Including today’s game with the Phillies, the Mets have now played 81 games. They’ve reached the midway point of the season battered and bruised, but still breathing. Their record stands at 39-42, leaving them four games behind first place Philadelphia. Somehow, they’ve managed to stay competitive in the standings while occasionally looking pathetic on the field. What does the Magic 8-ball have in store for the second half? Before we shake it up for the answer, let’s revisit the path the Mets have taken so far to get to this point.
April was highlighted by the opening of Citi Field, the third ballpark the Mets have called home. Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza were called upon to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Mets went on to lose their home opener to the San Diego Padres by the score of 6-5. The winning run scored on a balk by Pedro Feliciano. During the game, a cat found its way onto the field, running close to the Mets dugout before scampering away. It wasn’t a black cat, such as the one that apparently jinxed the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium in 1969, but it didn’t seem to bring much luck to the Mets that night or on subsequent nights.
The month did not end on a high note for the Mets, as J.J. Putz blew a 3-2 eighth inning lead against the Marlins on April 29. Johan Santana had started that game, pitching seven brilliant innings before handing the ball over to Putz. J.J. proceeded to give up two runs in his sole inning of work and the Mets eventually lost the game to the Marlins by the final score of 4-3. It was their fifth one-run loss of the month and left them with a 9-12 record. The Mets were sitting in fourth place, four games behind the division leading Marlins, hoping that May could begin a turnaround for them.
The Mets recovered nicely in May, taking advantage of the Marlins’ slump and taking a two-game lead in the division on May 15. However, this was also the month that injuries to key players began to surface. Oliver Perez, Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes were all placed on the disabled list and their stay atop the division was short-lived. They were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine before recovering with a series victory in Boston, capped by an instant replay aided two-run HR by Omir Santos against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon on May 23.
Santos came up huge playing for the injured Brian Schneider, who missed the majority of May with an injury. His clutch hitting provided numerous late-inning victories and led to the trade of Ramon Castro to the Chicago White Sox. The Mets finished May with a 19-9 record. Their overall record was 28-21 and they were a mere 1/2 game behind the Phillies for first place.
When the calendar turned to June, so did the Mets’ luck. The majority of the month was spent dealing with the endless additions to the disabled list. From J.J. Putz to John Maine to All-Star Carlos Beltran, the lineup of the walking wounded continued to grow. To make matters worse, the Mets were entering their toughest part of the schedule, with games looming against numerous playoff contenders such as the Phillies, Yankees, Rays, Cardinals and Brewers. The ReplaceMets had a difficult time playing up to the challenge, beginning the tough stretch of games with two heartbreaking losses to the Phillies at Citi Field and ending the month with a five-game losing streak against the Yankees and Brewers. They appeared overmatched at times and finished the month with a 9-18 record, prompting Jerry Manuel to call for a team meeting. The Mets were two games under .500 (37-39) but were still only three games out of first place in the National League East.
July has started out like June ended. Although the Mets showed some moxie in their comeback victory against the Pirates on July 2, that didn’t translate into more victories. They did not take that newfound confidence into their biggest series of the season against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. They failed to hit in clutch situations and the Phillies capitalized, sweeping the series from the Mets to drop them into a third place tie with the Braves, four games out of first with a 39-42 record.
The Mets are now in an awkward position heading into the second half of the season. While they are still close enough to first place to consider themselves buyers at the trade deadline, they will be getting back most of their players within the next month or so. Oliver Perez returns on Wednesday and the Mets are hopeful that their core players (Beltran, Reyes, Delgado) can come back soon as well. Maine and Putz are still iffy as to when they will be deemed fit to come off the disabled list. There is also the possibility that Billy Wagner will be able to return to the team in August.
Although it should not be expected that they will all come back and perform to the levels expected of them, it is also not expected that all of them will hinder any potential second half resurgence by the team. The Mets will certainly be better once the veterans return to the team. The question is whether the team currently on the field can stay competitive long enough so that the season can still be salvaged. Omar Minaya will have to assess all of these problems in the second half and act accordingly.
Last year, the Mets also had a losing record at the midpoint of the season (40-41), but recovered to go 49-32 in the second half. Although they did not make the playoffs, they overcame their sluggish start and rode their big bats into September with the lead in the division, ultimately falling short because of their depleted bullpen. As they learned from last year, injuries to key players will hurt the team in the long run. Last year, Omar tried filling the closer’s role with Luis Ayala and failed miserably. This year, Minaya is faced with a similar dilemma, but knows that the injured players will all be back, unlike Billy Wagner, whose injury ended his season.
The success or failure of the New York Mets this season will rest on the capability of the injured players to come back and perform once they are healthy enough to do so. If they cannot come back soon or if they do not perform well, then Omar Minaya has to make a deal to fill in those holes. As much as I hate to say it, Minaya might be the key player for the 2009 Mets. He’s in a very unenviable position. Does he play the waiting game as he has over the past few months with his injured players or does he make a move before the trade deadline to fill the glaring weakness the Mets have in their offense?
The Mets are unsure of their identity and are playing like it on the field. They only have half a season left. It’s time to stop using the “it’s early in the season” excuse and start producing on the field. Oh, I did mention the Magic 8-ball at the beginning of my rant, didn’t I? Okay, let’s shake it to see if the Mets future looks bright or not. Surely, it’ll be able to give us an answer…
The Magic 8-ball never lies. Let’s hope Omar Minaya and the return of the injured players can bring this team back to the excellence we expect and deserve from them. It’s the least they can do to reward those fans who have gotten fed up with this team’s performances and finishes since the end of the 2006 season. The future can be bright with this team as long as they don’t do their best to darken it up for themselves.