By Dave Mills
Notwithstanding the loss of 4 of 6 to the Braves, the Mets have looked pretty impressive during the first three weeks of the season. It could easily be said that some are playing over their heads (Alou and Green come to mind), while at the same time some have played well below what is expected (Delgado, Wright, Valentin, Heilman). Of the latter group, only Heilman is a legitimate worry. Reyes and Beltran are clearly in a league of their own in terms of tools and production.
And even though some are playing over their heads, there is no reason to believe that the team will gel and get better and more dominant. The Braves matchup well against the Amazins, especially whenever they throw Hudson and Smoltz out there for two of three, but few other teams do or will.
The reason the Mets will dominate is wrapped in the three B's.
To understand the Mets success thus far in 2007 is to understand "balance."
There may not be a more balanced roster anywhere in The Show.
And the Mets balance is pervasive.
From the top of the lineup to the bottom, it has three switch-hitters (Reyes, Beltran, Valentin), three right-handed bats (LoDuca, Wright, Alou) and two pure left side swingers (Delgado, Green).
The bench is equitable as well, with Chavez and Newhan from the left and Franco, Easley (who will see a lot of 2B against left-handed pitching as the year goes on) and Castro from the right.
The balance also goes beyond left/right, It goes to speed, power, hitting to the opposite field and even youth (Reyes, Wright, Beltran) offsetting age and experience in the rest of the lineup.
It doesn't stop with the bats, as the pitching staff displays its own unique balance. While there have been some teams that have prospered on mostly right-handed arms, the best teams have always had at least two lefties in the rotation and a few southpaws in the pen. The best Mets teams had Koosman and Matlack, Fernandez and Ojeda, Leiter and Hampton, Two lefties, one who really knows how to pitch (Glavine) and one who can dominate, when he is in his slot (Perez), are complimented by three rather interesting right-handers. Maine throws hard and is effective up. Pelfrey throws hard and is effective down. El Duque seemingly comes from everywhere with a wide assortment of offspeed and breaking pitches and can be sneaky fast.
And the Mets new-look pen is particularly well balanced. The southpaw hard throwing closer (Wagner) is setup by two situational lefties who hurl from radically different arm slots and can both pitch to one hitter or a couple of strong innings. Same can be said of the right-handers as Burgos throws power pitches from over the top, Heilman has that 3/4 motion and Smith is a sidearmer.
Another Mets strength appears to be the chemistry and versatility of the bench. Minaya and Randolph seem to have a knack for finding and utilizing some very interesting role players. None are more interesting or better than Endy Chavez and Ramon Castro, who may well be the best fourth outfielder and backup receiver in the game.
One of the things Willie will have to do is get Chavez into games where the Mets grab the lead by the 6th or 7th Inning and take advantage of his remarkable defensive prowess and speed. Endy is also a good stick with a little pop who hits up the middle and to the opposite field.
In Chavez and Castro, the Mets arguably have the best fourth outfielder and best backup catcher in the game. Accordingly, they must be assigned playing time commensurate with their abilities and what they can add to their team. Notwithstanding positive performances by Green, Alou and LoDuca, these guys must get in the games. Chavez most certainly will see more playing time as Alou and Green cool off, and they will.
In case you haven't noticed, David Newhan has a knack for getting on base and working the count deep, but he, like Julio Franco, has a limited and well-defined role. Nonetheless, Newhan is a grinder and valuable asset. And if Damion Easley is made a platoon player at 2B against left-hander pitching, Valentin will be must fresher for the stretch run.
This is a quality bench that will be used more effectively as the season rolls on.
The Mets have an intelligent team. They generally do not make mental errors and understand the game. Every player appears to get the most out of their abilities, which is often a testament to intellect. The weakness of the veterans, Green/Alou/Delgado in particular, is defense. But none will make the wrong play, they will make an error or not have the range to make a play.
One of the heady areas of the game is baserunning and while Jose Reyes is the obvious choice as speedster, he is not even close to being the best baserunner on the team as Chavez, Valentin, Wright and, yes, even Shawn Green have excellent instincts on the base paths.
The Mets coaches also appear to be tremendous assets as Peterson, Down, Alomar and Manuel are getting the most out of their charges in their respective specialties. In fact, putting Alomar in the 3B coaches box appears to be a masterstroke.
And of course, we can continue to sing the praises of Minaya and Randolph. Willie will make a few strange tactical decisions, but they are his to make and, other than Jim Leyland, no manager is immune from second-guessing.