Thursday, July 10, 2008

Go To The Mirror, Boy!

Granted, it's only been enough victories to push the Mets to 4 games over .500, and granted, there are still many flaws with this team, but the Mets current 6-game winning streak, extended earlier today with a sweep-completing victory over the Giants, has pretty much turned everything around. Gone is the constant griping, the malaise and the misery that the early part of this season brought us all.

The victories, by themselves, have gone from frightening to hair-raising, to surprisingly complete, but what's most encouraging about all of this is that each win has brought another win, rather than a middling loss in between each win. It's not much to win 6 games. But this is a team that hasn't displayed the kind of guts to be able to put together an extended hot streak. At least, not until this particular point in time, where they've now exceeded their longest win streak from last season.

Which is what happens when you finally get your act together and start playing better than you did last season.

It helps when you're playing some paltry competition. The Giants boast some quality pitchers, however they have no offensive threat to speak of. When it's mid-July, and John Bowker is your leading HR hitter with 9, you're not scoring too many runs (one inning against Oliver Perez notwithstanding, but it's kind of funny how the Willie Randolph era now seems like a generation ago). But I digress. When Johan Santana comes out and throws darts for 5 innings, and guys like Ramon Castro and Argenis Reyes are coming through to back him up after he left following a mini-monsoon, while your resurgent Bullpen finishes everything off, it's a pretty solid victory, even against a bad team. In fact, let's state the obvious: IT'S THE KIND OF VICTORY YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO HAVE AGAINST A LOUSY TEAM THAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BEAT! Heaven forbid the Mets should string together a few games like that! When the Mets, earlier in the season, were going out and splitting series against lousy Washington, or losing series to San Diego or Colorado, that was what was killing us the most, because if this team was playing with any sort of intensity, they would have pummeled these teams on sheer will alone.

Sort of like what they've done over the past 6 games.

Unlike the case of Tommy Walker up there, it's not so much a Miracle Cure as much as it's been just having a different voice, a different style leading the team. I think that's been the best part of the Jerry Manuel era so far. It's clear that, as the myriad articles by The Sun's Tim Marchman, an ardent Randolph-basher, had stated, many times, it's not that Willie's a bad manager or a bad person. But this team clearly needs a specific style of management, and Willie Randolph's style was the wrong one. Maybe Jerry Manuel isn't the right answer for managing this team for the long haul, but if he's shown us anything in his first month as Manager, it's that he is, indeed, managing players who care. And he cares as well, even if his methods of showing it are a little offbeat. This team is actually playing like they want to win, and that's been exemplified by the recent performance by Jose Reyes, who has, rather quietly, started putting up the kind of numbers that he put up in 2006, a tantalizing glimpse of the player he should be. David Wright has been uneven, at best, but his numbers all of a sudden are there as well. Carlos Beltran was completely filleted last weekend on WFAN, but he's rather quietly gotten hot as well. Even Carlos Delgado has been hitting a little better of late, even if he is a shell of his former self.

It's certainly not better coaching, since Ho-Jo is still standing there clapping with his shades on. But when you're a high-priced star on a high-profile team, and you're watching guys like Fernando Tatis, or Damion Easley, or Argenis Reyes, or Brian Schneider, or Joe Smith come up with clutch performances, you begin to rally around that and it raises your level of play. And, before you know it, you've won 6 in a row, and you're suddenly right back in a pennant race that, a month ago, it looked as though you'd be lucky to be on the fringes of.

I keep saying it. Winning heals everything. But, this team is far from perfect. With Alou pretty much done for the season, and with Church's season in doubt as well (which could turn out to be more of a blow than you'd think), the Mets are, perhaps, in a similar position that they were in the off-season. There's no sure thing in either corner outfield position, and it's going to be difficult to swing a trade with a depleted farm system. It's not likely that guys like Easley, Chavez, Tatis or whoever will be able to carry the load for two positions over the remainder of the season. It's nice for now, but we already know it's too much to ask to expect Fernando Tatis to continue to hit Game-Winning HRs for the rest of the season. But if there's one good thing we can take away from all this, it's that this team can give you a lot of different looks and come at you from a lot of different angles. They're not as bad as we thought. They still may not be as good as they should be. But they're playing for us. Sometimes, it may be difficult to believe, but they are playing for us.

No comments: