Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Mets 50-Game Check-Up

Record: 24-26
NL East: 4th place, 5.5 games out
Wild Card: 10th place, 3.5 games out (!)
Case Bet: 7 games back, 15 above the caseline

Given that last year these check-ups went like prostate exams, it's easy to see why I might be upbeat about a team with a losing record. They're a pair of wins better than last year at this time, though it feels like more than that. More gratifying is that since the Mets stood (squatted) at 10-15 at the last check-up, they've gone 14-11. That there is progress. And that's enough to satisfy us reality-burdened diehards.

The intangible way of encapsulating the last 25 is just to say they've been playing better. Here's a tad more detail:

Reasons to Smile

1. They are winning tight games they blew all over the place last year. They're 4-1 in extra-inning games. Though just 8-10 in one-run ballgames, I have a heightened sense of confidence in the late innings not felt in recent memory. A closer who doesn't go in the tank helps that.

2. Even with the injuries, they've managed to gain some momentum. Al Leiter is scheduled to pitch tonight. Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd shook off their collision. Jose Reyes is supposed to join the team by the end of the month. We'll see, but healing bodies could be a spark.

3. Guys with slow starts are starting to recover. Ty Wigginton is up to .258, Jason Phillips is at .221 with a recent power display, and Jae Seo has looked mostly strong for a while now. The hot starts quickly cooled off, but it's important for the cold ones to warm up before the end of May, lest they fester like Robby Alomar all season.

4. Out of nowhere, Matt Ginter has been a solid young arm to fill the 5-spot. I still think Tyler Yates has a place in the rotation before long, but you cannot complain about what Ginter has done thus far.

5. The Expos. 16-34, 13.5 games out. And oh yeah, Roger Cedeno is a Cardinal.

Reasons to Frown

1. At 10-15, the Mets were 5 games out. After the 14-11 run, they're 5.5 games out and in 4th place. As predicted, the rest of the division is moving forward.

2. The recent sweep at the hands of the Marlins put a damper on what could be go-time for the jump-start the Mets have needed. The energy level might fade if they drop a couple more like that.

3. Mike Piazza at 1B has had some increasingly obvious growing pains. In case we figured the errors he had at catcher would vanish, they've really just moved 90 feet. These should wane with every game he plays there, but some of them have been costly.

Reasons to Wince

1. The injuries are starting to pile up. If you believe some of the more pessimistic reports, Jose Reyes may not play all season. DL stints could derail good plans we have.

2. The rest of the NL seems to be playing at an even level (one slightly above that of the Mets). See the early-but-stunning wild card standings. Only the Rockies, D-backs, and Expos have demonstrated that they want no part of the postseason.

3. Though I am choosing to ignore it, the hot-and-cold-depending-on-my-optimism pattern continues. It's like John Nash's visions (the Beautiful Mind guy's delusions of G-men and spies, not the Bullets GM's delusions of Calbert, Juwan, and C-Webb breaking .500): I'll accept that it's there, but I won't openly acknowledge it. [Except for right now. Damn.]

Of Note

Last year the Mets blew up during the stretch between the 50-game check-up and mid-season. A reasonable performance over the next 35 games or so could cease all comparisons to this year's team and the atrocities of 2003.

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