The first thing a really rational, seasoned fan should ask is this:
Does a team with the Mets’ negative run differential, atrocious bullpen, terrible fielding, and utter lack of speed and home run power have any business being above .500?
Isn’t it pretty hard to say yes?
Shouldn’t we be happy that this team has not been below .500 since the year started? Does this make one an “apologist” or a lover of Kool-Aid worthy of residency in Jonestown, Guyana?
Or should we be angry at the bullpen failures and the thus far negative results of the Pagan trade? Should Sandy’s feet be held to the fire for the bullpen moves and lack of solid veteran depth?
Should we be eagerly—and patiently—waiting for Wheeler and Sandy’s draftees to develop, or should we be angry that he is not developing what appears to be a Canseco-McGwire-Eckersley-Stewart A’s-like machine?
What’s reasonable here?
It’s difficult, isn’t it?
Just about every pundit and almost all but the most optimistic (or unrealistic) fans were expecting disaster. Some of the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity were expecting 100 losses. More folks were reasonably expecting maybe 85-90 losses, and those with the healthiest combo of optimism and reality maybe dreamed of a .500 season. That .500 season is clearly within reach.
Some like to moan about every lineup, every pitching change, every substitution. The feeling here remains that while no manager is perfect, and there are truly an infinite number of times a manager can make mistakes in a 162-game marathon season such as baseball has, Terry Collins simply has done all he can with this group. What’s the difference when he has the options he does in the bullpen? Is pining for Hairston or Valdespin really like asking for Kevin Mitchell or Howard Johnson in 1986?
Most of us agreed that Francisco and Rauch were weak replacements for KRod and Izzy, and they have indeed been, despite Francisco’s overall decent record. These guys just have never been great, and each of them has been asked to be more than they ever have been: Francisco has never been a very good full-time closer, and Rauch has not been a very good full-time anything in the last five years. Alderson had to do something, we weren’t signing Papelbon, apparently no one else thought all that much of Madson, so Sandy rolled the dice on these two guys, and also obtained Ramirez, who was pretty damn good the last few years. And who can blame anyone for thinking that one day Parnell would finally become unhittable? No, he has never been that good dating back to college, but it’s hard not to look at him and wonder if it won’t all come together sometime soon.
Murphy is what he is. A marginal player who has good streaks of hitting singles and doubles and does absolutely nothing else. Yes, he fools the fan who forgets that defense is a huge part of the game, but Murph really has been very, very mediocre in 2012. No homers, no speed, and pretty terrible fielding overall—yes, maybe better at some aspects of 2B than expected, but still very poor overall. Ike? Impossible to evaluate. Could be Valley Fever, could be the injury and/or the layoff, could be some of each, but the time is approaching to send him to Buffalo to get his mojo back if that is even still within reach. Duda can play first, as he is a very mediocre right fielder, and having Torres and Kirk play every day really gives the team the extra athleticism it so sorely needs.
Niese and Gee? They are not too good and not too bad. If Dickey and Johan can continue as they have been thus far, as an ace and a good ex-ace, we can survive with this rotation, as we are going to have Harvey next April and probably Wheeler sometime next year as well. If Wheeler continues his development at this pace, he could be our number 1 or 2 in just over a year.
So what to think?
The next twelve games are more brutality, with TB, CIN, BAL, and the Yanks. But if the Mets can somehow manage a 5-7 record, they will emerge from the 22-game death march at 37-36 with nine of the next thirteen before the break with the Cubs and Phils (and four with the Dodgers), but it gets much harder again right after the break with the Braves, Nats, Dodgers and Nats comprising the first twelve in the second half.
Recent years—really all the way back to 2007—have given the Mets a well-deserved reputation as a team that consistently folds in the second half. We all remember 2007 and 2008, but the 2009 team was 37-34 on June 25 and a half game out. They finished the year 70-92. In 2010 they were 47-37 and 2 games out on July 6, and finished 79-83. Last year? 11.5 out on July 29, but a very respectable 55-51 before going 5-17 on the way to a 77-85 finish.
This recent history, combined with the painful reminder of a historic payroll cut and losing Reyes, Beltran, and KRod, should suggest that a .500 finish this year would be a gargantuan step forward for this team.
There’s been some revisionism regarding “Omar’s guys” but really, aside from the wonderful Omar legacy of Dickey, there’s not much to crow about. Among the group of Niese, Gee, Parnell, Thole, Ike, Murphy, Tejada, Duda, and Kirk are surely some good major leaguers; some starters who can be parts of a successful team—but thus far, not even close to one star among them. And Bay’s obscene salary could have given us another reliever or two, a good backup catcher, and more in-season flexibility. And while Johan is still good and the no-hitter was blissful, the team has paid him about 36 million for three wins since 2010. A little unfair? Maybe. But it’s hard to justify his salary.
Hopefully Wheeler will be the first true new standout in the next great Met lineup, alongside Wright and Dickey.
Thus far, each time it seemed as though the wheels really were ready to come off, the team has reeled off a few wins and kept the vultures at bay. Despite the recent swoon, let’s remember this was against Davey’s excellent Nats and the Bank of the Bronx. These are tough opponents.
Yes, things continue to be difficult, but as John Blutarsky once said, “When the going gets tough…”
Aside from the Friday blowout, the other five recent losses have been by a total of seven runs. They have not been getting blown out, aside from Johan’s usual Bronx bomb.
So hope remains alive. Not heavily fortified, not well-funded, not a deep army of hope with endless reserves, but a hope that is indeed vibrant and real. A hope that is kept alive by a group of young players who do seem to be a generation removed from the laissez faire country club at Chez Manuel and who do seem willing to take pitches, draw walks, play until the final out, and truly care about the results, win or lose. A team that with very few exceptions, has come right back from the toughest defeats and the lowest lows to get back on the winning track.
The next few weeks are going to show what this team is made of, for sure. Four more very tough series await, and four even tougher ones right after the break.
Will this group fold like ancient beach chairs in late summer, or will they fight their way to a .500 record?
That remains to be seen, but at this point the feeling remains, and remains quite strong, that the reasonable fan has to be happy with what they have seen on the field.
No, they do not have to like the payroll shrinkage that dwarfs even George Constanza’s time in the pool, no they do not have to approve of Francisco, Rauch, Ramirez, and Torres, and no, they do not have to like the meager depth this team has shown, especially at the pitcher and catcher positions.
But it just is not fair to blame the current players for Wilpon-dictated financial decisions or to blame Terry Collins for having to choose between Jon Rauch and Bobby Parnell in a key spot.
The feeling here is that right now it is still reasonable to appreciate what has been a largely enjoyable and surprising season whose ultimate outcome remains utterly undecided.
A collapse which lands this team well under .500 and in last place would be horribly deflating, but a few more good ten-game stretches which keep the Mets safely above .500 and on the fringes of the playoff race into September would give the players and the fan base a huge boost for the future, and might finally slay some of the ghosts of the failures of the last five seasons.
While the latter result is far from certain, it is certainly a possibility. And one which—along with continued hustle and effort from the players—will keep this fan watching and hoping.