By Mike Steffanos
As I sit here writing this, John Maine is making his first appearance of the spring against the Redbirds. Maine is beginning his third season with the Mets, for the first time coming into camp as an established veteran with an unquestioned job. There is no talk of him having to win a job, but rather speculation as to whether he is ready to take the next step.
He has come a long way from the perception coming into camp in 2006 of a floundering prospect. He reestablished his potential with a strong -- if somewhat inconsistent -- half season in New York, capped by some gutsy pitching in the playoffs. Last season he proved he can pitch close to 200 innings (191), but the August and September ERAs of 6.32 and 5.93 leave questions to be answered again this season. Can Maine keep things going over a full season this year? Can he hone the off-speed pitches even more and take a step forward?
There were times early last year where John Maine was in effect the ace of the pitching staff. This was clearly not an ideal situation for a 26-year-old trying to establish himself as a legitimate major league starter, and perhaps offers some portion of explanation why he clearly burned out at the end of the season. Still, what he managed to accomplish last year is remarkable considering how far he has come so fast -- from virtually nowhere to 15 game winner in a year and a half.
For all he has done, there is still scattered skepticism about Maine in the national and local press. What I find more interesting, however, is the stuff I find written about Maine in blogs and fan forums of other NL east clubs. For some reason known only to them, John Maine seems to merit only scorn and derision. When he struggled post-Break last season they joyfully proclaimed his as EXPOSED. They took great joy in every time John scuffled through a game, as if this was some sort of personal vindication for them.
Funny, but we keep hearing how other team's players and fans were annoyed by the Mets' swagger and alleged over-celebrating, yet the blandest guy on the team takes so much abuse.
There aren't too many teams in baseball that wouldn't love to have a 27-year-old pitcher in the 3 or 4 slot in their rotation that has shown so much promise as Maine has already. Even if he doesn't improve one bit more, which I highly doubt, he's a more than credible mid-rotation starter. Moreover, with Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez fronting the rotation, the pressures and expectations are ratched down to a more reasonable level commensurate to what John Maine is at this point in his still young career.
I suspect part of what bothers those who root for the competition -- who still feel the need to bring up the tired example of Mo Vaughan every time the Mets sign someone -- is that Maine represents an ability to find a hidden gem and prosper. In the past, the Mets were only too happy to gamble on players who just didn't make them any better. Now, even though mistakes are still made, the club is doing things a lot smarter. Fans of the competition aren't comfortable at all with that.
On the other hand, I'd like to take a moment to partially defend a Phillies blogger who posted something Tuesday on why he didn't believe the Mets were "a lock" to win the NL East. For some reason a bunch of Mets fans felt the need to comment on that post.
I'll never understand why people take offense at relatively mild opinions posted on fan blogs that are slanted towards the blogger's own team. Duh! I run across this constantly where fans of a rival club are outraged by something uncomplimentary I've written about their team. I think it's kind of silly, and if it's really going to inspire you to death threats and profanity I suggest psychological help may be in order -- or at the least don't read those blogs. There were a few Mets fans who respectfully and intelligently disagreed with the post, but there was a lot of really dark and weird stuff in the comments. I understand where Michael was coming from in his post, even if he did resort to the obligatory Mo Vaughan reference and a bit of John Maine bashing.
As fan blogs go, Michael's blog avoids the really heavy-duty nastiness that turns me off, and that's the reason why his is one of the few Phillies blogs I read when I want to get the inside pitch on what's going on with our rivals. That's why I was so disappointed today when Michael felt the need to make generalizations about Mets fans based on the few who made nasty anonymous comments in his blog. If he wanted, I could share some really ugly stuff left here by Phillies fans. Michael doesn't like when people stereotype Phillies fans based on the actions of a minority, but allows himself to take that intellectually lazy route himself today with Mets fans. Too bad.