By Mike Steffanos
Mets 6 - Rockies 1
Achilles only wished he had a heel as strong as the Mets starting pitching has been over the first four weeks of the season. Despite all of the ink -- both virtual and actual -- spilled on the subject, the starting pitching has been all any reasonable fan could have hoped for.
As for John Maine, he could serve as the poster child for this rotation. It seems that many considered his success last year a fluke, and focused more on the negatives from last year (high pitch count, home runs, loss of focus at times) rather than the positives (a live fastball, low hit totals, playoff experience. I even read an article by one fantasy writer cautioning against placing too high a value on Maine, since the Orioles didn't when they traded him. After all, we all know that teams never make mistakes evaluating their own talent.
For some reason, John Maine seems to have a talent for being underrated. Hitters underestimate the movement on his fastball and the improvement he has made on his secondary pitches. I still keep reading analysis of Maine that talks about his "ordinary stuff". Meanwhile, he just continues to dominate games. While I don't believe that he'll keep his ERA under 2 all season, I'm already convinced that Maine's potential is at least a solid number three starter for a quality rotation.
It wouldn't shock me if he turned out to be better than that. A low-90s fastball with late movement might not attract the oohs and ahs that triple-digit heat elicits, but combine it with an effective slider and changeup and you have a recipe for a consistent winner.
What's much more important than what I or anyone else think about Maine is that it's clear that he expects a lot of himself. He's not just happy to be in the major leagues, and he's not satisfied with just pitching well enough to keep his job. More and more, we're seeing the type of competitor John Maine really is. While it's far too early to make any definitive judgments, I have a feeling that by the end of the season it's not going to be quite as easy to for anyone to underestimate this kid anymore.
Omar never did. I remember reading in one of the papers this spring a quote from Jeff Wilpon regarding a game that they were watching last spring where Maine was being absolutely lit up by the other team. While most watching the game only saw a young pitcher taking a beating, Wilpon remarked on how Omar was smiling and talking about how good the kid was going to be. What Minaya's talent for evaluating talent revealed to him back then is what the rest of us are seeing from John Maine now.
A few quick thoughts on last night's game:
Kevin Devaney, covering for John Delcos on The LoHud Mets blog, makes the following statement in his game wrap from last night:
As much as people believe it, Jose Valentin isn't going to play his way off the roster. For whatever reason, so many people I talk to don't like Valentin and are obsessed with acquiring some young, flashy second baseman to replace him. I'll take Valentin any day, especially with how he's hit of late.
Valentin has rebounded from a slow start (.167 in first nine games) and is 11 for 27 (.407) with nine RBI over his last seven games. It reminds me a lot of Valentin's start last year. He was horrible in April before breaking out and securing an everyday job.
He's one of the smartest players on the team and has such an unselfish personality. He doesn't need to be the center of attention. He's just a solid, underrated No. 8 hitter on the best team in the National League.
I've seen the same phenomenon myself, and it always surprises me. All winter I read speculation that Anderson Hernandez would beat out Valentin for the job, or complaints that Omar Minaya didn't sign this player or that player to play second base. Valentin continues to prove that he belongs right where he is -- not only solidifying the defense and helping Jose Reyes improve his mental game, but providing outstanding offensive production. Make no mistake about it, there is no more difficult position to hit in than number 8 in a National League lineup. This guy is a "quiet MVP." Teams can't win without players like him, the guys who do all of the little things. As long as Damion Easley gets his share of starts at second this season, Valentin should be able to hold up throughout the summer.
Speaking of surprising, as much trouble as Pedro Feliciano has had in the early going consistently locating the strike zone, with 2 men on base and his team down by five runs, Brad Hawpe swings at the first pitch for an inning-ending pop out to Valentin. Don't they get scouting reports? There is a reason this team can't score runs.
If it would have helped me to hit like Moises Alou, I would have peed on my hands, too.
|John Maine (3-0)|
|TOTAL (4 Games)||26.1||5||5||15||22||14||2||1.71||1.10||4-0|