By Dave Mills
One-Third the Way
Yes, we are already at the 54 game mark and the Amazins are on track for a 105-57 season. The Mets have done this with creative general managing, intuitive managing, instructive coaching, startling pitching and great role playing. At the same time, they have never been at full strength and compliment, and have sustained prolonged slumps by two of their most important run producers. Carlos Delgado should be leading all of baseball in RBI considering all the opportunities squandered. But nothing could be more pleasing and exciting than to get a highly credible starting pitching performance in all but a handful of games.
Jorge Sosa has completely stabilized the rotation with an impressive display of poise and commitment to the Peterson game plan. Is there a deeper rotation among the other 25 teams? And with two 25-year olds, a 30-year old and the two mature hurlers of 41, we have an average age of just over 32, with Vargas, Pelfrey, Humber and Mulvey (my pick for best arm prospect) waiting in the wings. Of course, Pedro looms as a possible, but not exactly probable, option for the last two months and postseason.
The Second Sack
It appears that second base is well covered on the Mets roster. With the imminent return of Jose Valentin, it can be said that both Damion Easley and the lesser used Ruben Gotay have provided some adept play in a far more than adequate fashion. Both appear to have even more pop in their bats than anyone could have expected and they are more than reasonably versatile. Neither has the defensive range and fluidity of Valentin, but Gotay, a switchhitter with some decent speed and range, certainly looks like a player who could contribute to the Mets for a number of seasons to come (.316 with 2 homeruns and 9 RBI in 38 at bats). Due to the ongoing depreciation of Mets outfielders, it is likely Gotay will have to be sent down upon Valentin's return. Too bad!
Outfield Well Running Deep
While the season kicked off with what appeared to be a succession of disabled pitchers (Martinez, Sanchez, Padilla, Williams and Mota's suspension), the outfield has become a veritable Mash unit (Alou, Milledge, Green and now some nagging injuries to Beltran and Gomez). The bright spot is the Mets appear to be weathering the storm due to the outstanding all-around play of Endy Chavez and competent performances by Chavez, Easley, David Newhan and now Ben Johnson. Newhan should get some real opportunity during the next two weeks as inter-league play returns and Willie may well DH Beltran and/or Alou to save some wear and tear on their wheels. If you watched Newhan in spring training, he has the ability and smarts to get on base, but his too few opportunities thus far has not allowed that ability to fester. Chavez has looked overmatched at the plate since the first week and the jury is still out on Johnson. Willie does not seem to like platooning, but with Beltran in CF, platooning Newhan and Johnson in LF and Chavez and Gomez in RF would be perfectly reasonable to get everyone some plate appearances.
When I Was 35, It Was a Very Good Year... (or was it?)
It doesn't take the Roger Clemens situation to figure out that age and injury are interrelated. Just look at the Mets disabled list: Moises Alou (41), Orlando Hernandez (41?), Jose Valentin (38), Pedro Martinez (37) and Shawn Green (34). The thing that makes Alou and El Duque so attractive to have around is that, while injured so much of the time, they are incredibly productive when they actually play. Don't be surprised to see all these geezers contribute during the balance of the season.
Just in Time...I Found You Just in Time
Although Randolph and Peterson handled Ambiorix Burgos with aplomb, with such a southpaw dominated bullpen, it is impossible to sequester one of only three righty shortmen to appearances where the game is not at stake. Mota may give up a dinger here and there, but he is experienced, has a live arm (even sans steroids) and can be effective for more than one inning. He is certainly an imposing presence on the mound. Certainly, Burgos has talent and, if he processes the demotion properly, he may yet contribute this season.
What kind of deal can Omar make to improve or deepen this 2007 Mets active roster? Really hard to figure that it could be worth dumping any real prospects. Barring injury, the bullpen looks pretty solid right now. Perhaps Sele is somewhat vulnerable, but more likely expendable if Pedro effectively returns and either he or El Duque become the long man. Any outfield that has Endy Chavez as the fourth man is deep even with injuries. And besides, Alou, Green and even Milledge WILL be back. The infield is also reasonably deep with the versatility of Easley, Gotay, Valentin and even Franco. Some of the talk radio voices mention dealing Pelfrey, but why? Carlos Zambrano's stock has fallen and in prior years he may have been a smart play for Omar, but recent events show that he may be just the kind of guy the Mets do not really want in the clubhouse and it would take a major deal and one of their effective starters to get him. I have to admit that a deal of Zambrano for Pelfrey, Gotay and another prospect, would be very enticing. However, that would move El Duque into the Sele spot and create a logjam upon Pedro's return.
Tom Glavine, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Jose Reyes, Paul LoDuca, Endy Chavez, Jose Feliciano, Joe Smith and Billy Wagner.
Oye Vay...What Kind of Schedule Is This?
Beginning Friday, the Mets play 19 straight games against teams that were in the playoffs last season (Tigers, Dodgers, Highlanders, Twins, A's and Cards). In the history of baseball, NO team has EVER had such a demanding schedule. The Detroit to Los Angeles to The Bronx routing is even more bizarre, but the Mets finish up with 13 of those games in NY. It also brings them face to face with three of the best managers in the history of the game--Leyland, LaRussa and Ron Gardenhire. The good news is that by Friday, it is likely Valentin will be back and Alou and Beltran can platoon at DH, allowing Endy to continue to be productive and a thorn in the side of those great skippers. This could easily be the most interesting three weeks of non-postseason Mets baseball we have ever experienced. If the Mets go 12-7, it will also be quite a feat.
And Just for Good Measure...
The Mets precede that schedule of playoff teams with a three game series at home against the Phillies and follow with four games in three days in Philadelphia. To make matters worse, from June 22 through July 8, they play 18 games in 17 straight days. Do I hear 6th starter?