Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Right Roles

A problem the Mets had earlier in the season, and in fact a problem that's reared its ugly head several times over the course of the past several years has been a lack of reserve depth, particularly on the offensive side of things. The Mets have managed to field lineups that are decent, but tenuous and when someone inevitably goes down, a suitable replacement is nowhere to be found. So, what ends up happening is that guys like Alex Cora, or Jason Pridie, or Omar Quintanilla, or Andrew Brown end up playing way, way more often than players of their caliber should be playing. Not surprisingly, the team suffers for it.

When the Mets are performing at an optimal level, as they appear to be over the past 5 games now, it's these reserve guys that are playing about as often as they should be playing that come up with necessary hits. Such was the case of Eric Campbell in the 8th inning last night. Campbell has been one of my leading flogs this season (slightly above Jon Niese, but way behind the leader in the clubhouse, Daniel Murphy) because he's not good enough to be an every day player, nor will he ever be, and even when he's pushed into action on a semi-regular basis, he's exposed. But with these new faces on the roster, Campbell's face time has decreased and so what you end up with is he has less chances to look bad, and it exponentially increases the chance that he might do something useful with the playing time he does find. In the 8th inning on Tuesday night, with the game tied 1-1, Campbell came up to pinch hit for Niese with 2 on and 2 out, after Flores had popped up a bunt attempt and Tejada had struck out. And all he did was stick his bat out and knock a little floater over the shortstop's head, just enough to score Lucas Duda with the lead run and open the floodgates for Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson to drive home 3 more runs afterward as the Mets came away with their 5th win in a row.

Campbell's case is the most obvious example, but for the moment the entire team is functioning at an optimal level. Were this 3 or 4 weeks ago, Campbell would probably have started in left and gone 0-for-4, Niese would have taken the tough-luck loss in spite of allowing 1 run in 7 innings and the Mets would have spent the night smacking themselves in the head with their bats wondering how they lost a 1-0 game to a team that looks like they're already on the 5th Green. Instead, the Mets waited out David Phelps, eventually tied the game in the 6th thanks to a clutch hit from Ruben Tejada and an equally clutch slide from Wilmer Flores (whose fan club has traveled all the way to South Florida), and eventually pull away late.

Niese was the beneficiary tonight and outside of the one start against the Dodgers when he probably shouldn't have pitched, he's rather quietly been just as good as the other starters on the team, which I have to consider appreciable. Niese was one of the guys on the hot seat at the beginning of the season and for about 2 months he looked like he was pitching with one foot out the door. I've talked many times about how he continues to trade high on a good year he had 3 seasons ago but he's started to recapture that form, probably because there's now too much competition around him and he feels pushed. On the one hand, that's not always the sort of thing you want to do to motivate a player, but then again, some players just need to be kicked in the ass a little bit. I guess you could say that about most of the team but some examples are more stark than others.

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