By Dave Mills
The Maine Man
To say John Maine deserves to be on the NL All-star pitching staff is an understatement. The real issue for the Senior Circuit, and its millions of fans, is don't they need him to try to shut down the powerful AL lineup for an inning or two? After all, home field advantage in the World Series is at stake. Maine is tied for the lead in the NL in wins, #4 in ERA with a minuscule 2.71, has given up the second fewest hits among NL pitchers with over 100 innings and has the held opponents to a .214 average giving him 4th place behind Chris Young, teammate Oliver Perez and Jake Peavy. Pitched a gem against the 'Stros yesterday. Equally important, he will have four days of rest going into next Tuesday's midsummer classic. Brian Fuentes in and Maine out does not make any sense at all, especially with the plethora of closers that LaRussa has chosen for the last 2-3 innings (Cordero, Saito, Valverde, Hoffman and Wags). Roy Oswalt was added on Thursday, but is starting on Sunday. What is going on here?
Fit to be Gotay
What is it going to take to get Ruben Gotay in the lineup? He has done everything Willie has asked for and delivered key hits in the pinch. There is no doubt that Jose Valentin is a shadow of what he was last season, most likely due to his injured knee and reduced mobility. Gotay offers youth (24), decent speed, OK glove and some pop. The Mets need to make a substantive change to their beleaguered lineup and do something soon. This is a can't miss move, especially against right-handed pitching. Valentin can be moved to the super infield utilityman role.
We all have to love Julio Franco's desire to be the first non-pitcher to play to 50 years of age, but it is costing the Mets big time. The ageless one has hit the wall and hit it hard. Every at bat seems to end in a weak ground ball to 2B. And he can no longer play much infield for a team that needs to spell a struggling left-handed hitting first baseman from time to time. The reality, when you carry 12 pitchers, is every one of the 13 non-pitchers is instrumental to the team's success. Time to call it a career or Omar needs to offer Franco a well-deserved coaching position.
Can anyone tell me why no one ever talks about Ramon Castro as a starting catcher? Here is a 31-year-old backstop, with a great glove and arm, who also hits the ball with authority. He has a .297 average with 5 dingers and 17 RBI in 84 at-bats, while LoDuca a .283 average with the same number of blasts and 24 RBI in 269 at-bats. It is also said that he is a positive and humorous clubhouse presence. Granted, Ramon is a bottom of the order hitter and incredibly slow afoot, but why is he never mentioned as a future starter if LoDuca is not resigned? Me thinks it is a catcher-22. Since Castro is clearly the best backup receiver in the game, he gets no consideration as a No. 1.
The Mets Outfield: "Enter at Your Own Risk"
The NY medical community is cleaning up on Mets outfielders. Now add Carlos Gomez to the list that includes Moises Alou, Endy Chavez, Lastings Milledge and even Shawn Green (laudably returned too soon from a broken foot) and Carlos Beltran (for quad sake, lets not talk about it). With Damon Easley likely to be the only right-handed compliment to lefties Green, Rickey Ledee (doing an admirable job) and David Newhan, it is NOT a good sign. Furthermore, who plays CF in the event Beltran cannot start a game or even an inning?
Bullpen Shakeup a Must
As bad as the injuries and twin Carlos' slumps, the bullpen is killing the Amazins. All the right-handers are performing badly, especially Mota, who must be sent down for some additional innings and seasoning. No injury has hurt the Mets more than Duaner Sanchez and there is no sign of a return this season, if ever at all. If Omar is to make one trade it has to be for a right-handed setup man like Lidge (currently on the DL) or Gagne, which would push Heilman back to 7th Inning appearances and Smith to a situational role, to which he or Steve Schmoll might be best suited. I also look for Dave Williams or El Duque to replace Sele.
And what is it with Schoeneweis playing Dr. Jekyl on the road and Mr. Hyde at Shea? DL him for a couple of weeks to let that tendon heal while we take a look at Willie Collazo or Ryan Cullen.
Meaningful Stretch Run
With so many players on the DL and scheduled to return to action for the August/Spetember stretch run (Perez, Sosa, Williams, Martinez, Alou, Chavez, Milledge), the Mets are in an enviable position. All it would take is for three of those names to perform slightly beyond expectations. Four would most certainly deliver a powerful finish and roar into the postseason.
It's Omar Time
Never have so few had the incentive to do so much for so many. But the $64,000 question remains: With piles of cash and lots of talent to deal, will the GM pull the trigger? The next 25 days should be very interesting.
I say Minaya gets a righty setup man and a starter of some note. Sele and Mota will be gone and Alou will be playing most of the games in LF while we all keep our fingers crossed and wait for Chavez, Milledge and Gomez to reappear. What's your guess?