After capturing the NL pennant in 2000, the Mets quickly sunk to the depths of mediocrity. 2001 saw the defending league champions struggle to get to 500, finishing 82-80, 3rd place, 6 games back. From 02-04, our Mets fell faster than George W.’s Approval Rating. We averaged just 71 wins and finished a combined 86 games out of first. Then, Omar Minaya was brought in as GM and almost overnight his impact was felt. It was clear there was a new sheriff in town. He cleaned up the Mets quicker than Wyatt Earp cleaned up Tombstone.
Omar has been both loved and hated, revered and second guessed, maligned and praised, by fans and media alike. However, it is obvious our team is on the right track. After 4 years of floundering, Omar turned the Mets into a legitimate powerhouse in the National League. Think back to the malaise of the Mets in 04. Never in our wildest dreams could we have pictured Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner and Johan Santana wearing a Mets uniform. Under Omar’s watch, David Wright has turned into a premier slugger and Jose Reyes has developed into the top leadoff hitter in the game.
We all know that it was our–pardon the expression, “Bullpen”–that cost us the 08 season. Out of 72 save opportunities, only 43 were converted for a ratio of 59%. By comparison the Phillies converted 75%. The Bullpen ERA was 4.25, 23rd in the majors. In the 2nd half that figure rose to 4.99, the 2nd highest second half bullpen ERA in team history. Only the beloved 62 team was higher. The 28 losses by the relief core was 4th worst in the NL. On that fateful Sunday, when we were eliminated on the season’s final day for the 2nd straight year, fans and players were clearly shell-shocked. Lightning apparently does strike twice. “Frustrated” is what Wright said. “Heartbroken” is how Ryan Church described it. “I have no more words,” stated Carlos Beltran. “I don’t know what happened,” explained Reyes.
We spent all winter tossing names around with reckless abandon, debating the pros and cons. We bantered back and forth about Manny, Orlando Hudson, Sabathia, Burrell and Burnett. Remember the arguments over Derek Lowe? But Omar saw what he needed to do. He stopped the bleeding and obtained not just the top closer on the market, but perhaps the top closer of the 21st century–and for relatively cheap. In addition, he signed closer JJ Putz to be our set-up man. This is huge!
How good is K-Rod? In 4 years as the Angels closer, he recorded a remarkable 194 saves with a 2.36 ERA. He has fanned 356 batters in only 276 innings. JJ Putz has equally impressive numbers. In spite of being injured for part of 08, Putz has recorded 91 saves in 3 years with an ERA of 2.52. He has walked only 54 batters while striking out 242 (in 206 innings.)
I know this is only Spring and we all tend to be overly optimistic, overly hopeful and overly positive. We do have many questions as we approach Opening Day. But I am feeling positive. Could we have done more this winter? Yes, of course. You can always do more. But our bullpen cost us the pennant and Omar went out and basically killed a fly with a sledgehammer.
Say what you will about the last few seasons. Yes, there was Yadier Molina’s HR followed by two consecutive September melt-downs. But on the flip side, we were basically just two wins away from making the post-season for three straight years, something we have never done.
Two weeks from yesterday, the Phillies and Braves will face off on ESPN in the first Sunday Night game. Yes, I’m seeing the glass half full, but we will be half a game ahead of one of them–before we even play! How’s that for optimism? The time is now for the Mets to quiet the critics. The time is now to quiet the skeptics. The time is now to bring home a Championship. And the time is now to let Jimmy Rollins sit home in October and watch us for a change.