Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Halfway to Somewhere

So, it's the All-Star Break. I'd like to say that I'm really excited to watch the game tonight, but, really, I just can't. I'll probably watch the big Hoo-Ha before the game, and maybe a few innings, just to see Reyes and Beltran and Wright, and then tune it out. We all know that the AL Fatboys are going to win again and secure Home Field Advantage in the World Series anyway.

But with the All-Star Break on hand, let's take a look back at the first half of the Season for the Mets. It's been uneven so far. A hot start despite some key players struggling, and then sheer and utter impotence over the last 6 weeks. You could say that the turning point was Alou being placed on the DL, although the problems that are so obvious now really have been evident all season long.

This team hasn't clicked at all. They've been mostly terrible with situational hitting, especially with runners in scoring position. Players are being lauded for making "productive outs" when they should be driving runs in (hear that, Beltran?). The Bullpen has wavered in between marginally solid and downright miserable (except for Wagner). The Starters have been inconsistent, either pitching well with no run support or simply imploding.

And yet, the Mets come to the All-Star break in first place, 48-39, 2 games up on Atlanta. Last year, at this time, the Mets were 53-36, and had a 12 game lead. Only 4 games off of last year's pace. But the teams behind have improved somewhat. And you can only say somewhat, because if either Atlanta or Philadelphia had played well at all over the last 6 weeks, they could have easily passed the Mets.

It's very frustrating watching the team right now, because we know that this team is better than last year. Anything short of going to the World Series will be a failure because we know that the team is capable of getting there. But unless they start to play up to their potential—and right now, there are too many guys who aren't—there's no guarantee that this team will even make the Playoffs. It's something that's too shaky to take for granted right now.

So let's pick on a few guys, shall we?

The Good
1) John Maine
"Hi, my name is John Maine. See, at the beginning of last season, nobody knew who the hell I was, other than some kid ignominiously thrown into a trade with Baltimore for Anna Benson. But last year was a good litmus test to see what I could handle. I learned how to pitch, and to deal with adversity, and I was rewarded with appearances in a couple of the biggest games of the season. Now, I've got confidence and balls, and I'm going to go after you and dominate. I'm going to pitch with a chip on my shoulder this year. I'll start the season on an unconscious pace, slip up a little in May, and then regain my footing as the anchor of this rotation. Sure, laugh all you want, but by July, you'll be looking at me as the Stopper and I'll have won 10 games and people will be screaming about how I was snubbed for the All-Star Game. And I'll deserve to have gone, much moreso than that Friggin' Cole Hamels."

2) Oliver Perez
Another throw in that has surprised everyone. Yes, Perez has been know to throw up a real stinker every now and then, but for the most part, the results we've seen from Ollie have been very good, especially in big spots. 3 wins this season against Atlanta. 2 wins against the Yankees. A near shutout against the Brewers. But he's shown that he is better than simply a wild, inconsistent lefty who can't be counted on. Early on, he had been alternating good starts with bad starts, but he gained some consistency in May, and was really carrying the rotation for a while, as Glavine and Maine were struggling. And the Mets could have used him over the past couple of weeks in Colorado and Houston, I'm sure, as opposed to guys like Vargas and Williams. Plus whenever he starts, the entire team leaps over the foul line as they run onto the field at the beginning of the game, so he's also good for team unity. And he gave me the peace sign at a game last month. We need Perez back and healthy in the second half to have that fighter's chance. Right now, he could be a hell of a #4 starter for a Postseason run.

3) Billy Wagner
Pitch to Contact. Wagner has done this well so far during the season, and the results have spoken for themselves. Were it not for a Pat Burrell HR in June, Wagner would be perfect in save chances this season. He's also racked up his fair share of strikeouts as well. The only trustworthy arm in the bullpen. Keep it up.

4) Ruben Gotay
I got called out for omitting Gotay from my capsule on Jose Valentin in Spring Training. Gotay has made me eat my words by coming up and hitting over .300 with some pop in a reserve role. I'll stand by my assessment that Gotay won't be an everyday answer at second base, even though Valentin has been terrible and many people are clamoring for Gotay to make the starts everyday, but this is because, much like Endy Chavez, Gotay will become exposed as an everyday player. He's a nice role player and spot starter, but he proved 2 years ago with KC that he's not an everyday player. In 2004, he was passable, .270/.315/.375, but miserable in 2005, .227/.288/.344 before being sent back to the minors. Keep him around because he'll be one of those guys that always does something, but don't wear him down.

Others that were good, but don't need to be examined: Jose Reyes, Orlando Hernandez, Endy Chavez (before he got hurt), Jorge Sosa (surprised the hell out of everyone), Pedro Feliciano.

The Somewhat Good
1) David Wright
Yes, this is just the kind of picture I like to see. Wright at an All-Star Playboy Party. Well, I've already made enough about Wright's off-the-field exploits this season, but what about on the field? He had a completely miserable April, where he barely hit at all, and then finally pulled himself out of it somewhat in May, and got hot again at the end of June. But he's been uneven overall, although his numbers are still respectable (.316, 20HR, 74RBI at this time last year, .292, 16HR, 51 RBI now), but he hasn't gone on quite the tear that we saw out of him early on last season. I think he's got it in him. But he's got to get hot and stay hot.

2) Carlos Beltran
I know, I know. Beltran is and always has been a streaky player. But this year, it seems as though his streaks have been too far apart. He hasn't had one of those ridiculous weeks like he seemed to have frequently last season. And as you noticed before, I called him out as being one of the main culprits of the bad situational hitting the Mets have exhibited. I don't know how many times the Mets have had Reyes on 3rd with 1 out, and Beltran has swung at the first pitch and popped out to the Shortstop, or just struck out. Or there has been a runner on second and Beltran has grounded out and moved the runner over. Sure, you can use the "productive out" defense, but the Mets aren't paying Beltran all this money to make productive outs. We're paying him to get productive hits that drive in runs. He only drove in 117 last season. Right now, he looks like the lost Beltran of 2005 rather than the unstoppable one of 2006. We know what he's capable of doing, and yet it seems like he's lost half the time.

3) Shawn Green
Green has had his moments this season, and he surprised the heck out of everyone with his raging hot start. It looked, however briefly, like he was becoming the Shawn Green of old, with less power, but still able to hit with some authority. Then he got hurt, and now he's back to the Shawn Green that looks cooked. It was fortunate that he hit when he did, since at that point, Wright and Delgado were slumping, and he prevented the team from coming apart completely. But another hot streak like he exhibited early on would certainly be helpful, otherwise, he is worth little more than a stopgap filler until either a trade is made or a Milledge or a Gomez ascends and is ready to play full time.

Others who were so-so: Carlos Gomez (Was starting to find himself before he got hurt— still concerned about his OF defense and ability to hit in the clutch), Moises Alou (Good before he was hurt, team may be missing him more than we realize), Paul LoDuca (Should have stayed in the #2 spot all season), Tom Glavine (Like El Duque last season, either very good or embarrassingly bad), Joe Smith (Flashes of brilliance, flashes of youth), Damion Easley (another heady guy off the bench, but probably should be platooning with Gotay at 2B), Aaron Sele (in all honesty, he could have been a lot worse. I mean, for crying out loud, it's Aaron Freakin' Sele).

The Bad and The Worse
1) Scott Schoeneweis
Do I really have to explain this?

2) Jose Valentin
Before his injury, Jose was sort of passable, kind of on the pace he was on last season. Since his injury, he's had nothing. He has failed to even come remotely close to the contributions he made to the Mets last season. His defense is compromised by a knee injury that limits his mobility. He's flailing away at pitches he used to hit. Now, his starts are greeted with moans and groans. It was a risk to bring him back, as opposed to someone younger, this season, and this is why he was one of our 5 Key Mets. And he is one who has completely bombed out and made us look foolish. We don't like to look foolish here.

3) Carlos Delgado
Well, we know that he's not completely cooked. He has had too many big hits this season for us to think that he is. But his hits have come few and far between, and just when it looks like he is turning the corner, he goes 0 for 16 and he's back in a slump again. Like Beltran, too many "productive outs" and not enough productive hits. Now, this is not unfounded for Delgado. He's done this before, as recently as 2004, where he has had a miserable first half and a great second half. But he's probably the biggest key to the rest of the Mets season right now, because if he hits, and hits well and with consistency, the Mets will succeed. And I don't mean sprinkling HRs here and there, I mean hit, and hit with authority like we know he is capable of.

4) Mike Pelfrey
Pelfrey has started to get better start by start, and he's not getting routinely hammered every time out, but 0-7 is 0-7 and as such is not acceptable for a starting pitcher on a contending team. Even less so for a top prospect who has shown that he can dominate, as he did in Spring Training. He needs more seasoning, and he needs to come up and not pitch with the deer in the headlights look on his face, and not to pout and panic when he gets into jams. John Maine did this last season, but he worked through his problems and had thrived. I am not totally sure that Pelfrey has Maine's insides. I still think he'll be a good one, but he has yet to display that on the Major League level.

Others who were Bad or Worse: Guillermo Mota, Julio Franco, David Newhan, Chan Ho Park, Dave Williams, Ambiorix Burgos, Jason Vargas.

Others who were not mentioned (Milledge, Heilman, et al) are not forgotten, but need to shape up a little bit. There's a lot of baseball left to be played this season, but the Mets have a lot of improvements to do, whether it be internal improvements, or if a trade is to be made, but they are in no way guaranteed to walk away with things as they did last season. It's going to be a long, tough road.

Enjoy the All-Star Game, folks!

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