After 28 Games Mets Fans Remain Hopeful

On the one hand, I’m by no means convinced that the Mets are a legitimate playoff contender.  On the other hand they are much improved in virtually every facet of their game.  And that combined with relative parity in the National League certainly should keep the Mets in the Wild Card race as summer approaches.  Then who knows?

One month into the 2010 season, Mets fans are still hopeful.  That’s saying a lot considering this past winter of discontent. The team has played hard, not always with positive results.  The team is 3 – 6 in one run games, having lost four of these games in the last inning.  On a positive note, the Mets had a streak of eight wins in a row and ten out of eleven games.  But other than that stretch they have lost every series.

Omar Minaya’s off season moves and non-moves, combined with players coming back from injuries and down years have had a very positive affect on the team thus far.  Does Omar deserve an A.  Of course not.  But he deserves some credit.  He has rebuilt and resurrected this team under very tight restrictions that included about $20 million of payroll cuts.  Please don’t bore me with more comments about Alex Cora’s and Gary Matthew’s $2 million each.  They were mistakes, but every GM makes mistakes.  And these weren’t big mistakes that can’t be overcome.

Here’s my brief analysis of the Mets roster.

  • Jose  Reyes has returned.  His offense has not been great but he is showing positive signs the last few days.  His defense is a marked improvement over the Mets shortstops last year.  If and when Carlos Beltran returns to the lineup, Jose can move back to the leadoff spot.
  • David Wright is back.  Mets fans can breathe a sigh of relief that David’s power outage is a thing of the past.  He already has 7 home runs and 21 RBI.  Last year David hit only 10 home runs and the team totaled 95.  He still strikes out too much but his power and production can make up for this deficiency.
  • Jon Niese and  Fernando Nieve have become important pieces of the pitching staff.  Both are coming off serious leg injuries.  And there effectiveness this year was by no means a given.
  • Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, and Oliver Perez are all in the starting rotation.  Omar’s gamble that these three were as good as those on the free agent market is paying off so far.  Pelfrey has been great until the hard luck Philly outing.  Maine is showing more confidence and zip on his fastball.  Ollie is painful to watch but he is showing more consistency.  I had stated over the winter that if two out of three of these pitchers had good years, the Mets would be greatly improved.  Remember how horrible all three were during spring training?  In my opinion the jury is still out on all three, but through their first five starts, I think two out of three is likely.  Is three out of three a possibility?
  • Catchers Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco have been by far the Mets best signings of the winter.  Barajas has 7 home runs this year, and barring injury will easily surpass last year’s total of 19.  I am in the camp that believes that if he can hit 25 home runs, it does make up for his low OBP.  If this happens, I say who cares if he hits equal to last years BA of .226 and OBP of .258.  If he hits 25 home runs out of the 8th spot in the lineup, he is an viable offensive threat and a valuable asset.  Although Barajas has not thrown out any runners stealing, there have only been six attempts against him.  Henry Blanco has thrown out all five runners that have attempted to steal.  The catching core, when combining offensive and defensive play is the Mets best in years.
  • 1st base was a position that got so much attention this winter.  The Daniel Murphy/Mike Jacobs competition fizzled when Murphy got hurt just before the season started.  Jacobs started out so poorly that he couldn’t hold the job.  Enter rookie Ike Davis.  He’s played admirably for a rookie but is yet to hit for power.  Hopefully that will come, even this year.  Otherwise, 1st base, at least offensively,is going to be a dud statistically this year.  So many are high on him, but this his rookie year, might not be the breakout year Mets fans are hoping for.
  • Jeff Francoeur has become a team leader.  His smile, hustle and grit are contagious.  Still he must hit, and with power to really have an impact.  His fielding has been great.  He already has four outfield assists and a +2 UZR rating.
  • Jason Bay has been a huge disappointment.  He must breakout of his slump, otherwise the cleanup spot in the lineup will have a huge void which will be impossible to overcome.  His strikeouts are rally killers.  He is on a pace to strikeout 200 times this season, up from a career high of 162 last year.  Fickle Mets fans will begin booing him soon if he doesn’t step up.
  • Bullpen additions of Takahashi, Igarashi, and Mejia have paid dividends although Igarashi is currently injured.  Jenrry Mejia has recently been given opportunities in key situations and succeeded.  He will stay with the team only if he continues to succeed.
  • The bench appears to be weak.  None of Fernando Tatis, Gary Matthews Jr.,and Frank Catalanotto have hit a lick thus far.  Look for changes in the near future.
  • Carlos Beltran is on the mend and on his way back (yeah right).  But if he does make it back, playoff hopes improve significantly.  All Mets fans can do is continue to hope.
  • Jerry Manuel despite all the criticisms has done an admirable job.  The players like him.  The team is two games over .500.  He has earned another month under the hot lights.
  • Last is the curious case of Nelson Figueroa.  To Alex (Golden Boy) 68, I admit defeat.  He’s no great loss.  And thankfully he has not proven me right, now that he is a Philly.

Remember, April is a month to experiment and evaluate talent.  By Memorial Day, experimentation should be ending and the roster should become more permanent.  Mike Jacobs was a failed experiment.  So likely will Gary Matthews Jr..  Still patience is a virtue which unfortunately most Mets fans do not possess.  The thing to remember is that the opening day roster need not resemble the roster at the All Star break.

It should be noted that many of the above evaluations are positive.  And that gives me hope.  However, it is my opinion that in order to be a true playoff contender, at least a couple of the above weaknesses must turn positive.  Otherwise, I don’t believe the Mets can win consistently and will hover at .500 or a little above all season.   Maybe this season will be like 2005 when the Mets started turning it around.  And then they made the big push to an outstanding 2006.