Aided by subtle changes to the roster and some apparent development on the part of some of the younger Mets, the Orange and Blue have stepped up their game recently in a most heartening way. Possibly spurred on by a lackluster style of play that seemingly reached its nadir with a run of 10 losses in 13 games following the surprising sweep of the Yankees, the Flushing brain trust may finally have found enough of the right kind of pieces inside and outside the organization to begin to address the more pressing needs of the team.
Looking back about three weeks, we can trace a number of key moves made by the front office that, while not making any big splashes, have changed the face of the Mets to a degree and have apparently changed the rhythm of their play on the field for the better. The chronology looks something like this:
- May 30: Ruben Tejada is placed on the 15-day DL and replaced with Omar Quintanilla.
- June 8: Rick Ankiel is DFA’d, Collin McHugh is optioned to Las Vegas, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and David Aardsma are brought up to the big club.
- June 9: Ike Davis, Robert Carson, and Mike Baxter are sent down. Collin Cowgill, Josh Satin, and Josh Edgin are brought up.
- June 15: Greg Burke is sent down. Carlos Torres is brought up.
- June 18: Collin McHugh is traded to Colorado for Eric Young, Jr. Justin Turner to the DL, Zack Wheeler brought up.
- June 19: Collin Cowgill DFA’d. Andrew Brown brought up.
The net effect of these moves was more significant than what appears on the surface. After some finagling with Jordany Valdespin playing second base and leading off, Alderson and company finally made a more decisive move to address the Mets’ leadoff woes by importing Young who, while not without his flaws, brings some elements sorely lacking from the team’s arsenal: switch hitting ability and real speed.
In addition, moving Ankiel out of the picture has afforded Juan Lagares some regular playing time and he appears to be responding to it positively. With the end of the Valdespin experiment, Daniel Murphy has returned to his deserved spot at second and Lucas Duda has been shifted to first. The latter move seems to have had a galvanizing effect on the Dude who had a 4-for-4 game in Atlanta and has continued his high OBP ways by leading the team in walks.
What these shifts have accomplished is to add a significant enough element of contact to the lineup to allow more rallies to occur. While the Mets still are a ways from being an offensive powerhouse, replacing the largely impotent bats of Tejada, Ankiel, and Davis with those of Quintanilla, Lagares, and Young has contributed to creating what appears to be a slight uptick in run production. As of now, it may only be sufficient for the team to be on the long side of a few 4-3 scores instead the short end, but for a team that has struggled to score to the degree that the 2013 Mets have, this is noteworthy and may mark the beginning of something more sustained and significant.
This apparent offensive gain, slight as it is, is made more meaningful because it has been accompanied by a concomitant boost in the bullpen’s performance. Since adding Aardsma, Torres, and Edgin to the relief corps, there has been a noticeable improvement in the team’s ability to keep games close in the late innings. In a small sample, Torres in particular has looked tremendous and Aardsma has flashed a fastball that suggests his recovery is for real. Even Edgin, whose minor league numbers were nothing to get excited about this year, has evidenced an improved approach that suggests he can contribute as a reliable lefty specialist and take some of the burden off of the clearly overworked Scott Rice.
The cherry on top of all this, of course, is the addition of Zack Wheeler to the rotation. While the news regarding Jonathon Niese’s shoulder is worrisome, the recent string of good performances by Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee to go with the ever-dominating presence of Matt Harvey have given the team every reason to expect to be given a fighting chance against any opponent. Wheeler’s power arsenal along with his determination in front of a hometown contingent at his debut was inspiring, to be sure. There will be bumps in the road, of course, but his maturity and sheer stuff are indicative of something special.
As far as this season is concerned, the signs are still only that the Mets may begin playing closer to the level of a .500 team than continuing the abysmal trend of rolling over for teams like the Marlins. Still, more changes are clearly in the offing, and the resolution of some of the possible future personnel issues will be interesting to watch unfold. If, for instance, Ike Davis recovers his swing in the PCL and looms as a slugging addition to the lineup, what then to do with Duda? If Lagares continues to improve at the plate and Young grabs his chance to be a regular and runs with it, do we look for a major addition to be made in right field to complement them? What about Flores and D’Arnaud? Ah, the endless possibilities…
Comparisons with this season and those of 1968 and 1983 have been bandied about, and similarities do exist, but some important differences as well. Regardless, it is hard not to be excited about the prospect of a rotation fronted by those two right arms we all rhapsodize over. Whether they are enough on their own to tip the scales in the Mets’ favor is debatable, but it clearly is a start. One of the things I look for as a portent of things to come will be an improved level of play in the second half, sort of a reverse of the 2012 pattern where team weaknesses were exposed and exploited. I think we may be seeing the beginning of that stretch a little earlier than anticipated.