Monday, July 2, 2012

Strange Brew?

Tomorrow marks the Mets 81st game (and my 10th of the season at Citi Field). I've made a few observations, some of which I've shared here, others which have just been brewing in my head. Here's what I've noticed.

Quite a bit, even if there haven't been an overwhelming number of individually stellar seasons, there's a lot here to work with. Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson (and as much as I hate to say it, Omar Minaya) have put together an incredibly cohesive group that plays together, plays for each other, and plays to win, and that's been evident in their 43-37 record. No, it hasn't been pretty and sometimes it's been downright disgusting. But I don't know a single Mets fan who wouldn't have signed for 6 games over .500 and 3 games out of 1st place at the halfway point.

The great performances that we've gotten, particularly out of David Wright and R.A. Dickey don't need much discussion. Each is justifiably rewarded with a trip to the All Star game next week (even though Wright was rooked out of a starting spot either because the Giants fans stuffed the ballot boxes or because the Mets fans didn't), The real MVP this season, however, is probably Johan Santana. Throwing the first No Hitter in Mets History aside, all he's done is come back from major shoulder surgery and look just as good as he did before he got injured, and sometimes even better. It doesn't matter if he can't throw 95 anymore. He knows how to pitch and he can throw whatever pitch he wants, wherever and whenever. More importantly, he hasn't missed a start and he's allowed Dickey and Niese to slide comfortably into their roles as #2 and #3 in the rotation.

The rest of the rotation hasn't been terrible either. Jonathon Niese got over some early inconsistency and has found himself in a real nice groove. Chris Young, when he's healthy, is an excellent pitcher. All he's got to do is stay healthy, however. Dillon Gee has acquitted himself reasonably well as the #5 starter, not consistent, not eye-popping, but he's done what he's needed to do more often than not.

The real question is how long the rotation will hold together. The players themselves aren't the issue here but whether or not they can hold up over the remainder of the season is. Until Young resurfaced, depth had been a bit of an issue, probably because of Alderson's hesitance to rush Matt Harvey up from AAA. It's fine to keep him there, but if there are any more injuries in the rotation, it's probably in the best interest of the team to promote Harvey to the Majors. They can't afford to hand over key starts to more Chris Schwinden types, and while Miguel Batista and Jeremy Hefner are also starter candidates, they can't be trusted over a large string of time.

Other things that have gone right: Ike Davis in June, where he seems to finally have put it together. Lucas Duda's emergence as, if nothing else, a real power threat, complete with the streakiness. Scott Hairston against Lefthanders. Kirk Nieuwenhuis came up early and earned his keep. Frank Francisco didn't throw any chairs. Ruben Tejada has shown incredible polish at the plate and his approach both offensively and defensively will make everyone forget about Jose Reyes before too long. I don't know if the power will develop with time, but his style of play seems awfully reminiscent of Edgardo Alfonzo, and if that's the kind of upside he's got, I'd say he's a keeper.

The Jordany Valdespin experiment. He plays with such an infectious degree of energy that it makes him eminently likeable, but he has absolutely no polish and no discipline at the plate, and very little in the field. You could tell this from his first Major League at bat, which came with the bases loaded, and resulted in him swinging out of his shoes at the first pitch and popping up. Better moments would follow, but he's got a lot to learn, and at 24, I wonder if he will.

Scott Hairston playing everyday: I know this is a result of Jason Bay's injury, but the fact is that Scott Hairston isn't good enough to play every day. I know his power surge has been a nice story and he's come up with a lot of clutch hits. But he's the kind of player who kills lefties and is only passable against righties. Play him all the time and he'll get exposed.

Bobby Parnell, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco: When they're on, they're on. When they're not, watch out. Francisco has often made you want to hide your eyes, and Jon Rauch has incinerated a few leads. Parnell is always a mystery because he doesn't seem to pitch to the level of his stuff. While I'm all for giving Parnell the closer role going forward, I can't say it inspires a ton of confidence. With the back end of the bullpen mostly rotting away and guys like Pedro Beato and Jenrry Mejia sitting in the Minors, I don't think the closer of the future exists on the Mets roster right now.

Jason Bay. Not entirely his fault, but he needs to get out of New York. The sooner the better.

Mike Pelfrey's injury. Not that Pelfrey was going to light anyone ablaze, but he was at least a dependable commodity who could eat innings. His injury resulted in several weeks of the Chris Schwinden Pu-Pu Platter until Chris Young arrived.

Offensive production from Catcher: Though Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas have proven perfectly capable defensively (particularly having to deal with a knuckleball every 5 days), they have been mostly non existent offensively. Thole can handle the bat reasonably well, but he has no power and drives in no runs. Nickeas is even worse and yet mysteriously has driven home 12 runs this season to Thole's 10.

The Back end of the Bullpen: Batista isn't an 8th inning man. He's a mop up man. Ramon Ramirez is woefully inconsistent. I've already mentioned Rauch and Parnell and though they're not the total dregs, they're only a slight step up. Other guys like Robert Carson, Elvin Ramirez and that Egbert fellow, and whoever this Justin Hampson is either aren't ready, aren't capable, or possibly both, otherwise they might have gotten a little more use. Better depth is out there, even though finding a dependable relief pitcher is sort of like throwing horse manure at a wall and hoping it sticks.

The Mets have managed to overachieve this year without anybody really overachieving (I wouldn't call Dickey overachieving since his numbers were pretty damn good to begin with the last couple of seasons, I think he's learned more consistency which is why he's getting these results). One thing that's helped is that the rest of the NL East, and, in fact, the NL in general, hasn't had any real breakaway great team. The Phillies have come back to earth with a thud and now that they're talking about dealing away Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino who knows what will happen to them. The Marlins, like any "superteam" are having trouble gelling. Washington has won with outstanding pitching. Atlanta is a complete mystery. I don't know how this will play out ultimately, but the Mets are, in reality, a good reliever and probably a right-handed Left Fielder with power away from throwing a major wrench into everyone's plans.

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