In taking two of three from the Phillies over the weekend, the Mets already surpassed last year’s win total, when they started the season a disappointing 5-13 after the first eighteen games. Winners of their first home stand, and now winners of their first road series, they appear to be carving out a much more defiant path through this April than they did last year. This season, win number six came in their eighth game. And a continued good start like this may make all the difference in September, lest we forget the Mets went 72-72 after last season’s unfortunate start.
If you have indeed detected this season’s subtle yet emerging posture, then you know David Wright seems to be the most defiant of all. In either of the last two seasons, David Wright’s fractured pinkie would have resulted in a torn rotator cuff, or a ruptured spleen by now. And although I say that in jest, you know there are more than just grains of truth to that; especially in light of the Mets’ recent medical mishaps.
It’s been a rough, if not unlucky couple of years for him, as well as the Mets. And let’s face it, pinkies are easy to trivialize. The doctors put the matter of playing, or not playing, in David’s hands; and I guess there is a pun in there somewhere. But until he stepped on the field and played through the pain, or not, his toughness was going to be questioned. And it was. His toughness was even belittled. When Speculation is given ample time with which to run wild, that’s what happens. The unfortunate dynamic for an athlete in that situation is the Media gets all day to scrutinize and criticize, while the player usually must bide his time till after sun down, and even then, only has about three and a half hours to prove his mettle. For the only way to mute them, is to play ball.
Play he did. As of Friday, David Wright was saying how gripping a bat and baseball were still too painful. Then in a matter of one more night’s sleep, he declared himself ready for Saturday’s game. In that game, he hit the first pitch he saw for his second home run of the season. David Wright then went on to complete a 3 for 5 day at the plate. By the conclusion of Sunday’s game in which had two more hits in four times at-bat, the third baseman was batting .571 and sporting a very manly .857 slugging mark.
What David Wright effectively did this weekend, was give his detractors back in New York, and in Philly for that matter, ….the figurative Finger. And good for him. It’s about time something worked out, right? After being grinded by the media over the last two seasons, it is good he earned a measure of vindication. And yet how ironic, because prior to this season, the dark cloud over Flushing Bay would have rained despair upon any Met in that situation, and made him look all wet yet again.
So far, no such kind of foreboding sentiment has found it’s way into the Mets season. As a fan, I’m finding far more things to be content with, than matters I’d like to take up issue with. And with the Mets, lately perception has been everything. So that’s a victory in itself. I think other Met Fans feel similarly. And that’s what already differentiates this season from last.
For instance, at this rate, the defense will shortly reach double-digits in errors. We know it; everyone knows it; we have problems on defense that will not be going away anytime soon. Poor guy, Daniel Murphy might want to start wearing goalie equipment. Hitting/Slugging, also remains sub par; save a few players. And the bullpen inconsistencies are glaring just a little brighter these days. However, no sense of despair seems attached to these deficiencies, yet. Where as in the past two seasons, any and every misstep would surely have been hosed down with negativity.
Instead, this is what stands out more to me than the above mentioned matters. The starting rotation is giving me an early sense they have some bulldog in them. And I do mean all of them. But like I said, with us lately, everything is perception. And this is what I see. In all nine games played so far, the Mets’ starting rotation has put forth a quality effort. That is not to be confused with what we call a quality start. The difference is these quality efforts have been five inning affairs. The rotation is in the midst of their second time around. And thus far, no Met starter has been manhandled prior to the sixth inning of any game. The sixth inning seems to be their comfortable landing spot for now. In early April, it is reasonable to expect they’d be hitting the wall by the seventh.
So far, as a staff they’ve thrown 52.2 innings in nine games, and have yielded 14 runs. That works out to a 3.73 ERA. So it’s no wonder the Mets, along with the Nationals, have an early jump on the division.
Dillon Gee starts Monday evening in Atlanta. That will complete the Mets second time through the rotation. Once is an incident. Twice is a coincidence. And three times is a trend. So once Dillon Gee faces off against the Braves, we’ll see what the starting rotation offers their third time around. Hopefully, the third time is a charm. The hope is this trend of at least five very effective innings continues. The rotation is coming to own the sixth inning. The seventh inning is the next hurdle.
Offensively, there’s hope for the threesome of Wright, Ike Davis, and Lucas Duda. David’s weekend has been duly noted. Ike Davis finally seems to be waking from his slumber as he hit his first home run of the season during Sunday’s game.
Then what I also saw Sunday out of Lucas Duda was very pleasing to my eyes. He pulled a Cole Hamels curve ball to right field. As you know, Hamels is a lefty. Then later in the game, Lucas Duda slapped a pitch to left off right-hander Jonathan Papelbon. Who doesn’t recognize the possibilities for him based on that?
But no, all is not perfect in METropoliS. In addition to a shaky defense, Coach Collins is running the risk of grilling his bullpen prior to the Fourth of July. Lost in the feel-good of the moment, these six inning efforts by the starters will eventually take a toll on the pen. After an effort like last Wednesday’s, in which the bullpen walked seven batters, in addition to Sunday’s meltdown, one might argue the effect is already problematic. By May, the rotation needs to have a flag planted in the seventh inning and beyond. Then maybe a little more consistency will come the bullpen’s way.
Over all, because many of these players came through the Mets system together, they already play with a sense of familiarity, and with a strong sense of confidence. That’s my take. Indeed for many of them, the trust that binds them was already welded in the minor leagues. Look no further than Kirk Nieuwenhuis and his comfort level already. So if they seem somewhat defiant so far, it is because they are collectively young and exuberant, like players on a rebuilding club should be.
David Wright? His was defiance in its’ most classic form. And now it is time for him to poke his finger at the Braves. Welcome to the 2012 season.