Monday, April 28, 2003

Mets 25-Game Checkup - Awful Early But It's Awful Early

Here's a question to pair with the one in the equivalent section of the Sox Checkup -- why does it feel like the Mets should be more than 5 games back of the Red Sox? Granted, 5 games back after 25 games doesn't bode well statistically for my bet (at this rate, the Mets will finish 32.5 games behind Boston, and I will finish many beers behind my friend), but for all of the debacles this short season has had in store for the Mets, it just seems like it should be worse. I think when this team has been good, has looked decent, but when it has been bad, it has looked very, very, very, very bad. In the win-loss column, those circus-act losses (yesterday's disaster, the Benitez blow-ups, that nine-inning collective of stank known as Opening Day) count no more than the ho-hum wins. Does that same math apply in the team morale department? Three wins in a row, 7 wins out of 10, and there was little fanfare; two horrid outings in one day and there are a thousand derogatory articles that aren't worth the paper they're written on (especially the online ones). The New York media has always fallen into this pattern, and players at least acknowledge in theory that this is to be expected, comes with the territory, yadda yadda yadda. But the effect may be just as draining in Queens as it is in Boston.

Ultimately, though, it's on the players to get it in gear, and the thing is, even if you're piecing together a win here and there to go with some miserable defeats, if you look bad doing it, you aren't going to instill any faith or confidence that you'll be able to string anything together in the long term. And bleak outlooks make for bad copy. Here goes what I anticipate to be a lopsided checkup:

The Good

1. This team can win. Tom Glavine and Al Leiter can be a strong 1-2 punch. Armando Benitez can close out games and be dominant. The offense, while stagnant for much of this year, has shown a few flashes, and if they could just time them better they'd notch more victories. I know a "they can win" seems pretty basic, but the truth is that some teams in this league actually cannot win on a regular basis. And even though the Mets have looked bad, they still have enough talent hiding in there somewhere that it frustrates you. And in April, frustration beats hopelessness by a mile.

2. They are proving to be a likeable group despite the obvious obstacles in the way of that trend. There are no Cal Ripkens on this team, but they seem to be a group of pretty good guys, with enough Leiters, Piazzas, and Glavines to lead them in the right direction. Art Howe seems like a guy they want to play for, and scrappy young guys like Ty Wigginton are a welcome sight. Given that even fan favorites like Boomer Wells and Nomar are losing a little image, and especially given who the Mets rosters of a handful of years ago included (Rickey, Bobby Bo, et al), we'll take these guys. Too bad we lost Fonzie; Franco needs to come back fast.

3. The Detroit Tigers. They are the poster children for the aforementioned teams that cannot win, as evidenced by our implementation of the Tigers Watch:

Current Record: 3-20
Winning Percentage: .130
Projected Wins: 21
Odds of Finishing Worse Than the '62 Mets: 40/60

Batting Avg: .179 Opponents: .280
Runs/game: 2.3 Opponents: 5
Total Bases: 187 Total Strikeouts: 163
Team HR's: 10 MLB Leader: 10 (Jeff Bagwell)

With Detroit setting new lows in losing and inept hitting, the Mets can't feel all that bad. That could be a bad thing. The Mets are only hitting .229 themselves. Thank goodness for the Tigers.

The Bad

1. The lack of offense is killing me. When they do hit, they leave men on. They don't steal bases. They don't advance runners, they don't hit with two outs, they don't scratch out runs. What do they do? Strike out. A lot. 190 times thus far, well more than those same lowly Detroit Tigers. Swinging, looking, looking like they're swinging. Guessing fastball, guessing curveball, guessing they'll just take a seat in the dugout. They swing at balls in the dirt, balls over their head, and ball four all the time. K's are killer, and this team racks them up like no other.

2. The defense has been shaky at best. They punt, kick, and pass balls all over the infield. Mike Piazza, God love him, tries to throw out basestealers and throws the ball into centerfield or the pitcher's mound 75% of the time. The outfield has the legs of aging veterans and the instincts of rookies. Giving away runs is not something this offense can afford.

3. Armando Benitez is simply going to cost the team wins. Flat out. The statistics lie, the New York fans do not. Most of us cannot endure the call to the pen that brings him in, and we don't need any more angst.

4. The division is all playing too well. The Expos and Marlins continue to play over their heads while the Phils look like a team that hasn't yet hit its stride. The Braves are starting to look annoying solid. What happened to remaining in playoff contention merely by virtue of the intra-division schedule?

The Ugly

The thing that just gets to you upon watching inning after inning is the enormous lack of fundamentals on this team. Bad fielding, impatient hitting, the inability to bunt a guy over or turn the double play when it matters most -- these are things to iron out in spring training. And yet we're here, staring in disbelief at a team sorely missing some basic principles.

In a nutshell, offense terrible, pitching okay, chemistry okay, media the same old bad. Not much of an assessment, but here's the silver lining. It's still technically only April, they've won some games I didn't expect them to, and there is still hope for the NL East to crumble. Turn things around a little and those 83 wins aren't all that out of reach. And hey, the Mets have two pitchers with more wins than Pedro Martinez!

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