Even though the Mets dropped their last game in Philadelphia to prevent a sweep of their division rivals, New York is heading into their series against the Braves at Turner Field with a 6-3 record, 0.5 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals. We are only a little over a week into the season, but I doubt many analysts felt the NL East standings would look the way they do right now. The Mets weren’t supposed to do anything; the other teams within their division made moves to significantly improve (i.e. Nationals, Marlins) and after a 77-win campaign, it looked as though they regressed by losing superstar shortstop, Jose Reyes. Once again, Terry Collins’ team has shown the type of resiliency that lies within all winning teams.
They have no pitching, they have no hitting, they won’t be able to field. That’s pretty much what every single season preview said about the Mets. There was no chance they would finish anywhere except the bottom of the division, with everyone else beating up on them. Johan Santana was a question mark, Mike Pelfrey regressed in his development drastically in 2011, and Niese and Gee aren’t proven commodities, not to mention the bullpen pretty much being a mess. Without Reyes at the top of the lineup, they wouldn’t have anyone to get on base, and even if they did, only Ike Davis or Lucas Duda would be able to do so consistently. Angel Pagan was traded away to San Francisco for Andres Torres, and the Giants got the better defensive center fielder in the deal, Daniel Murphy has to get used to playing second base, Lucas Duda needs to do the same in right field, and Josh Thole is not known for what he does behind the plate. Plus, even though they can hit for average, they can’t hit for power or when runners are in scoring position.
That’s a decent summary as to what was being said about the 2012 Mets before the season started. Then, they won opening day; whatever, they always win opening day. Then they won again, and again…and again. After losing the series to the Nationals at home, they proceeded to win a series at Philadelphia, which is a rare occurence. How is this team playing so well? Terry Collins has instilled in his young squad that it takes every single player on the roster to be a winning team. Outside of Washington, the Mets look like the most cohesive team in the division. When asked what New York had to do this year to surprise everyone, my answer was simple: they must stay healthy all year and live up to their own expectations.
For the first time in what seems like forever, this is exactly what the Mets are doing. Johan Santana is back at the head of the rotation, with his leadership and competitiveness spreading like wild fire to the rest of the pitching staff, and even though they are 23rd in the MLB with a 1.40 WHIP, they are third in the league with a 2.48 team ERA. Santana and R.A. Dickey are showing the younger hurlers that it’s not time to panic when runners are on base, but it’s time to dig deep and find a way to get out of the jam. For the most part, that’s what they’ve been doing. Frank Francisco has been great because unlike Frankie Rodriguez, he’s been setting hitters down 1-2-3 in the ninth.
The offense has been exceeding expectations left and right, with most of the praise going to David Wrightin the three-hole. He’s
started the season red hot, and since he’s the longest tenured Met left, has taken on even more of a leadership role with the younger players. While Ike Davis and Jason Bay have been almost non-existent through the team’s first nine games, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, and Josh Thole have been stepping up to give the lineup some balance. The biggest offensive surprise has been Ruben Tejada; he was being asked to do his best Rey Ordonez impression, play really solid defense and hit about .260. With Torres on the DL, Tejada has been doing a great job substituting for him in the lead off spot, while playing a very smooth shortstop.
I know some people are going to think I’m crazy, but I think this team is for real. Are they going to take the division? I mean, let’s not get crazy, but I believe that they can be in contention when the trade deadline comes around, making Sandy Alderson choose whether the Mets should be buyers or sellers after the All-Star break. If this team continues playing well together and there are no major injuries, they have a legitimate chance at a Wild Card, especially with the additional playoff spot in play. For the first time in a while, it’s fun to watch the Mets again; I mean, I always enjoy watching them, but it feels like the 2006 kind of fun. After all the criticism he’s taken, Alderson has done a fantastic job at shrewdly putting together a team that clearly has good chemistry.
Where will this season take the New York Mets? Your guess is as good as mine at this point. However, we can finally enjoy the ride again because this team is worth watching, has nothing to lose and they’re playing with no fear. That is the most dangerous type of team to deal with, so the rest of the league might be in for quite the surprise.