Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Key Carlos

This is #5 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2009 season.
At the outset, saying that the expectations for Carlos Delgado's output in 2008 were questionable at best was an understatement. Following his miserable 2007 season, in which he was puzzlingly inconsistent, nobody knew what to expect from Carlos. For the first time in his career, Delgado's numbers had fallen off alarmingly from what had been a standard pace of 30 HRs and 100 RBIs. You could count on that as much as anything. But, for whatever reason, Delgado didn't come anywhere close to those numbers in '07.

Through the first few months of 2008, we alarmingly found that we had little to no reason to expect that Delgado would come close to those plateaus again. Delgado hit .198 in April and .258 for May. Listless and lifeless, Delgado was a sinking ship in the middle of the lineup, that appeared to be dragging the whole team down with him. The fans turned on him, booing him in a Pinch-hitting appearance in April. I myself was especially critical of his performance, calling for the Mets to eat his conract and give him his outright release.

Following the game on June 25, 2008, Carlos Delgado was hitting .229 with 11 Home Runs and 35 RBIs. Based on my statements when I named him #1 of my 5 Key Mets for 2008, Delgado was officially an unmitigated disaster, and the team was set to go absolutely nowhere.
Then came that afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

Delgado managed to cram 1/4 of his RBI output for the season into one game. I didn't give it much notice at the time, after all, it was just one game, and these things can happen sometimes. But this game signaled a turning point for Delgado. He took off after that game, and he basically never looked back. Whatever the problems were to that point in the season suddenly fell off his shoulders. Delgado became, from that point on, a revelation. He was the man the Mets needed in the middle of the lineup, protecting Wright and Beltran around him and generally coming up with all the big hits the Mets needed him to get.

Once the hits started coming, and they were coming in bunches, along with the HRs and RBIs, the fans got behind him once again. For July, Delgado was a new man, hitting a robust .357 with 9 HRs and 24 RBI. August saw his batting average drop off to .248, but he still chimed in with 7 HRs and another 24 RBI. September, more of the same, .340/8/22.

Not coincidentally, Delgado's hot streak coincided with the Mets getting hot as a team, making up several games in the standings, and basically dragging themselves kicking and screaming into a pennant race. Not coincidentally, Delgado was right in the thick of a multitude of key victories for the Mets. By late August, he was basically carrying the entire team on his back.
After being booed by simply sticking his head out of the dugout in April, Delgado was now being serenaded with chants of "MVP!" at Shea. After spending a goodly share of time filleting him, even I now believed the chants. Delgado capped off his season with a Grand Slam off of Carlos Zambrano in a frenetic final week game that went awry at the end. By that point, teams were simply pitching around him. They knew better. But in his final at bat, in the 8th inning on that final afternoon, Delgado's drive, a desperate shot to continue a rally and try to drag the Mets back into the game one last time, fell tantalizingly short.
But one thing was for sure. Delgado wasn't done. When, at the beginning of the season, there was no guarantee that the Mets would pick up the option on his contract, by season's end, it was a no-brainer that he would be back.

But much like the situation was coming in to 2008, the question is: What will Carlos Delgado bring back? Delgado will be 37 on June 25th, and, certainly, his best days have passed. But given that the Mets finished a game out of a playoff berth last season, and given that the Mets hitting, particularly their situational hitting, was very spotty throughout the season, and given that while Delgado was very good for half a season, he was also very bad for half a season, is it realistic to expect that Delgado will be as good as he was down the stretch all year, and even if he is, will it be enough?
The reality is that there aren't many questions surrounding Delgado. It's pretty simple, really. Will he, or won't he? That's about it. If he does, the Mets are in good shape. If not, well, the first half of last season will show you the result. The results from Carlos during the World Baseball Classic have been encouraging. But the only thing we know for sure is that Delgado will be right smack in the middle of the Mets lineup, either 4th or 5th, on Opening Day. Where he and the Mets will go from there is anyone's guess.

1 comment:

Michael Ganci said...

Delgado was invincible against the Yankees last season. It was fun to watch, and I hope he is as good this season as he was in the second half. I hope the WBC is an indication. Did you see that homer he hit the other day? I think it's still in the air.