By Dave Mills
Yes, this week, the Mets are playing their best baseball of the season, including the 13-inning loss to the Brew Crew on Tuesday night. At 15 games over .500, they also sport the best record in the NL and third best record in MLB behind the BoSox and Halos, who they are about to overtake.
The Mets are 14-8 since the All-Star break. David Wright is on fire. Milledge is showing game. Gotay continues to stroke. Castillo has the glove and range and WILL hit. Castro for president. Anderson in/Franco out looks like a masterstroke. Wagner is dominant. El Duque, Glavine, Maine and Perez have hurled to the hilt.
Yet, we still hear the moans and groans of the uninformed crowd, many of whom seem to call WFAN religiously. No doubt, the complainers call with greater frequency than those with praise, a situation which is not likely to change.
Should Newhan have started?
Willie played a left-handed hitting lineup on Friday because Carlos Zambrano dominates and devastates right-handed hitters. Should David Newhan be starting? Why not? The guy did a great job in the spring and then rotted on the bench for months. Perhaps Willie realizes he erred by not giving Newhan and Franco enough playing time early in the year, when he had the opportunity die to Alou and Green's injuries and the three-month slump of Carlos Delgado. Upon being sent to New Orleans, Newhan tore it up, batting .358 while playing regularly. If a real fan wants him to be productive, the guy must get a start here and there, play defensive and be "in" the game. And how about that catch?
Why is Gotay batting 8th?
Plain and simple, this is Randolph's thing. He is consistent. Wright batted well down in the batting order through the first 100 games of 2005. He has used the same strategy for Carlos Gomez, Milledge, Gotay and others. He believes it reduces the pressure on these kids and lets them relax in the batters box. Batting second comes with its idiosyncrasies, especially with Jose Reyes on base, which is the case almost 40% of the time. Hey, Willie played the game for a long time. He was a very good player in ALL aspects of the game and he knows more about any of these players than any of us. Can anyone say that David Wright is not a better ballplayer because Willie protected him in the order for a while? No one knows for sure, but the results have been remarkable. His shifting Gotay between 7, 8 and 2 has also worked well as his .350 average indicates. He did similar things with Gomez and the results were pretty encouraging.
Should Milledge be playing everyday?
Probably most days, but against a Zambrano, it makes no sense. A good leader sets his charges up to succeed, not to be unsuccessful. In golf, the parents and ancillary advisors to Michelle Wie have set her up for failure rather than success. Instead of letting her win amateur events (she had only won one) and spending at least a couple of years on a first-rate college golf team, they have put her in an untenable position, where the spotlight (due to the millions she was paid for not winning a thing), expectations and pressure of the highest competition may extinguish her career before she has the taste of victory and accomplishment. And in a solitary sport like golf, there are no teammates or managers/coaches, like Wille, to reduce the pressure or run interference.
Randolph may also be using a bit of psychology. By not playing Lastings every day, he keeps the powerful ego and slightly elevated self-importance in check. This may serve Milledge and the Mets well for many years to come. In other words, we can win with you and we can win without you. Not a bad philosophy.
Many Met fans have to take a look in the mirror and decide if having the best record isn't good enough?
I think this team is slightly underperforming, but the injuries have been profound and have taken a toll on team consistency more than anything else. The Mets just can't seem to put together winning streaks of 4-9 games. It will happen several times during the last two months.
The healing periods of Martinez, Chavez, Gomez and Beltran all coincide before the end of August. This will allow Chavez and Gomez to play one or two weeks of rehab and be ready for September and the postseason. In the meantime, the fill-ins and starters will all have ample playing time and the availability of rest in September. This is a powerfully good scenario.
Additionally, the schedule favors the Mets. Twenty-eight of their last 51 games are at home. After these two remaining games with the Cubbies, they play the Fish 10 games (six at home), the Nats 9 games (six away) and the Bucs and Reds three times each away. They also play the Padres, Dodgers and Astros three games each, all at Shea later this month.
The schedule also has the Mets playing the Phillies seven games (three at Shea) and the Braves nine games (six at Shea). I would wager that by the time the Braves and then Phils come to Shea beginning September 10, both teams will have to sweep to even put themselves in the race.
And in the unlikely event that the Mets lose six straight to those clubs, their last 14 games find them playing the Fish and Nats 13 times, including the last week of the season at home, with a makeup game against the Cards sandwiched in the middle. On the downside, the Mets play their last 17 games without a day off. But the September call-ups, and injured troops returning, mitigate that situation very nicely.
Let's cut out the moaning, eliminate the booing and start enjoying the moments yet to come.