25-Game Check-up – Mets
Time for a brief look back at the first 25, though I’ve been fairly prone to holistic glimpses throughout the first month. Let’s whip it around the horn quickly and get back to live baseball, shall we?
17-8 through 25 outings – anyone who’s been with us on the bumpy ride of 2003-2005 can easily understand how excited I am about the way the Mets have led off in ‘06. There's a collection of factors great and small that have the Mets currently in a state of love and trust.
You can’t mention the Mets’ favorable fortunes without an immediate salute to Pedro Martinez. He’s been spinning the white circle in such a fashion that leaves opposing batsmen incredulous – they used to marvel at how a 95-mph fastball could move at or away from them, but now they just can’t understand how the 89-mph variety can still be so unhittable. That circle-slider or whatever the hell it is he throws is just freaky. He’s still good to serve up a two-or-three-run bomb once a game, but rarely does he seem fazed by any of it. At 5-0, with a 2.94 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP, he makes us feel pretty easy, too.
A quick second to Pedro’s April has to be that of Tom Glavine. In a true pleasant surprise, he seems to be improving with every season since he defected to New York. Glavine’s rediscovered curveball and a detour towards the inside rather than outside part of the plate has crossed up many a hitter. His five quality starts are tops on the team, and to have an aged, veteran lefty be able to lead by example means more than his surprisingly sharp numbers would even suggest.
Brian Bannister’s out-of-nowhere assimilation into the rotation has marked another windfall, though it’s an asterisked one. His hamstring injury and his proclivity for living dangerously on the mound (17 BB’s to 14 K’s don’t help) may darken the currently blue skies overhead, but so far he’s provided steady arm support as the Mets ascend the stairs into long-term contention. I’d think his a pseudonym if we weren’t already aware of his lineage.
Moments of reflection like this are certainly a time to give the New York bullpen a hail, hail in light of their first month on the job. You can’t, but if you could extract a certain right-handed chew toy’s stats from the rest of the relievers’, the figures would be dazzling (1.42 ERA over 66.2 innings). The story of the pen usually begins with the closer, paradoxically, and Billy “Save You” Wagner quickly shook off an early blown save and is now raining fire music all over ninth-inning batters. His looping slider counters his heat incredibly well, and he represents a noticeable change from Braden Looper’s struggles last year.
Even better than Wags, hard to believe, Duaner Sanchez has shone brilliantly in his seventeen innings of lockdown work. Aaron Heilman, Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano, and even Darren Oliver have held down the fort with airtight aplomb. The one weak link . . . oh, we’ll discuss him in a second.
The position players have provided plenty to please us as well, perhaps none more pointedly than Carlos Delgado. He’s been an animal from the word “Go,” smacking balls over and out at precisely the right moments. Delgado’s been swinging and missing a lot – he already has 28 whiffs – but his 1.034 OPS dispels any notions that he’s all or nothing. The comparisons to last year’s collective 1B offense and what Delgado has already accomplished are a dime a dozen, but “upgrade” doesn’t do the change justice.
I’m not going to heap too much more adulation onto the left side of the infield. It’s not for a lack of material, as they’re worthy, it’s just that we don’t need either of those guys believing their own press just yet. Reyes has been slipping for a while, making up for a still low OBP with a ton of mercurial flash. Meanwhile, D-W has been slumping at the plate and stumbling in the field lately, swinging a bit too much for the fences and going for the super over the solid plays at third. This is not to say that these two guys aren’t Reasons #1 and #2 to tune in on a nightly basis; indeed, they really are. It’s just that I’ve heard and read a surplus of accolades from in- and out-of-market sources in the last month, and my extreme partiality towards this duo has its limits when they start to struggle.
Paul LoDuca and Xavier Nady have represented two more huge steps up in production at their respective positions. Both seem to have magnetic clubhouse personas, which is just gravy when they’re outperforming their league peers. The personality thing can’t be overstated, though – it’s easy to talk about “chemistry,” but the one thing to note about these Mets is that they have a spectrum of personable people; from the sage vets (Glavine, Julio Franco) to the respectful youths (Reyes, Wright) and everyone in between (Delgado, LoDuca, Nady), there doesn’t seem to be a bevy of bristling behaviors that will distract the team down the stretch. Clubhouses can evolve over a season, but I like the Mets’ gang as they’re riding now.
Cleaning up some loose ends to be tossed into this category . . . I’ll once again concede my misread of the Julio Franco signing. What he brings to the team can be summed up by something I accidentally (I promise) omitted from yesterday’s post – a rare compliment to a group of people I have historically berated mercilessly and, on occasion, baselessly. The crowd at Turner Field gave Franco a rather prolonged and poignant standing ovation at his insertion into Friday night’s game. It was something they didn’t have to do, but the tip of 45,000 caps was a classy gesture for which I give the Atlantans credit. It was also an obvious juxtaposition to the rightful Bronx cheer Johnny Damon got in Boston last night, as well as a definitive stamp on Franco’s value on the team, evident even after he promptly grounded into an inning-ending double play. (And even after he did it again the next night.)
A final positive note before giving some space to the downsides, I have to issue a . . . well, not an apology, damn him, not even an admission of wrongdoing. Let’s call it a “hey, I noticed you haven’t been sucking tremendously” to old Kaz Matsui. He’s dropped in a handful of timely hits and manned the 4-hole with a steady glove in the stead of bulging Anderson Hernandez. The “Nothingman” of the last two years is this year’s “Betterman” in the early-going. And I’ll say this – Kaz Matsui in the 8th spot of the order is actually a boon. Okay, that’s enough praise for this guy. On to the bashing.
Where else did you think I would start? There’s nothing that quite so common around here as writers rewarding their own accurate forecasts with self-congratulatory follow-ups, and Jorge “Pass the Don” Julio has been everything I announced he would be . . . and less. He still throws with great velocity, but he also finds the middle of the plate with the precision of a freakin’ compass, making for some prodigious blasts. Julio isn’t just murdering the Mets’ relief numbers (he’s surrendered more earned runs in fewer than 12 innings than the rest of the pen has in 66+), he’s skewing the already lopsided league-wide home run numbers. I feel for the guy, I do – every time he issues a catapulted meteor, he whips his head around and gazes wistfully as if to ask, “Maybe not?” – right as it clangs around seat JJ23 in the mezzanine. That Rick “Sergeant” Peterson can’t do anything for him is duly noted.
Speaking of Peterson, taking his place along the whipping post next to Julio is, of course, Victor Zambrano. He escapes further bludgeonry because of last night’s success versus the hapless Gnats, but he’s a problem in the 5-slot of the rotation. It doesn’t do much good to mention Kris Benson, much less Scott Kazmir here. It’s far more productive to think about who the Mets might get to fill Zambrano’s shoes. And then the Mets will keep trotting Victor out there, of course, frustrating me to no end. Let’s move on . . . quickly.
Cliff Floyd has been stuck down a well most of the season. Keith Hernandez notes his shoulder flying out early, others point out his trouble with the off-speed stuff, and MetsGeek aficionados fret over his frighteningly paltry .572 OPS. I still like the guy a lot, and he has done enough hard time in the Met-itentiary of the last few years to be given a break, but it’s all going pretty badly for Clifford so far. He has been good with the glove and plays hard every game . . . I’d like just to check back after 25 more and pray for a rebound.
Meanwhile, over in center, it feels like Endy Chavez has been logging more games than superstar Carlos Beltran. Beltran’s lingering hamstring issues, along with last season’s quad problems, have the word “fragile” being whispered around Shea all too frequently. It’s a helpless feeling for Beltran, to be sure, but we the fans are just as helpless. It does no good to holler at him for his injuries when he would so clearly rather be helping the team, especially because his skin seems to be thinner than the Mets’ bench.
Ah, what a nice segue. The biggest problem with the Mets right now – the one with the most long-term repercussions as I look at them – has to be a weak corps of understudies. Organizational depth cannot be underscored enough in a 162-game schedule. The Mets have paid good money for this starting lineup, and they have reaped the benefits in the early-going. The good times could be fleeting, however, if they continue to fill large voids with silly putty. I will grant them this: there has been an ever-so-slight uptick in the productivity of these role players, from Chavez having a few fall in to Ramon Castro hitting quite well to Franco’s wild ride. I guess the biggest problem is Jose “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” Valentin, a guy who plays much older and more decrepit than his 36 alleged years. His 3-for-23 batting represents a significant improvement of late; somebody, somewhere on the bench should be a guy with some serious pop, even if he has a few holes in his swing. I don't see him when I scan the Mets' dugout.
Meanwhile, the Norfolk Tides are finding out that a roster of AA players + A players does not equal AAA players. The Mets mined some of the resources to pay for the big league talent; it’s showing early returns in the negative way as well. Unfortunately, as the next couple of months unfold, if the Mets are savvy, they’ll add another player or two to bolster their chances down the stretch, thinning out the farm that much more. The phrase “mortgaging the future” is a trite one, but no less applicable.
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Despite the last few paragraphs of what’s jamming me up, there’s just so much more in the prior segment that outweighs these concerns. We’re but a month in, but it’s been a fun month for sure, and there is reason to believe that more could follow. Jeremy spoke in a comment today with sheer confidence of a 10+ game division lead; I’m still a little trigger shy, but while the future looked Black at 25-game stopping points in years past, today the optimism is very much Alive.