May 28, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets player Daniel Murphy (28) scores the game-tying run against the New York Yankees at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Rising Apple Weighs In: Thoughts on the Mets' May

At the end of each month, the Rising Apple staff will look back and weigh in.  Here are our thoughts on May, during which the Mets had a record of 12-15:

Danny Abriano, Editor:

After falling to 17-29 after a sloppy night against the Braves during which they lost two games (one the resumption of a suspended game, the other the regularly scheduled game), the Mets prevented their season from going completely down the toilet by winning five games in a row before losing last night.  That left them with a 22-30 overall record, right around where people expected them to be at this point.  Being eight games under .500 is never ideal.  Still, there were a bunch of positives to take away from the latter portion of May.

The most important developments, were the revivals of Jonathon Niese and Shaun Marcum.  From the beginning of May until recently, both Niese and Marcum had been struggling badly.  Niese was pitching hurt, which clearly had a negative impact on his poor performance before he turned things around.  He’ll miss one start with tendinitis, but is hopeful he’ll be back on the mound when it’s time to take his next turn.  Marcum was dreadful over his first three starts, but his recent performance suggests that his failures early on were a result of him shaking off rust.  Like Niese and Marcum, Jeremy Hefner performed better in May, putting immense pressure on Dillon Gee to snap out of his own funk.  Gee did just that a few nights ago against the Yankees, tossing arguably the most impressive start of his career.

With Zack Wheeler likely set to be called up sometime between June 14th and June 17th, the Mets will have a decision to make regarding the rotation.  If Dillon Gee can build off the performance he had against the Yankees, my guess is that Jeremy Hefner will be moved to the bullpen while one of the relievers (Collin McHugh or Robert Carson) gets sent down.  That storyline should be secondary to the arrival of Wheeler, one of the better pitching prospects in all of baseball.  Ever since the Mets traded for Wheeler in July of 2011, Mets fans have been dreaming of the day Wheeler debuts for the Mets.  Before Matt Harvey started to set the world on fire, it was widely stated by scouts that Zack Wheeler had even better pure stuff than Harvey.  If that turns out to be true, the Mets could have two aces at the top of their rotation.  At the same time, fans need to understand that there will be a learning curve for Wheeler when he reaches the majors.  It’s unfair to expect him to dominate right out of the gate.  If he does, fantastic.  If not, be patient.

As Mike Lecolant will outline below, the fact that the Mets are still giving significant chunks of playing time to both Rick Ankiel and Marlon Byrd is a bit worrisome.  Neither of those players will be with the team for 2014 and beyond.  Instead of continuing to give them tons of starts, I’d like to see the Mets give Collin Cowgill and Kirk Nieuwenhuis a full chance to show what they can do.  Matt den Dekker, who was set to take live batting practice today for the first time since breaking his wrist, should also be afforded an opportunity.

With the way the team rebounded at the end of May, it doesn’t appear that Terry Collins‘ job is in danger (nor should it be).  What I want to see in June and beyond, is the team continue to build off their recent hot streak.  I don’t think the Mets are about to shock the baseball world and contend for a playoff spot.  Getting back to .500 while continuing to evaluate players who may be contributors in 2014 and beyond should be their immediate goal.

Michael Lecolant, Senior Staff Writer:

The Mets own a 22-30 record after two months of play, which does not concern me in the slightest. What does, is the plan heading into the 2014 season. As we enter the summer months, I need to start seeing more tangible efforts being made towards affecting next season’s roster, and less of the minimalist on-field entertainment aimed at propping this season’s ticket sales. I place more of that on the owner than on the General Manager. Without going off on a tangent, Mr. Wilpon is mistaken if he operates under the premise that we show up first, then he’ll spend the money. Pardon me, but save yourself the Kane and Saye lessons in economics. The baseball is in the owners hand with the onus on him to make a credible pitch. We’ll decide if the offering is worthy. I’d much sooner spend money watching organizational prospects during a rebuilding season, than forking over money to fund a ruse.

The closer we get to the trade deadline (and the off-season) without forming more definitive opinions regarding our present players, the less forgiving I am inclined to be regarding the execution of Sandy Alderson’s plan.  The more dramatic aspects of this rebuilding process should be picking up steam, not being stalled by inconsequential players.

Obviously, I’m speaking mostly about the outfield. Stop wasting my time with the likes of Marlon Byrd and Rick Ankiel, etc. – Please. They represent a net value of zero with regards to anything Mets – not when the club has Juan Lagares, Cory Vaughn, Matt den Dekker, Andrew Brown, or even Cesar Puello or Jamie Hoffmann, presently batting .303 after 142 at-bats for Las Vegas, with fourteen doubles, and a .369 OPS, all hungry for a shot. If by the end of June, Byrd and Ankiel are still occupying space in the Mets’ outfield, I will have a tremendous bone to pick with our general manager.

I said in April to leave Lucas Duda and Ike Davis alone. I stand by that. Put Ike Davis back in the middle of the order closer to Lucas Duda. Separate them in the lineup with John Buck for all I care. Ike and Duda were once ideally looked upon to be the main sources of power. Well then, place them in that position to either sink or swim, individually, or in concert, because I want all questions and coddling regarding these two ended by the deadline, or September at the latest. I’m not overly concerned with who ultimately plays first base next season, so much as the decision is a definitive choice. The in-house options are obviously Ike, Duda, and Daniel Murphy. Random example – Let’s just say the Dodgers decide to blow things up, does Adrian Gonzalez interest anyone?

Speaking of Daniel Murphy, I’ve never been comfortable with him at second, and always considered him more of a valuable trading chip. He’s been a remarkably persevering Met however, who puts in supreme effort, plays with a lot of passion, and successfully turned himself into a respectable second baseman. Currently in the midst of an all-star season, the Mets need him more now than ever, but Murph’s free agency looms closer. The Mets have a decision to make as it pertains to his future in Flushing. That’s not a pressing issue at the moment, so for now, I’ll just keep my mouth shut and include him on 2014 protected list.

Outside of showing up to Spring Training early to the delight of Terry Collins, nothing has gone right for the diminutive Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada since. In his defense, he did not suffer through a sophomore slump last season. He is entitled to a funk, albeit, this one is particularly intense. Talk to me again at the end of June. Behind the plate, I am equally inclined to trade John Buck, or keep him as, inevitably, one of the games top back-up catchers. With Buck, Travis d’Arnaud, Anthony Recker, and Kevin Plawecki, I think the Mets are well prepared for the foreseeable future.

With the arrival of Zack Wheeler, the starting rotation is about to undertake its first drastic change. One of the current rotation members will have to cede his spot. After Dillon Gee‘s recent performance over the Yankees, the likely candidate appears to be Shaun Marcum. Although, if Gee reverts back to struggling, a stint in the bullpen suits me fine. Further clouding the very near future only somewhat, is Jon Niese‘s recent development. I wrote this summary prior to Collin McHugh‘s Saturday afternoon start against the Marlins, but as I championed his promotion in April before Zack Wheeler’s, I’m looking forward to McHugh throwing another positive monkey wrench into the spokes. Otherwise, the deeper we get into summer, the more intriguing prospects the Mets will have for their rotation. Obviously, I’m referring to Rafael Montero, and perhaps another pitcher TBD.

I believe it is safe to say that Bobby Parnell has solidified our closer situation. He too is on my Mets protected list moving forward. Otherwise, I’ve summarized several times this season, the remarkable work being put in by Binghamton’s bullpen this season. Building another bullpen around Bobby Parnell may take all the way till next Spring Training. Considering Binghamton, how much or how little renovation the bullpen needs heading into 2014 is a useful debate to have.

To reiterate this week’s latest scuttlebutt, Sandy Alderson should aggressively be pursuing a trade for a legitimate slugger. The time for that has officially arrived. There are enough pieces within the organization to pull off one high impact transaction this summer. Ideally, this player should be an outfielder. I’ve patiently humored our general manager while he played the roles of charlatan, pitchman, apologist, pragmatist, and propagandist. If he doesn’t believe most of us saw through all that, he too is mistaken, but then again, there is a media to contend with. Where negotiations are concerned, secrecy is king. So, no smart organization openly divulges their intentions. I also understand Alderson has/had the primary responsibility of getting Mr. Wilpon in operating order again. So, I never took him to task for some of his tactics, and two-faced salesmanship. We’ve been conveniently lied to, I get it. For instance, there was absolutely no truth behind Alderson’s assertion Zack Wheeler might already be in Flushing had it not been for a sore shoulder. Alderson merely wrapped the circumstance around his own convenience. I’ll leave off with this. Whatever Sandy. I understand and concur with this rebuilding, but next year you’re on the clock, Sir!

Sam Maxwell, Staff Writer:

The first half of May was probably the most struggling the Mets have ever done under Terry Collins‘ instruction. Until they finished with a 5-game winning streak, nothing was gelling. The starting pitching (other than…ya know) wasn’t going deep into games at all, the bullpen, heading into the game early, couldn’t stop the bleeding, and the offense was basically non-existent.

The fortunes of the Mets could very well have been altered this week because Ike Davis and Lucas Duda both stopped doing their best impressions of black holes making their way across the Metsian universe. Kidding aside, the potential emotional lift of Ike Davis having any level of success was realized some this week, and I don’t think it can be overstated what that not only means for the club at the plate, but in the clubhouse as well. His teammates always had his back, and he kept encouraging everybody else, even when he was on the brink of the Vegas Strip. If Ike can settle back into productive major-league-ness a 2nd year in a row without having to press the reset button, that could go a long way to success in the young 1st baseman’s career.

The Mets used match ups against rivals to pump their confidence back up this week, only for baseball to say, “You still hate the Marlins too, by the way.” Though the Mets lost 8 more than they won heading into June, they’ve been a very thrilling team when getting that W, and sometimes even in games when they devastatingly lost by the end. Everything points to this team not being nearly as bad over the long-term as they were when they were 17-29. I still fall into the category of those who think Terry Collins is not the long-term answer, but I will give him every opportunity to prove me wrong since he has still done an admirable job in the time he’s been here.

He’s also the only Mets manager to ever reside over a game with no opposing hits.

Will DeBoer, Staff Writer:

It was certainly the “best of times, worst of times” for May in Queens. The worst of times, certainly, with slumps by nearly everyone, Jordany-gate in the Pittsburgh series, and of course all the losses. But yes, the best of times as well, with Matt Harvey‘s continued excellence, Daniel Murphy’s hot streak, Bobby Parnell‘s emergence as a quality closer, and of course the Subway Series sweep.

I must admit, I’m writing this analysis with rosy glasses due to the Amazin’ sweep we just completed over the Yankees. But with all the negativity of the past month, why not focus on positives? Ike Davis finished up a month as tough as any with a very good week after Memorial Day, a week that may have saved him from demotion. The entire rotation cycled through quality starts in the past week or so, and Jeremy Hefner may have established himself as the third-best starter on the team. Most remarkable of all, however, is the surprising recent consistency of the much-beleaguered Met bullpen. We all know Parnell has been top-notch, but Scott Rice, LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Lyon, and Greg Burke each have ERAs in the 3.00s. That certainly doesn’t look like the worst bullpen in baseball anymore.

In terms of who will represent the home team in this year’s All-Star Game, a few revisions are in order from my predictions last month. John Buck is out of the running after his sluggish month at the plate. David Wright‘s average has dipped recently, but as one of the most popular players in baseball he has a very good chance of being voted into the starting lineup. That hug from Tuesday night certainly won’t hurt him. Daniel Murphy has more work to do but has been knocking the cover off the ball in the past few weeks. Bobby Parnell has a chance with his sub-2.00 ERA. And Matt Harvey is Matt Harvey; the only question is whether or not he gets the nod to start.

All-in-all, a rough month for the New York Mets, but one that ended on the best possible terms. Now with the momentum of the Yankee sweep in their tank, perhaps we will see them charge ahead in this month of June. At least ahead of the Phillies.

Rich Sparago, Staff Writer:

The Mets posted a 12-15 record in May. If you project that pace over the year, they’d win approximately 68 games. This is a little under the expectation that most Rising Apple writers had of somewhere between 70 and 80 wins on the year. But it’s not that simple. May had some significant ups and downs for the club. The month started out with the team playing very badly, capped by a period of 6 straight loses against Pittsburgh and St. Louis. At that point, the Mets showed their disappointment with the current roster by signing Rick Ankiel to try to enhance the outfield, which was struggling badly. On the positive side, the Mets swept the Yankees 4 straight games at the end of May, giving their fans something to cheer about (finally). However, the reality is that the team ended May with a record of 22-30, mired in 4th place in the National League East.

Looking at the team, the starting pitching had difficulty early in the month, but has settled in nicely in the last week. In fact, from May 26th-31st, the starters gave up 2, 1, 1, 3, 1, and 4 runs. It’s no coincidence that over that period, the Mets posted a 5-1 record. The bullpen has been equally effective of late, with Scott Rice carrying much of the workload, and pitching effectively in the process. Most notably, Bobby Parnell is becoming a reliable closer, having converted 9 of 11 save opportunities. On the offensive side, David Wright is hitting .290 and continues to produce in big spots. Daniel Murphy started May with a cold bat, but has heated up considerably, raising his average to .300 on the season. Unfortunately, the Mets’ offense has basically been limited to Murphy and Wright (team average of .228). Other players are not contributing, such as Lucas Duda with a .238 average, Ike Davis with a .160 average, John Buck with a .225 average, and Ruben Tejada with .209 average. Tejada will close May on the DL, after suffering a quad injury in a game against the Yankees. Both Tejada and Ike Davis were threatened with demotions to AAA if they did not improve their performances, with good reason. Both have let their offensive struggles impact their defense, and have been hurting the team. Davis has closed May looking somewhat more competent at the plate, thereby staving off a demotion for now.

Going into June, many believe that the Mets will bring Zack Wheeler to the major leagues. This will help enhance the rotation, which as noted above has been pitching well. The likely candidates for demotion will be Jeremy Hefner or Dillon Gee (both closed May with highly effective starts). The Mets will need an effective rotation and bullpen, as there is no offensive help on the horizon. That given, June will likely bring more of the same for the club. However, we all know that this year is more about player development than the team’s record. This being the case, it should be interesting to watch the continued development of Matt Harvey, and the emergence of another potential star hurler in Wheeler. This maturation process, coupled with somewhat better play on the field, may give us some fairly intriguing baseball to follow in June. And that’s all we can ask.

Dan Haefeli, Staff Writer:

May has been an up and down month in Queens. Though the Mets posted a better record (12-15) than they did in April (10-15), it was much the result of winning five of their final six games, which has built momentum going into the month of June. If nothing else, their four-game season sweep of the Yankees is a moment to hang our hats on for the first third of the season, and serves as a reminder that there are still more than a hundred games remaining and anything can happen. I still believe this team is much more talented than their 22-30 record shows, but at some point that needs to turn into results, lest we enjoy another summer of irrelevance.

Marlon Byrd deserves come credit for a solid month in which he slugged .516 and hit five home runs (two of which came in Yankee stadium), as do Daniel Murphy (.817 OPS) and relievers like Brandon Lyon (2.89ERA in 9.1 innings) and Greg Burke (7.2 scoreless innings since being recalled). Whether or not the Mets can stay competitive in the coming months relies on whether they get legitimate production out of first base (from Ike Davis or otherwise) and on a productive bullpen. The rotation should soon be bolstered by Zack Wheeler, and the promise of he and Matt Harvey leading the Mets staff through this summer is enough to be excited about, even if the results don’t immediately follow.

 

 

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