Monday, May 09, 2005

Taking Two from the Crew

Games 29 through 32 - Mets

Mets 7, Phillies 5
Mets 7, Brewers 4
Mets 7, Brewers 5
Brewers 5, Mets 4
Record: 17-15

It would have been nice to return to the 'sphere riding a five-game winning streak, but I'm not going to balk at taking five of seven and a pair of series wins. It was a strange set of wins for the Metropolitans, with the rotation hurling a handful of second-rate starts, only to be rescued by hot-hitting and consistently clutch batsmen. That doesn't necessarily bode well for the near future, but there was still more to laud than lament.

Kris Benson returned to action on Thursday, looking a bit like a guy getting his legs back underneath him after extended time off. Ultimately, though, Benson kept the game in reach and renewed optimism in these parts for some sort of recoupment for those 2004 deadline deal debacles. Speaking of which, Victor Zambrano continues to pitch just well enough to hide in the echoes of the Glavine-bashing that has reached a national level. John Kruk announced on the science analogy program Baseball Tonight last night that Tom Glavine has approximately one quarter-tank's worth left in him, describing a demise previously detailed up and down the streets of Metblogville. Two weeks ago I authored a diatribe insinuating that Tommy Glavine's current upside was no brighter than Tommy Chong's, and it may have seemed overly harsh. Two starts later, Glavine looks finished.

On the plus side of the pitching portion, Aaron Heilman continues to fill in where he's needed with a solid success rate. On Thursday, his role was Kris Benson relief, and he was awarded a win for his efforts. He starts tonight against the embattled Chicago Cubs, whom I saw up close on Friday. If he has that breaking ball and that change-up properly calibrated, he should be able to have his way with the Cubbies, for whom scoring runs seems to be an uphill battle these days.

Braden Looper was another bright spot, performing effectively in the pair of short but sweet stints he was tasked with over this stretch. Roberto Hernandez continued to impress, as he even added a save -- his first since a couple of years ago with the Royals. (Didn't we salvage Ricky Bottalico last year after he'd thrived with the Royals and stunk with the Phillies, just like Hernandez? Could be a coincidence, but I'd still be checking the KC and Philly transaction reports just in case. Even more coincidental -- and pleasant -- was Bottalico offering a sloppy performance as a Brewer in Saturday's game for an insurance run.)

Mike DeJean, it seems, is the most troublesome member of the bullpen in the early part of 2005, and his plight peculiarly mirrors his 1st-half woes of last year. Either he just can't get it going in the first three months of baseball season (6.13 for the Orioles last year, 6.17 now), or he needs yet another change of scenery. Either way, I'd prefer not to see him in a Mets uni until July.

The hitting, out of nowhere, carried them through the series with the Brew Crew. Mike "I'm Not Dead Yet" Cameron, as if he'd been reading the writing on the Met-blog walls, has come out of the belated gates with a bang. 8 for his first 14, two homers, 4 ribbies. And so the Cameron-Diaz controversy (not the one in People magazine) is defused before it begins. Meanwhile, Carlos Beltran sustained his stretch of becoming Superman only when Pedro Martinez is on the hill; all six of his home runs have come during Pedro starts, including two on Saturday. Granted, Pedro needed it, what with his Jimmy Olsen-like lapses in heroic status that day. And granted, Beltran hasn't exactly been Clark Kent on non-Pedro days, but he's not been Jeff Kent, either, and we'd like to see him fight for truth, justice, and the NL MVP award more than once every five games.

Jose Reyes and David Wright have cooled off, Cliff Floyd hasn't yet, and Mike Piazza remains an enigma. Just when by all accounts he's bouncing back, he drops an ugly 0-for-5 on us, and appears in yesterday's game as a defensive replacement (ah, the irony) who allows a stolen base on a pitch-out. (Debatably. The runner looked out, though the Mets weren't as jobbed by the umps on Sunday as the Nats in San Fran; oh, my.) Those events aside, Mike P. appears to be back from the dead, at least for now.

Going to Wrigley this weekend gave me a glimpse of a team in disarray the likes of which the Mets experienced over the last couple of years: bullpen agony that goes beyond some Looper droops, an extended scarcity of hitting (outside of Derrek Lee -- that guy is a beast), and a one-two gut-punch of bad play and bad luck that has the club failing to meet lofty expectations. It's all there. Still . . . going to Wrigley beats going just about anywhere else in MLB, and the fans seemed happy just to be there on a Friday afternoon at 2:20, and who can blame them? They've been blowing off work since 1916 to spend afternoons in the old park, and they still seem to revel in the event.

With those mightily struggling Cubs hosting the Mets for the next three games, there's no reason not to expect more of the same from the Metmen. Tonight's opposing starting pitcher is Jon Leicester, a member of the clan who spells it the old-fashioned way (purist!). With a 7.50 ERA (he's in their rotation because Ryan Dempster was just moved to closer to supplant the horrible LaTerrible Hawkins), and with Heilman gunning for the Mets, it should be a done deal. It never, ever, ever, ever is, though. Leave it to the Mets to jump-start the Cubs' season.

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