On the first Monday of each month we roll out our Monthly MLB Report Card (forever to be known as MMLBRC) for the Mets, Phillies and Yankees. We’ll still check in from time to time with short posts to quickly take the pulse of each team, but think of the MMLBRC as an in depth physical (anal probing not included). Truthfully, a month is probably too small of a sample size to make overarching claims like we will attempt to, but dammit, you want content! So rather than write well-reasoned quarterly updates, we’ll make rash decisions based on far too little data. Last up on the docket: the enigmatic Mets.
Of the three teams we keep tabs on here at TGE, the current incarnation of the Mets is certainly the most fascinating to follow. The Yanks got off to what has become a routinely slow start (but as we all know they’ll shake out of it and have, at worst, an interesting playoff push down the stretch); the Phils have bucked their recent trend by not burying themselves early, and as a result rest in first place in the NL East as of today. With the Mets, everything from here on out is uncharted waters littered with uncertainties. Over the last month, Shea had become the site of a daily soap opera where every night’s performance determined whether they are bums or superhero’s
Ah, superhero’s. Those figures from our youth who always came just in the nick of time to save the day. The stuff of fantasy in adulthood though, right? Wrong.
Despite the whirlwind of events/innuendo/gossip that went on with the Mets in May, here we sit on June 2nd with the season looking up (at least until Ollie implodes in San Fran tonight). Optimistic, even though a team with the largest payroll in the division barely has its head above the .500 mark. And the main reason for a new-found rosy outlook is none other than Superman himself–Fernando Tatis.
Please don’t misconstrue the previous paragraph as me claiming Tatis is the savior for this team or that he will continue to deliver two game-winning hits a week. Rather, what Tatis has done is breathe life back into the team and fanbase over the last week.
I’m not normally one to play the “energy” or “gutty” cards when talking about baseball since over the course of 162 games those words mean virtually nothing. But, there was a cloud hovering over the Mets on their recent road trip where they got swept by the Braves, only managed one win against a skeleton Rockies squad, and had to deal with the Willie circus.
Needless to say, the mood was dour when they returned to New York for a seven game homestand. When Tatis roped the ball into the left field corner on Wednesday, it was like a weight had been lifted from everyone at Shea. As fans, the cynicism began to melt away. As players, there was the relief of finally winning a game they trailed in going to the 9th. The vibe at Shea this weekend against the Dodgers was different than it had been almost everyday since the middle of last September. And, it was about damn time.
Couple Wednesday’s theatrics with another late inning rally on Saturday in which Carlos Beltran’s two-run homerun off the nearly-unhittable Jonathan Broxton in the 8th set the stage for Tatis to again drive home the winning run later that inning.
Johan Santana’s stellar start on Sunday piggybacked that effort to give the Mets their first winning homestand since their opening stay at Shea.
Oh, and in case you don’t believe me about the renewed energy at the old ballpark, consider this: the four game set against the Dodgers drew 208,000 plus fans, a record for any series in Shea’s history.
Disclaimer: Over a whole season, energy and hustle are minimized as talent tends to even things out. But, for a short period of time, Tatis has given this club the shot in the arm it desperately needed. His on the field performance has garnered him the properly due attention, which has certainly caught his teammates’ eyes. Numerous players have cited Tatis’ passion and determination as an inspiration. While the Mets ship may well jettison Tatis at some point this summer, he has already made his contribution.
So enough with the intangible mumbo jumbo. Let’s get down to some real analysis that supports the likelihood Shea will see October baseball one last time:
- Jose, Jose, Jose! Reyes looks like the player he was in 2006. In May he posted an OPS of .913. Most encouraging was his OBP of .390. The Mets will be just fine if Reyes can keep getting on base at that clip. He’s projected to OPS .827 with 20 HRs, 75 RBI and 109 runs scored, and that’s factoring in his abysmal April. Welcome back Jose.
- Beltran’s heating up. As we’ve mentioned before, Beltran is an extremely streaky hitter. Even in 2006 when he cracked 41 homeruns, he went through fire-cracker hot stretches that were balanced out by relatively cooler phases. The 2008 campaign started out as poorly as possible for Beltran at the plate, but I’ll put my money on him breaking out in a big way in June. He followed up his HR Saturday with a go-ahead two-run shot on Sunday night.
- Don’t believe me on all this lovey-dovey goodness because I’m some kind of Mets homer? Well, why don’t we check in with our good friends at Baseball Prospectus and look at their PECOTA projections as of today. Despite the Mets being in 4th place in the East and 3.5 games back of first, PECOTA still gives them a better chance to win the division than the Phillies. And Braves. And Marlins. Combined! Don’t kill the messenger Philly Phreaks. In fact, PECOTA has the Mets as the second most likely NL team to reach the playoffs behind only the Cubs, and one of only two 90+ win teams (also with the Cubs). By the way, take some time to peruse those numbers for both leagues, it’s really some interesting stuff.
- Willie finally is getting a clue how to use the bullpen. I think (fingers crossed). As we called for last month, Willie has left his relievers in longer when they pitch an effective inning, thus reducing the possibility that he uses a pitcher who just doesn’t have it that night. In a nebulous way, Willie seems to have come to trust Duaner Sanchez again as his 8th inning guy, although, again, this is somewhat subject to change any given night. Willie also seems to have realized that Scott Schoeneweis is his most reliable lefty reliever. Yes, I’ve long been a Pedro Feliciano fan, but he hasn’t been as good as his numbers suggest this year. I still feel relatively comfortable when he comes in, but not nearly as much as Schoe. The only problem has been – ta da! – Aaron Heilman. It’s really reached the end of the line here. Heilman needs to be sent down soon unless he totally turns things around. There’s been talk of converting him to a starter among the press, but the Mets braintrust is too stubborn to try that. Either way, he’s hurting the parent club, and the team has enough internal options to round out the pen (Carlos Muniz and Eddie Kunz specifically) and absorb sending Heilman down to work out the kinks.
- Ryan Church went 3-4 with a HR and double in his first start after that scary collision in Atlanta. I’m still curious to see how he responds to the cross-country flight (something that greatly added to his struggles after flying to Denver from Atlanta) before my fears are completely assuaged, but last night was a very encouraging sign.
The main question (besides Heilman) surrounding the Mets right now is what happens with Claudio Vargas and Mike Pelfrey when Pedro comes back. The popular logic is that Pelfrey is likely better suited to moving to the bullpen because Vargas pitches to contact much more. However, Pelfrey has been bounced around and tinkered with during his entire Mets career. I’d much rather see them leave Big Pelf alone for more than two months and convert Vargas to the pen. He’d only be the long guy, so he wouldn’t come in with men on base late in the game. And he can pitch effectively for four innings or so with his stuff, so why not move a minor league FA pickup instead of the last highly touted starter you have in your organization? Color me curious.
Before we close up shop, we’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention our amusement at seeing Luis Castillo homer twice in one week. I would’ve put good money down he wouldn’t homer more than once all season. This is why we love baseball.