July 12th, 2011: Mets Trade Francisco Rodriguez To The Milwaukee Brewers
July 27th, 2011: Mets Trade Carlos Beltran To The San Francisco Giants
December 6th, 2011: Jose Reyes Signs With the Miami Marlins for six years and $106-million
These three moves alone were supposed to plunge the Mets into full-on rebuilding mode, into the basement of the National League, yet here we are four games into the season, and the Amazin’s are not only in first place in the NL East, but sporting the best record in baseball. Granted 98.5% of the season has yet to have been played, but that little voice in the back of every Met fans head, that little glimmer of hope is starting to grow. That once absurd and laughable question is slowly starting to seep into the minds of those viewing this past week. Could the Mets be that miracle team?
The immediate response is “Look at that division. Even if the Mets could make a run, how are they going to climb over the Phillies, Marlins, Nats or even Braves?” Well, let’s look at this division:
Phillies: Starting off with the Phillies, the perennial and at this point assumed division leaders. Sure they have their feared rotation –minus Roy Oswalt– of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and now Vance Worely. They even signed a top-tier closer in Jonathon Papelbon this winter. So what’s stopping them from taking yet another NL East title? Their offense.
With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley out until God knows when, the Phillies are left with Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino and an ever-declining Jimmy Rollins as the major bats in that lineup. Without Howard and Utley until at least mid-season, that offense isn’t going to be that feared powerhouse it was in ’07 and ’08. Even when they return, no one knows what you’re going to get out of them. Utley’s knees are shot and his versatility is a major part of his game. Howard is coming off a major surgery on his Achilles’ tendon, you can’t bank your season on a surgically repaired player.
Bottom line: The Mets scored more runs than the Phillies in 2011. The Amazin’s lost Reyes, they lost Raul Ibanez and at least half of a season of Utley and Howard. They are on an even keel offensively at least, I’d personally give the Mets a bit on an edge. Can they still compete? No doubt, in all likelihood they will take another division title, but by no means are they infallible. The Mets and Braves have had collapses; Phillies are overdue.
Marlins: On paper, the Marlins are the team to beat. They added Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano this winter, virtually recreating the franchise from a penny pinching 4th place team to a bid spender and a sure-fire contender overnight.That plus Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton, and the Marlins seem primed to make another ’03-esq run.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Marlins will to the postseason somehow, –be it either wildcards or the division itself– but the key is getting everything to gell. They have guys like Hanley Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano on a ballclub managed by Ozzie Guillen; three of the most explosive attitudes in baseball. What if things start going south in the dog days of summer? No amount of good vibes from Jose Reyes could fix that.
They’re is the possibility there for the Marlins to be a lot like 2011 Red Sox. A team who has it all together, yet falters down the stretch and cannot recover. They are a solid team from top to bottom, and almost definitely will be playing October baseball, but if all continues to go right, aren’t the Mets just as good as them?
Nationals: The Washington Nationals, the lovable losers that everyone is waiting for to put it all together. With their seemingly endless crop of young talents, could 2012 mark the beginning of the Nats dynasty? Maybe, but is that certain? Not at all.
I talked with Joe about this recently, and frankly he was right. The Nats have a ton of talent, but they are unproven. Sure they have their young arms of Strasburg and Zimmerman, but what have they done besides have a whole lot of hype surrounding them. They both have had several injury-riddled years and now appear to be healthy, but for how long? And will the league catch up to them? It’s possible.
Their third-year closer Drew Storen, the cornerstone of their bullpen, is down with elbow inflammation and seeing Dr. James Andrews today, which is never a good sign. Without him, their ‘pen is a shell of its full potential, which was exemplified by last night’s 4-3 walkoff win.
Then look at the offense, they scored 624 runs last year, a figure ranking 24th in baseball.Granted a full season out of Adam LaRoche and ideally a full year from Ryan Zimmerman will be added, but they still do not have as productive of an offense as the Mets who scored 718.
This team has the potential to be great, they have a whole lot of young talent, but everything needs to fall into place; a lot like the Amazin’s.
Braves: Then there’s the Atlanta Braves, the team responsible for the second-biggest collapse in baseball history in 2011. They have an outstanding bullpen centered around Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty, but outside of that, they don’t have a whole lot to rely on.
Their offense was just as bad as that of the Nationals last year, and from the looks of it, isn’t much better. Maybe that’s what happens when you have two hitting coaches pulling in opposite directions. As for their rotation, yes there is talent, but they are always injured, and those who aren’t injured are unproven rookies.
Between the lacking offense and the oft-injured rotation, it is conceivable to see this ballclub at the bottom of the Nation League East.
There’s no doubt the Mets are underdogs, in fact, most see them on par with the Astros and Pirates. But the fact is, they have one of the better lineups in the National League, a fortified and now solid bullpen, an ace in Johan Santana, and a strong enough 2-5 in the rotation that he won’t have to play stopper every fifth day.
This isn’t a bad team. Sure they have their holes and more question marks than the Riddler’s jumpsuit. But one thing the Mets have this year that I haven’t seen in a long time is heart. For the past few years, the culture has been to expect mediocrity as hope somehow excellence falls in their laps. Instead Terry Collins and the boys are coming out swinging. They aren’t going down without a fight.
Sandy Alderson was right. They’re not punting in 2012. Sure it’s only four games into the year and they’ll have an enormous task ahead, but it’s the attitude of this club above anything that could stun the baseball world and return to the postseason with a vengeance.
Do the Mets have a snowball’s chance? Absolutely.