September MMLBRC: New York Mets

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. Our first stop: scenic Flushing.

Here we sit on Labor Day as the marathon that is the baseball regular season has built up to an all-out 4.367 mile sprint to the finish for the NL East crown. Let’s recap what happened in August, and then take a look at what our thoughts/expectations/nightmares are for September.

Where We’ve Been

  • The Mets turned a one game deficit on August 1 into a two game lead tonight. In doing so New York had its best month of the season (nine games over .500).
  • Jose Reyes and David Wright have been as good as you can ask to date. Wright is currently in a bit of a slump, but he has historically turned such droughts around with three to four weeks of stellar hitting, a proposition that sounds great right now. We’ve defended Reyes in this space before, and don’t look now, but he’s on pace to have a better year than he did in 2006. Carlos Delgado has transformed back into an offensive force, following up a terrific July with an excellent August.
  • Johan Santana is as good a second half pitcher as advertised.
  • The bullpen has attained the dubious Epic Fail status since the break. Seriously, it’s difficult to be as bad as the pen has been over the past month and a half. Making matter’s worse, they’ve been used more than any other bullpen in the NL. Not a good combination.
  • Finally, the Mets took advantage of second division clubs, taking series from the Nationals, Braves and Pirates. They also won series against the Marlins and Astros, both decent teams. Earlier in the year, the Mets often seemed to play down to their competition, a disturbing trend that caused them to tread water at or around the .500 mark. Speaking of Epic Fails, we have to take a disproportionate amount of pleasure in the Braves pain. It’s fantastic to refer to them as a “second division team” and see them 18 games behind New York. Cheers!

Where We’re Headed

Even after 138 games, there are so many unknowns. The Mets likely need two of the following to go their way to earn a few extra games at Big Shea before the wrecking ball calls:

  • Carlos Beltran, the most proven commodity on this list, needs to find his power stroke. Beltran has had a very ho-hum season to date. Aside from 2005 (an abysmal season, whether you blame it on adjusting to New York, whatever, it was by far Beltran’s worst season as a pro) and 1999 (his rookie year), this is the only season in which Beltran has not slugged above .500 in his 10 year career. Otherwise, his numbers are similar to his career averages. But Beltran hitting for power would be the most important single addition to the lineup down the stretch.
  • Solving the bullpen equation. Roster expansion should help the relief core as the work load can be spread out a bit. Most importantly, the added arms should allow Jerry Manuel to use Pedro Feliciano, Joe Smith and Scott Schoeneweis properly — exclusively as specialists. Smith could also be used as an emergency fireman out of the pen against lefties since he has had great success against the first batter he faces (only hitting .148 and OPSing .437 against him this year). If any of the recent call ups can step up to solidify a role pitching to lefties and righties (my money would be on Nelson Figueroa – in limited action in ’08, batters have only hit .156 and OPSed .429 off Figgy the first time through the order), the pen will be in much better shape. Sadly, Brian Stokes has earned more of my trust than Duaner Sanchez and Aaron Heilman this year. Sigh.
  • How does Jonathon Niese pitch in his big league call up? With John Maine possibly on the shelf for the rest of the year, finding a 5th starter to make four starts or so is important. Last year was a nightmare as Brian Lawrence failed time and again in September, which left Phil Humber making a crucial start in the last week of the tailspin season. Thankfully, Niese has been tabbed to make tomorrow’s start rather than repeat the process of throwing crappy vets against the wall to see if they stick. He doesn’t have to be dominant. Just don’t force Manuel to call on the relief corp in the 4th inning each outing.

With all that said, about the only sure thing in this race is that it will go down to the last weekend, and remind us all why we love baseball playoff chases. The season has been such a roller coaster, and the two horses left in the race have been so streaky (and have built such a contentious rivalry in such a short time), that to say either is the clear favorite is ignoring the last season and five months of baseball. Buckle up.

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