Friday, July 5, 2013

Welcome Back to Major League Baseball

The results certainly don't have to be pretty for a Win to count. And Zack Wheeler's 4th Major League start tonight certainly wasn't a thing of beauty, but it was good enough to get him through 5 innings and good enough to get him his 2nd victory.

The fact that the Mets offense generated 12 runs also helps. Much of this offense came from a pair of sources that have been the subject of some vilification at one point or another this season, in Ike Davis and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

Davis returned to the Mets tonight after a well-deserved month in the Minor Leagues. Usually, in situations like this, the guy returning is placed lower in the order. But not Ike. Ike was called right up and slapped right back into the cleanup spot, a clear challenge from Terry Collins to put up or shut up. Ike answered the bell and was central to a number of rallies, and instead of flailing wildly at off-speed pitches, instead looked a bit more steady and comfortable at the plate. The results were certainly encouraging; Ike went 3-5, drew a walk, drove in 2 runs, scored two runs, legged out a key infield hit, and one of his outs was a smoked line drive that just happened to be right at someone.

Nieuwenhuis has also had his share of critics, though his struggles were certainly not as magnified as Ike's. Nieuwenhuis has also bounced between the Mets and Las Vegas multiple times this season, after he started the season off looking as though he was unable to catch up to most Major League pitching and struggled to bat his weight. Since he's returned, he's been mostly glued to the bench in the middle of a platoon situation that hasn't been much of a platoon because a) The Mets keep facing left-handed pitching and b) Juan Lagares and Marlon Byrd have played so well of late. Nieuwenhuis hasn't especially excelled, but he's made his hits count, between the out-of-nowhere walkoff Home Run against the Cubs, and his 14th inning Home Run yesterday. The problem is, instances like that have been few and far between for Nieuwenhuis. But, tonight, given an opportunity to start, Nieuwenhuis responded with a career game, going 4-4, a pair of doubles and a triple among them, and also drove in 5 runs and drew a pair of walks.

These particular performances certainly made the game, but the Mets were also helped by the fact that the Brewers right now look even more hopeless than the Mets at times have been known to. Early on, this looked to be the kind of game that was the exact opposite of what Abner Doubleday had intended, with balls being mishandled, thrown away, booted or just flat-out dropped. Eventually, the Mets were able to get their act together. But the Brewers appeared to not be able to do so, putting forth a performance that bordered on the embarrassing, and showed just how far a cry they were from the team that was a mere couple of wins from a Pennant just a couple of years ago. Proof, once again, that teams can lose it just like that, as if that weren't already abundantly obvious to the Mets fan.

With a lead, Zack Wheeler was able to settle down somewhat. Sure, the Mets gave him 2 runs in the first inning and he immediately handed them back. Wheeler wasn't helped by an error from Daniel Murphy, but that's besides the point. The key is how does it affect you going forward. The Mets went out and got him more runs in the 2nd, and extended their lead in the 4th. Wheeler responded by keeping the Brewers in check, allowing only a Juan Francisco Home Run over the remainder of his 5 innings. The Brewers loaded the bases with 1 out in the 5th, and appeared destined for disaster, but Wheeler got tough, getting Jonathan Lucroy to pop out and striking out Francisco to finish on a high note. The numbers might not be pretty, 5 innings, 7 hits, 3 walks, 3 runs (only 1 earned) and 3 strikeouts, but he responded well in adverse moments and didn't let things get out of control. So it's something to build on.

All in all, a fine night for the Mets, certainly a much welcomed normal game after the mess that was the Arizona series. Guys hit when they needed to, guys pitched when they needed to and the Mets were clearly helped by the fact that they were playing a team that really looks lost right now. Hopefully, the Mets can continue to take advantage of this through the weekend.

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