By Mike Steffanos
I wrote back near the end of May that the Mets would face a huge test in the month of June. I'm not trying to take a bow for this dramatic revelation, anyone who took a look at the schedule for the month could come to no other conclusion. The team got the month off to a good start by taking the finale of the home series against the Diamondbacks, but then dropped 2 of 3 to the mediocre Giants on a dreary, rainy weekend at Shea. The fact that they were venturing forth on a west coast swing, where they have seldom prospered, gave the beginning of the month somewhat of a depressing look. Compound that with the fact that, despite Trachsel's impressive start in the Sunday game against the Giants, Soler and El Duque had been bad, and the bottom of the rotation looked as helpless as it had most of the season. Not to mention that 2 of those 3 games over the weekend went into extra innings, and the Mets bullpen was overextended yet again, and there would be no day off before the Dodgers series.
The Mets rolled into LA, where they don't usually win series and the Dodgers were riding fairly high behind an unusually proficient offense. The Mets jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first, and Soler seemed relaxed and aggressive. He left with a 4-1 lead after 7, and the Mets were able to close it out with Pedro Feliciano and Chad Bradford. All of a sudden, things were looking up.
Those bright hopes quickly faded when the Dodgers pounded Pedro and the Mets 8-5 to even up the series. They resurfaced when the Mets jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second inning of the rubber game, but disappeared with a gasp when a painfully ineffective Tom Glavine gave it all back in the bottom of the frame. The Mets kept hitting and scoring, and Glavine survived for long enough to win, and the Mets left LA and headed to Phoenix with a nice series win.
When they moved on to Arizona, I'm sure that many of us thought back to the 4-game series there last year that gave life to the Mets' all-too-brief pennant chase last year. Still, lightning doesn't strike twice in the same spot, right?
Four wins later, it's safe to say that sometimes it does. More importantly, complete games wins from Orlando Hernandez and Alay Soler give real hope that the back of the rotation might finally be stabilizing, despite Steve Trachsel doing his best to prove otherwise. Suddenly, a team that had left New York with a ton of questions last Sunday seems to have found a few answers. Keeping in mind the old baseball maxim that you're never as good as you look when you're streaking, nor as bad as you look when you're struggling, we'll avoid the temptation to read too much into a good stretch of 7 games.
Still, I can't help but think that this is a team that has weathered a storm. Surviving key injuries in an area that they were absolutely the weakest going into the season, and long, protracted slumps from their two key left-handed bats, the Mets stayed afloat during an up-and-down month where all of the usual naysayers in the media were jumping on their every misstep as a chance to gloat over what they perceived as Omar Minaya's mistakes this winter. Meanwhile, the Braves, who have been awful in all facets of the game, got a pass. Don't worry, they whispered, the Braves are about to turn it on. You'll see. Even the Phillies, who have at least as many starting pitching questions as the Mets, were given the benefit of the doubt. Not the Mets.
The Mets? Well, they just got off to a hot start against bad teams. Now they're being exposed. They quoted unnamed scouts from around the league that the Mets weren't that good a team. They laughed at the Mets fan who dared to believe his team was a playoff club. Don't you get it, they snickered, your team is just a bad joke. In his power rankings last week, Fox Sports Dayn Perry rated both the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers ahead of the Mets. He actually had the D-backs ranked second in all of baseball. When I looked at them heading into the first series at Shea, I questioned the fact that so many of their hitters were performing far above their lifetime numbers, and their starting pitching beyond Webb looked shaky. Again, I won't take a bow for this. The facts were there for anyone to see. I know -- it was all Jason Grimsley's fault. No chance the Mets were actually a better team.
Does one excellent week mean that I should allow myself to go off the deep end and start making World Series plans? No. In many ways, I'm a tougher critic of the Mets than these guys in the national media who take turns dumping on them. Unlike them, I prefer to deal with actual reality rather than preconceived notions. Trachsel scares me every time he takes the mound, and I want to see El Duque pitch a great game when he's not looking for revenge against his former team. He's had one good start in a row; he needs to show me more. Even Alay Soler, with 2 great starts in a row, has something to prove; he's still a baby as a major-leaguer.
What has held the Mets back for over a month was trotting out bad to God-awful starting pitchers 3 out of 5 days. It's impossible for a team to develop any consistency given that to overcome. Yet the Mets finished May over .500, and have a decent head start on the brutal month of June. There's a long way to go and a lot left to prove, but they've been showing something to those of us who have bothered to pay attention. Rather than fold up under adversity, as the team from Atlanta has done so far, they have steadily worked to overcome it with a can-do attitude that hasn't been seen around these parts in decades. They may not be convincing the national guys, but I'm starting to believe. How about you, Mets fan?
Newsday: Pedro's Toe
According to David Lennon, problems with Pedro's hip and toe contributed to his recent problems. He quotes Martinez:
I'm OK. I won't say I'm 100-percent healthy, but I'm good enough to go out there.
It's not really a shocker. If you've watched Pedro's last couple of starts you knew he was experiencing some pain. It will be an ongoing story for however long he continues to pitch.
Mets.com: Milledge wants to stay
Barry M. Bloom shares with us the unsurprising news that Lastings Milledge would like to stay in New York.
Baseball Prospectus: A Catching Prospect
In his Future Shock column, Kevin Goldstein has some nice things to say about Mets farmhand Jesus Flores, a catcher at High-A St. Lucie:
When it comes to position prospects, the Mets are awfully thin, but they entered the season with high hopes for Flores, despite the 21-year-old Venezuelan's miserable 2005 that was beset by injuries and an inability to hit (.216/.250/.339) in the Sally League. This year started much of the same, as Flores didn't get his batting average above .200 for good until May 5th. When he finally did, he went on a tear. Since getting over the Mendoza line, Flores is batting .336 (39-for-118) with ten doubles and nine home runs; on the season, nearly 55% of his hits (29 of 53) have gone for extra bases. Throw in some pretty good defensive skills, and you get a real catching prospect, one who makes other teams jealous.