade away as the teams did the last two years.
We have Jose Reyes, the recent setback notwithstanding, having his best year. We have Carlos Beltran doing what he has done his entire career-play at an all-star level when healthy. (Note to Nabobs: 2006—2008 weren’t contract years; Beltran’s just really good when he is fit.) We have the very streaky Murphy producing similar but a bit better numbers than he did in 2009. We have KRod still performing at a high level. We have Niese gaining confidence and attitude and continuing to fight to become a number 2 or 3 at least. We have Dillon Gee simply winning. And we have Chris Capuano and Jason Isringhausen showing that Alderson does indeed know which are the right injury reclamation projects to sign. We even have Bay among the NL RBI leaders over the last few weeks.
The lesser players have also been responsible for the overall team success. Pagan has been creeping back to his 2010 form. Justin Turner provided desperately needed production after Wright and Ike went down. Paulino has proven to be the more-than-adequate backup catcher we needed. And the still very young Tejada has shown greatly improved plate discipline and overall instincts.
This writer did tend to go with the crowd who felt that 75 wins was about right. Now, it seems as though 82—85 was indeed the right guess, and should we see Wright and Johan back and productive in August, and everyone else stay healthy, the team really could make a run at those legendary meaningful September games.
Bringing back Johan moves someone (who? Cap? Pelf? Gee?) into the pen as longman, and greatly strengthens pitching depth. The return of Wright moves one of Murph, Turner, or Duda to the bench every day, strengthening that area as well.
Should Johan come back strong and a healthy and rested Wright recover his form? Along with Reyes and Beltran playing at the same level?
It really is not unreasonable to expect a run at 85+ wins.
Regardless, Alderson has brought in some fine players, and Collins has beautifully managed the roster he has, finding new ways to win despite the never-ending injury issues the team is faced with.
The 2011 Mets do not give up, and more and more the feeling here is that it is indeed the attitude a manager fosters which can be his greatest contribution to a team like this year’s Mets. An extra bunt here and there and an occasional lineup head-scratcher just do not seem all that important when viewed against the way this team comes to play and play hard until the last out every day.
It says here that we may have catapulted over what some of us mistakenly assumed would be another year or two like 2009-2010 and already are on the verge of being competitive maybe even later this year if the injured cavalry returns and there is no fire sale.
Should Alderson be able to spend to retain Reyes, and should everyone else except Beltran return in 2012, this team might be a heck of a lot closer to serious contention than many of us (incorrectly) believed.
Yes, being wrong can indeed bring a smile to the faces of Met fans.