Fans Should Just Enjoy the Ride

The Mets are not a playoff team.  Not this year, anyway.  But what they are is a hard-working, hard-nosed, energetic, fun-to-watch bunch with a promising future, and that is not something anybody foresaw when the season started.

Despite the realization that the Mets aren’t going to catch the Atlanta Braves for the wild card, the fact that this is even a discussion on August 1 is nothing short of remarkable.  The way the team has performed without significant contributions from Johan Santana (due back sometime this month), David Wright (who missed just over two months), Ike Davis (out since May 10 and not expected to return)  and a struggling Jason Bay (6 home runs, 36 RBI, .238) is a testament how much the culture of this team has changed under the leadership of general manager Sandy Alderson and skipper Terry Collins.  And because of that, fans should just sit back and enjoy the ride the rest of the season.  Don’t expect the playoffs.  Expect the team to play hard until the last out of the last game, because honestly, that’s more than they’ve done the last few seasons.

After starting the year 5-13, the Mets are in the conversation August 1.  After trading closer Francisco Rodriguez in June and free-agent-to-be Carlos Beltran last week, the Mets are playing meaningful games in August.  How many fans made that bet at the start of Spring Training.

As it stands now, with preseason expectations and predictions seeing the Mets as nothing more than an average team, a team that maybe was good enough to win 80-82 games, the team is now playing with “house money”.  That means that they have exceeded expectations and that fans shouldn’t be upset when the team follows up a four-game road sweep in Cincinnati by losing two of three to the Washington Nationals.  Overachieving teams do that.  They get a fan’s hopes up, only to let them down.  Unless, of course, the fan has more realistic goals for the rest of the season.

Over the next two months, the Mets, while of course trying hard to catch the Braves for the wild card, should be ultimately concerned with continuing to set the team’s course for 2012 and beyond.  Many questions have to be answered.

Can Daniel Murphy continue to hit (great) and field (poorly) like he has, and if so, where does he fit for next year when Davis is back playing first base?  Is Justin Turner, the redheaded rookie, the long-term solution at second base?  What happens to Angel Pagan and center field?  Is he non-tendered and a replacement brought in?  Can you rebound and find his form from last season during this year’s final two months?  And what the heck can be done with Bay, a guy who is basically stealing money from the Mets?

There are questions on the pitching staff as well.  The biggie is how much does the team push Santana when he returns?  Meaning if the team is only a few games out of the wild card heading into the season’s final month, do they stick with the reported six-man rotation or go back to a normal five-man, giving Santana additional starts down the stretch?  That can be answered right here, right now.  Santana should be given two, three, maybe four starts this season and nothing more.  This is not about 2011 for this team, it’s about 2012 and beyond, and a healthy Santana is a big part of that.  He should be eased back and not rushed, regardless of whether the team is closing in on the wild card or not.

Other questions on the pitching side of things are of less importance.  Is Bobby Parnell going to be ready to be the closer next year, or are games like today, even in a non-save situation, going to keep him from assuming that role?  Will Mike Pelfrey settle back into the No. 2 role on the staff or would he be better served with a change of scenery?  How will Dillon Gee follow up his stellar rookie season, as an anchor in the middle of the rotation or falling down to the bottom of the staff with a sophomore slump?  And can Pedro Beato be an eighth inning guy or even a closer, if that job isn’t given to Parnell?

Of course, the biggest question of all is going to be what happens with Jose Reyes, the spark plug and most exciting player in all of baseball.  There will be fans who’ll want the Mets to spare no expense to keep Reyes, and while most experts think that losing him would be devastating to the franchise, they are also in agreement that Alderson has to be careful in what he offers.  It will be a fair offer and a competitive one, so if Reyes leaves, it’s going to be of his own choosing.

This season started with the Mets not knowing what they’d get from Rodriguez or Beltran or Bay.  Not knowing if and when Santana would return.  Not knowing how the pitching staff after Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey would perform.  The wild card was a pipe dream.  Meaningful games in August was something they’d play as a spoiler, not as a contender.

A poor start seemed to confirm those beliefs.  But because of the MVP-like play from Reyes, the breakout offense from Murphy, and the contributions from Turner and Gee and Parnell and Beato, expectations were raised.  But despite all the injuries all over the lineup, the Mets are playing meaningful games in August.  And that should be good enough.