Over their first 9 games the Mets have shown some decidedly encouraging signs, but there have also been some glaring concerns. It’s far too early to draw any real conclusions, but it isn’t too early for a first impression.
The Starting Pitching
Two words: Matt Harvey. Harvey has been stellar … actually more than stellar, he has been intergalactic. What has impressed me about Harvey is his poise and his fledgling ability to control the came by sheer force of will. No one wants to face Harvey right now, he is overpowering … that’s a scary weapon to have on any team. Need a win? He’s your guy. You can’t put a value metric on that. You aren’t getting swept if Harvey is pitching. If he’s pitching the final game and you’ve won the first two you’re probably looking at a sweep. Never underestimate the power of a true ace. Matt Harvey really does remind me of Tom Seaver, and there really are some uncanny similarities.
Then there is John Niese, who has been outstanding. I continue to maintain that Niese’s curveball is one of the most underrated pitches in the major leagues. When he’s dropping that thing in for strikes he’s as tough as anyone in baseball. Previous years Niese would unravel after a bloop and a walk. Not so since about half way through 2012, Niese is showing some tenacity under duress, which makes him pretty tough to beat. Right now Harvey and Niese comprise a legitimate one-two punch and there’s a school of thought that subscribes to the belief that two ace level pitchers at the top of a rotation is all you really need to contend. Unfortunately I’m not sure that’s true.
The rotation gets pretty dicey after our top two. Dillon Gee and Jeremy Heffner have been wildly inconsistent with command issues. You get the sense that maybe Gee wasn’t quite ready coming out of spring training, and Heffner just seems to leave too many fat pitches over the middle of the plate. We need Shaun Marcum to hurry up and get better because one more reliable starter and I think the balances are tipped in Mets favor in terms of matching up with other rotations. Lets just say Aaron Laffey seems ill-equipped as his replacement.
Two words: Homer happy! The Mets have been hitting home runs like it’s 1998 … Duda hit one the other night at CBP in Philly that I swear was still going up when it hit the upper deck. The man may be lost in the field, but his power is freakish. I feel like he hasn’t even really gotten a hold of one yet, what happens when he does? He could knock a satellite out of orbit, he could hit one to North Korea. How about John Buck? Yeah yeah yeah, I keep hearing how he’s going to come back to earth, whatever. Here’s the thing, with the head start he’s got? Barring injury he’s going to have to come down pretty hard and pretty fast and extremely soon because if he keeps up this rate in another week or so it wont matter, he’ll be able to go back to his lifetime averages and still have the best season of his career (and probably make the all-star game). John Buck is playing with house money at this point.
David Wright I’m not worried about, and Jordany Valdespin needs more playing time. Ike Davis is going to break out sooner or later if he can get his head straightened out. Here’s the thing about Ike. When Ike first came up I was amazed that he was able to make as much contact as he did given his long loopy swing. He was able to because he has great timing, problem is when his timing is off he really struggles, again because of that long loopy swing. The thing that frustrates me about Ike is that he’s playing into the opposition’s prescribed approach. They put the stupid shift on (it’s stupid the shift – no other way to describe it) and they toss him a steady diet of breaking pitches.
Now, correct me, but when Ike came up didn’t he hit to all fields? I remember him talking about how his dad used to make him hit to the opposite field when he was a kid. What happened? I’ll tell you what happened, the stupid shift happened, it got into his head. Ike has fallen into the trap of not adjusting his game to the shift, like it’s taboo or something to change your approach because your approach is what got you to the bigs. Well the problem is, hitting to all fields IS what got Ike to the bigs … since when did he become a strictly pull hitter? I remember Keith Hernandez was incredulous at first that they were even trying the shift on Ike because Ike was always a guy who spread the ball around. Ike needs to get together with Hudgens and practice punching the ball down the third base line, get a few easy doubles, get that average up, get himself going, then he can hit as many homeruns as his heart desires. The rest of the lineup has been playing more or less as expected. We need an outfielder, badly, but in the meantime, Baxter and Valdespin should be splitting lead-off duties.
Outside of a few misjudged fly balls by Duda and an inexplicable run of poor play by Tejada I think the defense is actually improved. Murphy has been solid. Ike hasn’t been great at first but I think he’ll settle in. Baxter is a great outfielder and Byrd can hold his own. Center field hasn’t been the disaster we were afraid of, and again, Duda plays the outfield like he’s wearing boots of lead. Wright has been a gold glove third baseman and John Buck has given us a strong veteran presence behind the plate. This team isn’t going to win or lose because of it’s defense, and that is actually a marked improvement.
Jeckyl and Hyde. The bullpen has had it’s good nights and it’s nightmares. Greg Burke, after one bad outing has been pretty good, that freaky windup of his makes my eyeballs hurt so I can’t imagine it’s easy on hitters. Scott Atchison has been the token “scary old guy” in the pen and he’s been quality through and through, Hawkins has been inconsistent — pretty much the same guy I remember in Minnesota, and Bobby Parnell is throwing a 92 mph change up (need I say more?) I will say more … when he figured out how to dial it back to 91 or 92 to improve his command little did we know he’d still bring the 99 mph heat after he’d get ahead .. so it amounts to a 92 mph changeup — which is SICK! Anyway, Parnell is fun to watch … and the rest of the bullpen is giving me hope. Josh Edgin has been shaky but reliable and I think he’ll settle in. Overall, with Francisco and Feliciano and Carson and (potentially) Mejia in reserve this bullpen may actually have some depth to bridge the inevitable injuries during the dog days of summer. Fingers crossed on this one.
I’m hopeful. Right now, as constituted, if they can stay relatively healthy I think this is a .500 team. Maybe a few games better. Things need to break right, the back end of the rotation will need a boost – either by means of Marcum or Wheeler coming to the rescue or Gee and Heffner figuring out their command issues. Ike has to get it going and Wright needs to hit a few out of the park (has he hit any since his injury?). There are concerns, this team’s success is tentative at best. The back end of the rotation let us down in Philly but hopefully Philly won’t always be lucky enough to face Gee and Heffner in the same series in their band box of a home park.
This next series against Minnesota is important. They need to establish resilience, and what better place than a sub freezing tundra on the edge of the great plains against a young and scrappy American League Central team with Ron Gardenhire as their manager. I’ll be there for every game with my lucky hat and my heat-treat pocket warmers.