By Mike Steffanos
Back during the All Star break I tried to write a series of articles on the state of the Mets just past the halfway point of the season. One thing I've learned in just a shade under two years of blogging is that you can count on not being able to find the time to do everything you want to do, and that was certainly the case with the "At The Break" series. I made it though a piece on the starters and one on the bullpen and that was it. That's pretty much how it goes for me.
At the time of the All Star break, the Mets had completed 87 games and were sitting at 48-39, 9 games over .500. They were 2-6 in July after a disappointing 12-15 June. Optimism arose from a nice little stretch of 8 wins in 9 games at the end of June, but was dashed again by that pre-ASB road trip to Colorado and Houston.
Since the break, the Mets took 3 of 4 at home vs. the Reds, and then completed a decent 4-3 trip to San Diego and LA. They are showing signs of a better offensive approach, and the bullpen -- which has struggled at times -- has been fairly solid. Winning 7 of 11 games is a good start, but they had that nice run at the end of June, and then fell back. I feel a sense of guarded optimism, but certainly see no sure thing with the 2007 Mets.
One thing that I feel pretty good about is the fact that the Mets are fighting back in games where they fall behind. I made the statement back in early June that I didn't have the same affection for this team that I had for the clubs from 2005 and 2006. In particular, I said that "I'm tired of having the feeling that I know whether the Mets will win or lose every game by the fifth inning". Even when the team was going very well in April and May, there were these dismal losses where the team fell behind and seemed to lack the will to fight back. Also, even though they were scoring plenty of runs in those first two months, I thought that the terrible offensive approach that killed them in June and early July was already showing up. They might score 6 runs, but have 2 good offensive innings and 6 or 7 that looked a lot like what we saw during the terrible slump.
So far since returning from the break, we've seen the Mets continue to struggle mightily at times offensively, but we've also seen them fight their way back into games. I appreciate that, and it makes this team a lot more fun to root for. I hope they not only continue to improve their offensive approach, but also stay feisty. It's what made them a great team the past two seasons.
With Moises Alou slated to return this week, and with Lastings Millegde on the club and showing some signs of adjusting to the pitching, the offensive outlook is at least a little brighter. David Wright looks a lot better at the plate now, although the fact that he has actually leads the team in strikeouts is somewhat bothersome. After slumping for almost all of May and June, Carlos Delgado has a .352/.434/.592 line in July. The Mets need him to keep it going. Beltran has shown some signs of coming back to life after a putrid May and June that featured a remarkably bad .351 SLG in May and a .267 OBP in July. He needs to continue to get better at bats and better results.
The above paragraph was fairly obvious, I know. Alou can make a huge difference, but there is no guarantee he will come back swinging well after such a long time away. If he does, it will be easier to take ABs away from Shawn Green, who has put up anemic lines of .182/.229/.318 in June and .250/.271/.324 in July. That just simply can't continue if the Mets hope to pick things up. Milledge has been .205/.220/.333 in 39 ABs since his return, which makes him no sure thing, but it's hard to believe that Lastings can't settle in and provide better offense than Green has given the Mets the last two months. If nothing else, maybe some playing time pressure induces another hot streak from Green like the one which saved his job in April.
With all due respect, I'm still as convinced that if the Mets play to their potential the Braves and Phillies don't have enough to catch them. That's a big "if", however. The Mets can't afford to fall back into the lethargy that enveloped them for 6 weeks of the season. If they do, I suspect one or both of those clubs can hit a hot streak and surge past the Mets.
There are those who are convinced the Braves will swing a couple of big deals and win the NL east outright. I watched Baseball Tonight a couple of weeks ago, and the two great baseball minds Fernando Vina and Steve Phillips both guaranteed that the Braves would pass the Mets. This was right before the Braves were swept at home by the Reds, which goes to show:
- The quality of anaysis on Baseball Tonight these days... and
- why Fernando Vina and Steve Phillips are on TV, and not working in a position where they could kill a real team's future.
One thing I will say is that the Braves have more prospects in their system than the Mets, which certainly makes it more likely they can swing an important deal at the deadline. The Mets have some high-end prospects, but little depth in the system, and this precludes them from coming up with the right pieces for a deal right now, I think.
The problem with the Braves is they get up for the Mets, and then go into stretches where they play unfathomably poor baseball against teams they should beat. If they brought the same intensity to the rest of their schedule that they bring into Mets games they would be alone in first right now. The Phillies are the same way, only worse.
Pedro Martinez' return is a big wild card for this team. If he can come back and pitch well, that could be a huge lift. If he tries to rush back and struggles as he did last September, that would be exactly the wrong sort of momentum. Pedro needs to be special, or he's simply not Pedro. Imagine, though, if he could return with command and solid velocity. That would be a huge infusion of swagger to a team that badly needs it.
It's going to be an interesting last 64 games of the season for the Mets, and I'm in no way sure which Mets team is going to show up for them. Win or lose, I hope it's the team that brings the intensity with them every day. I could live with whatever happens then.