As I'm sure I've told you all already, I'm an unabashed stats geek. I love numbers. I don't judge a team's value, or a player's, either, solely by the numbers they put up. But I love what numbers can reveal sometimes.
In particular, I like the touchstones of fractions within a season. Today, the Mets are exactly one-sixth finished with the 2007 season. 27 games out of 162. If the season were a ballgame, we'd be in the middle of the second inning right now. Like a juicy ripe orange, the first section's sliding down our collective throats, and five more are sitting on our plate, waiting to be devoured.
One-sixth of a season is not nearly enough time to accurately predict where the Mets will be on September 30th, or whether that game, against the Fish at Shea, will simply be a warmup for the following (post-season) series. It is enough time, however, to make some educated guesses. Seventeen wins so far extrapolates out to a hundred-win season. Pipe dream? Maybe, but I think it's highly possible.
Every time I see John Maine in action, I think back to the first time I saw him, last March, in a pre-season game against the Braves at Walt Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. My first reaction was, "Who is this guy?". After he'd been roughed up for six runs in the first inning, my next reaction was "Who is this guy, and when are they gonna get him out of there?". Today, he's arguably the best pitcher in the National League. At least, he has the award to prove it. Five more months like this out of Maine, and he'd have 24 wins. Could it happen? Who knows?
Every time I see Jose Reyes in action, I can't help but smile. It used to be the Mets' opponent that had the pesky leadoff hitter who threw a monkey wrench into their game plan. Now it's our guy messing with the heads of every pitcher in the league. I used to scan through the league leader stats, hoping one Met, just one, was in the NL top ten in something, anything. Triples? Stolen bases? On-base percentage? Now we've got a guy who seems to be in the top ten in everything, not the least important of which is enthusiasm for the game. Seventeen steals so far means Jose would be over a hundred swipes by year's end. A hundred stolen bases? Why not?
Every time I scan up and down our regular starting lineup and see the lack of soft spots, I wonder what the fans of other teams think when their club meets the Mets. Before Valentin was shelved, any batter, one through eight, was a potential home run waiting to happen -- even the mostly power-free bats of Delgado and Wright. Heck, even the Mets' pitchers can hit; three of our starters are hitting .250 or better. And they're winning for the most part without the benefit of the long ball. Yet.
As of this morning, four Mets are in the top ten in hitting in the National League. Let that sink in...I don't know if that's ever happened in the history of the team, but I doubt it. Can this hold up all year long? I'm sure it won't, because just as Delgado and Wright heat up, others are sure to cool off. But right now, it's cool to watch.
We were told by the pundits in the dinosaur media that the Mets' "suspect" pitching staff, especially their bullpen, wouldn't hold up to the rigors of a 162 game season. Take a look today. Joe Smith and Pedro Feliciano have each allowed how many earned runs so far? Donut. (I prefer bagel.) Wagner and Schoeneweis have both done what they've needed to do virtually every time out. Even the question mark that is Ambiorix Burgos is one unfortunate pitch away from a 1.35 ERA to date.
Pitching problems? Sure. El Duque is 87 years old. We're using Smith way too much. We don't know what we'll get out of a juice-free Mota when he gets back. We're not sure how long it'll take for Pelfrey to convince himself he has major league stuff. But right now, the Mets' team ERA is a nice round even 3.00, better than a quarter of a run per game ahead of their nearest competitors. Keep this up all year, and we've got the best pitching on one team in several decades.
My point is, things never always go right. It's real easy to pick at Heilman's meltdowns or Shawn Green's defense when they let us down. But for every ill-advised Chan Ho Park start, we're getting two or three pleasant surprises named Perez, or Maine, or even Ruben Gotay. Despite their flaws, I believe in this Mets team. I don't think they'll pull ahead and leave the rest of the East far behind in their dust. I sense we'll have a pennant race, but I sense we have all the tools to win it.
One-sixth down, five-sixths to go. Play ball.