By Mike Steffanos
It's been a long time since we've seen a really well-constructed Mets team. With due respect to the 1999 and 2000 editions, they weren't even close to this team in overall balance. The very good Mets teams of the mid to late '80s probably are a better comparison. Although they had better starting pitching (when everyone was healthy and not in drug rehab), the bullpen wasn't as strong, and the lineup not as powerful in the 1-7 slots.
One thing that those Mets teams from 2 decades ago had was a sense of swagger. That's a word you really haven't heard thrown around here much since then, not even from the 2 turn of the century playoff squads. The personality of that edition of the Mets and its best player, Mike Piazza, was more of a quiet confidence than a swagger. In many of the stories in the papers this morning we see that word used repeatedly, especially by the face of this team, David Wright. It's nice to see it back after so many years. Sure, it's an attitude that can rub people the wrong way, but it's also something that can carry a team through all of the ups and downs of a long season.
I saw the following today in a story in the Milwaukee paper:
LOWDOWN: The Mets can thank the schedule-maker for their 7-1 start, their best since 1985. The only teams they have played are Washington and Florida, which are a combined 4-14.
Kind of funny -- part of the reason that their records are so bad is because they've played us 8 times. Then again, in a town where Bratwurst is considered haute cuisine, I guess we shouldn't expect more than this. Seriously, though, it's an interesting phenomenon that happens with Mets teams that actually do well -- no one wants to give them any credit. They've been the poster child for a badly run organization for so long, it's hard for many to take them seriously. Mets bashing is a cottage industry in the media that sportswriters are reluctant to relinquish.
Bergen Record: Winning is Good
Steve Popper writes about the new winning attitude on the Mets, quoting some players on the change:
David Wright: We have a certain swagger to us. We have a lot of confidence. We just have an attitude about us right now that we don't think we're going to lose. We go out there every day and we expect to win, day in, day out.
Is it going to happen? Probably not. But we're going to go out there and play good baseball and expect to win. That's what winning teams do. Even before the game starts, they have a swagger to them that they think they're going to go out there and win. That's what we have.
Cliff Floyd: Hype goes a long way. But when you actually show it, you tend to shut people up. There ain't nothing about this phony. That's pretty good for a team that everybody talks about not having enough pitching, or not enough this or not enough that. But we're not going to read into all that stuff. We're just going to keep playing.
Daily News: The Julio Project
Adam Rubin reports on Jorge Julio's outing yesterday, quoting catcher Ramon Castro that, despite giving up a home run, the reliever actually made some progress:
That [Nick Johnson's home run] happens. That guy is a good hitter. He hung the changeup. Today I saw a lot of progress. He was aggressive. He was throwing strikes (18 of 24).
If he keeps progressing at this pace, sometime in late June Julio will be able to pitch an inning and not give up any runs.
Newsday: Kaz not coming back to starting job
David Lennon passes along news that probably surprises none of us: when Matsui comes back to the team, he will not be given back the starting second base job. Lennon quotes Mets manager Willie Randolph:
The bottom line is winning, and if [Hernandez is] making a contribution to us winning, then he'll continue to play. That's what it's all about. You don't want to mess up that rhythm. I'm not just going to throw Matsui in there when he gets back. If we're playing well, and [Hernandez] is doing certain things, then he's going to play. That could be all year as far as I'm concerned. I'm not going to fool around with a situation that's working."
Lennon details the friendship that has developed between Hernandez and Reyes off the field, leading to chemistry on the diamond.
Lennon also updates us on Fernando Martinez, the 17-year-old Dominican kid who signed a large contract with the Mets last year. Martinez is playing for the Mets' Low-A team in Hagerstown.
In another Newsday story, Lennon offers a great quote from Carlos Delgado on the importance of playing together as a team:
We're here to help each other out. We want to get everybody on the same page and pick each other up, because we understand that at some point in the year it's going to be some rough times. Not everybody is going to be like peaches and cream. So being part of the team requires some bonding so you can help out each other when somebody is not doing great. You can pick each other up.
Gotham Baseball: Speaking of Hagerstown
Mike McGann pens a column on the Mets Low-A team in Hagerstown, Maryland, featuring the aforementioned Fernando Martinez.
Baseball America: Henry Owens
In an Ask BA column, Jim Callis offers his thoughts on reliever Henry Owens, who opened a lot of eyes in spring training:
Owens is one of the best stories in a Mets system that has been depleted by trades. He hit just .277-6-20 at NCAA Division II Barry (Fla.) as a senior catcher/DH in 2001. With his baseball career figuring to end there, he planned on attending medical school. But scouts liked his arm strength, and the Pirates' Delvy Santiago signed him as a nondrafted free agent with the intention of converting him to the mound.
Owens showed a mid-90s fastball and was able to simply blow heat by hitters in the low minors from the start, but coming up with an effective second pitch was more problematic. He was bothered by elbow tendinitis and back problems throughout 2004, after which the Mets grabbed him in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft.
It took Owens a couple of months to get fully healthy last year, but once he did, he had a 1.04 ERA and 41 strikeouts in his final 26 innings at high Class A St. Lucie. His fastball hit 100 mph when he pitched in the Puerto Rican Winter League, and his slider made some strides. It's still not a finished product, however, as evidenced by Owens' performance in big league camp this spring, when he had a 10.50 ERA and opponents strafed him for 12 hits in six innings.
The Mets are off to a good start, and Owens still has work to do on his slider, so a promotion isn't imminent. But if he continues to perform and the slider improves, New York is going to be tempted to give him a look later this year.