Mets Arrive at First Check Point in Season


To all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, in any and all our nation’s engagements, and to those families, loved ones, and friends, who suffered their loss, it is with my fullest appreciation that I thank you.  And from my family to yours, our deepest respects.  May time never wither away the memory of what they have done for us all.  And may safety come soon for our military mothers and fathers, and our daughters and sons, still in harms way today.

And now, Happy and Safe Holiday to all.  Let’s Go Mets!

Memorial Day marks the time of season when teams usually get their first official after-action review.  That’s military for the first official assessment, evaluation, review and/or report card of the season.  Let’s call this Check-Point Alpha, shall we?  Thirty percent of the season is done.  That leaves Check-Point Bravo – the trade deadline, and Check-Point Charlie – September, to go.  In matters of the 2012 season, Check-Point Alpha is a simple matter of three questions.  Who are we?  Where are we?  And where do we go from here?  It’s not until we get to Bravo where we’ll have to state out intentions.

So, who are we?  Well, we are a team still snake bitten by injuries.  Mike Pelfrey will not be back this season.  Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole, and Jason Bay, remain missing from the line-up.  And while not an injury per-se, maybe there is some validity to Ike Davis’ bout with Valley Fever this season after all?  In any case, Ike’s bat seems somewhat disabled at the moment as well.  Pelfrey aside, the rest are expected to return shortly, healthy, and to form.  So on the injury front, pending any more light causalities, the Mets look like they expect to play this Summer at relative full strength.

That’s good news as the return of players will only help.  After forty-eight games last season, the Mets were under .500 sporting a 23-25 record.  After forty-eight games this season, they are 27-21; for an .084 improvement.  That’s a four win swing – nothing more, nothing less.  Coincidentally or not, the Mets started this season 4-0, and similarly started last season with a 3-1 record.  But a comparison between Aprils does prove that a substandard start like last season’s, versus this year’s better start, reveals value heading into June.

I’ll go ahead and attribute the Mets’ four game swing as being somewhere between the return of Johan Santana, and the still emerging all-star season R.A. Dickey is having.  Johan Santana just recently authored the Mets’ first complete game victory of the season; and his first since the 2010 season.  With a little more bullpen help, his now 2-2 record could be looking stellar.  The Mets are 5-5 in games he’s pitched.   With Saturday’s effort over San Diego however, he lowered his ERA to a 2.75 mark.  Johan and R.A. Dickey are also among the top nine National Leaguers in strikeouts.  Both have above sixty.

R.A. Dickey continues to pitch as well as any pitcher in baseball right now.  His ERA is now 3.08 and falling fast.  In defeating San Diego Sunday, he became the National League’s fourth, seven game winner, tying him for the circuit’s best.  In his last two starts, he also amassed twenty-one strikeouts in 14.1 innings pitched, while walking a mere two batters.  R.A. is now 7-1 this season, and has won his last five decisions in a row.  He has failed to pitch beyond the fifth inning only once in ten starts.

With these two starting pitchers, enough time has gone by to safely say the Mets have a valid one-two punch atop the rotation.  In any successful campaign, you need exactly that.  Of course, three, and even four quality starters, is always better.  And with Jon Niese and Dillon Gee, the Mets indeed have a solid front four.

So, that makes the Mets a team in search of a fifth starter.  I made my opinions known regarding the minor league pitchers we’ve stock-piled, and how to handle them, in my last posting.  And basically, I said it is up to Sandy Alderson to plug that hole in the five spot elsewhere this season.

As the Mets’ starters have been providing more length lately, the bullpen hasn’t been getting as taxed.  The results bare that out.  Tim Byrdak is flourishing in his limited role this season, as opposed to getting over extended last year.  Jon Rauch has put forth a representative season.  And

Frank Francisco, aside from a meltdown in Miami, has done exactly what he’s been brought here to do, which is close games.  Along with the emergence of Bobby Parnell, at least the Mets, apparently, have a small tandem of effective relievers with which to move forward with.

Who are we offensively?  We are still a team ranked near the bottom of the National League in home runs; thirty to be exact, thanks to Saturday’s three home run outburst provided by Scott Hairston, Vinny Rottino, and Mike Nickeas.  You look at the names who supplied that recent power however, and you can’t help but think the Mets’ problem isn’t going away.  The Mets will eventually get out-slugged once the weather heats up, if we are relying on Scott Hairston to book-end the week that was, with home runs for us.

We are now tied with the San Francisco Giants for second to last in the league, just above San Diego.  The  St. Louis Cardinals have twice as many home runs as the Mets.  But at least we are running in a pack with nine other teams to hit in the thirty home run range.  So it is not like the Mets are getting emaciated at the plate.  A representative team batting average and their ability to draw walks have compensated for lack of power, and team speed, thus far.

Where are we?  We are now in second place, only two games behind the Washington Nationals, in a division where every team is playing above the .500 level.  The Mets have a one game lead on Atlanta. Then Miami, and Philadelphia, follow.  In fairness to Philly, their troubles are understandable.  Just don’t look for any sympathy from us.

So, here’s the grade – The Mets are a  C+  …in a division with a solid B at the top, and some C’s and C-Minus’ behind the Mets.   As there are no teams below .500, there are no D’s or F’s.

But again, where are we?  When you’re in the Mets position, there’s two things you have to do – Beat the Pirates and Padres, and keep the teams trailing them in the standings, behind them.  The Mets recently took two of three from Pittsburgh, and just wrapped up taking three of four from San Diego.  That’s 5-2 in their last seven against sub .500 level clubs.  So, quite frankly, anything less than winning both series would have painted the Mets’ Spring achievements in a much different hue.

The Mets will now host the Phillies for three.  At 25-24, Philadelphia represents the last place club in the N.L. East.  In spite of Philly’s injury problems, that still doesn’t bode well for the Mets.  In baseball, there’s a thin line between success and failure.  That said, the Mets’ newest mission is to keep Philly down, or at least behind them.  Two and a half games is all that separates them.  So, losing two of three now would cause the standings to look very differently come Wednesday night.

Quite obviously, Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey will not pitch in this series.  Maintaining the Mets position in the standings, advancing them, or losing ground over the next three games, now falls on Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and the problematic fifth spot.

By their own doing, at least Niese and Gee are steadily gaining fan confidence they can indeed form an effective back end, and take a series from any team.  But for now, beat the wounded Phils and keep them down.  It is now reasonable for us to expect Niese and Gee to continue improving, if they are to one day play major roles in a future rotation here, for by then, Johan and Dickey will be gone.  Let them get this series done.  When your team is 27-21, it’s called seizing the moment.

Not coincidentally, these are the two young hurlers pitching coach, Dan Warthen, practices his tough love with.  Warthen has been all over Dillon Gee since last year.  This season, and as recently as the lead-in to Jon’s last start, Warthen, not in so many words, chastised Jon Niese’s work habits.  So yeah, this series is a time when we’d like for these two guys to put forth effective efforts this week, more so than at other times.

If the Mets want to make an improvement on this season, do it now with this series.  Keep the Phillies down, and pocket a few wins for later, or, get put within sniffing distance of the cellar.  Do this against

Cole Hamels, because if anything, the Mets’ offense has shown a new ability this season to outlast quality starting pitching, and get into the bullpen for late runs by the bunches.

Then we’ll let Johan and Dickey get their cracks at St. Louis.  And we’ll learn even more about this team then.  That’s a very optimistic view of things.  But after all, this is a holiday.

Finally, where do we go from here?  Monday, we begin the next stretch towards Check-Point Bravo; i.e. – the trade deadline.  The end game is, we see if we can feasibly address our needs, or if we can address other team’s needs if the price suits us.  I guess.  For us fans, it’s on the Mets to show they can remain a contender by the time the trade deadline actually gets here.  For Sandy Alderson, he has already shown he’s a shrewd mover of bodies.  He’ll out-think us no matter what we come up with anyway.  But, I’m not entirely sure anything the Mets can manage on the field between now and then, will sway him from his plans for next season, and beyond.  I get the sense this season is a ship unto itself, destined to sink or float, as is.

The more I think about it, the more curious and intriguing I think the upcoming Summer will be.

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