Mets Mess Makes Them Unreliable Bet - For Now
by Robert Ferringo - 6/15/2007
It was exactly this time last year - between June 5th and June 15th of 2006 - that the Mets went on a three-city rampage that saw them take two of three from the Los Angeles Dodgers, sweep a four-game set from Arizona, and then rake Philadelphia in the City of Brotherly Love for three straight. It was during that victory spree that I realized: these guys are Good. I mean, really, really Good.
Flash forward to 2007. The team that I though would dominate the watered-down, little brother league of the Senior Circuit is has lost five straight games, is 2-10 in the month of June, and has dropped 11 of its past 14 contests. Incredibly, they've led in each of their past five losses and scored first in eight of their past 10 outings.
Other than that, they're still really, really good.
Yup, the Mets have hit the skids, and self-doubt is the first step down the path of an Imploding Season. It quickly infects a clubhouse and spreads like that horrible parasite that enters the brains of ants in the jungle and drives them mad. I'm not certain if the Mets are there yet, but staring down the barrel of the Subway Series against the cocked-and-locked Yankees certainly isn't helping.
It was supposed to be a simple: humiliate the Braves on the way to the National League East title, run roughshod over some whiny Wild Card club before exorcising the demons of last year's Game 7 sorrow. After that, the World Series is a formality. Instead, the Mets have degenerated into another shaky, streaky National League wannabe with a bumbling bullpen, destitute defense and cowards in the clutch.
Through April it was refreshing knowing that, as a handicapper, no losing streak was going to last more than a couple of days because a big play on the ultra-reliable Mets was always set in the kicker. But at the moment they are a "play against" only club shackled with inflated juice and negative karma.
It may seem as if I'm being a bit harsh on my boys. And I admit that I am. But with talent comes expectations. And with expectations comes criticism. But the truth is that there is more to the Mets' skid than meets the eye. As I see it, there are three main factors that have coalesced to produce their recent woes:
No team is allowed to bitch about injuries. They're part of the package and every team undergoes a period in the season where some of their key players are banged up. But there's a difference between an excuse and a reason, and injuries to key pieces of the puzzle is a big reason the Mets have become a mess.
The outfield has been decimated. Starters Shawn Green and Moises Alou have each missed at least 15 games and No. 4 outfielder Endy Chavez was recently put on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring. Also, starting second baseman Jose Valentin was out from April 28 to June 7.
It's not just that New York has been without three starters for a good portion of the season. It's that they haven't been able to get into a rhythm with their lineup. It's beginning to remind me of the Valentine-Howe Era when it appeared that the lineup was filled out each day by a different homeless person living in the subway. This is a veteran club and in April, with a set lineup and defined roles, they were one of the top offensive clubs in either league.
Green and Valentin are back. That's a big help. Alou is simply being Moises Alou and no one knows when he'll be ready. Endy won't be back until August. But if the Mets can avoid any other serious injuries their offense should return to near the top of the N.L. within the next few weeks.
2. Carlos Delgado
While we're talking about New York's offensive issues, we have to call to out the giant void in the middle of the Mets order. Delgado was a goddamn hero last year, hitting just .265 but drilling 38 home runs and 114 RBI while serving as a mentor in the clubhouse. This year: .224 with 10 home runs and 39 RBI and on pace for half of last year's numbers.
The problem is that all but eight of Delgado's at-bats have come in the cleanup or No. 5 slot. He's hitting .197 with runners in scoring position, .219 in close-and-late situations, and .230 against the Braves and Phillies. Not good.
Delgado's starting to hit the ball with more authority, and you would think that it's only a matter of time before he gets it going. If not, look for the Mets to make a move because they simply can't afford such putrid production from the cleanup/1B positions.
3. The Schedule
How's this for a three-city road trip: at defending A.L. champion Detroit, at defending N.L. West champion Los Angeles, and then a jaunt to cozy Yankee Stadium. That's what New York has had to deal with this week. Those series also came on the heels of two sets against Philadelphia and Arizona. In fact, the Mets haven't faced a team that isn't currently above .500 since May 31 and only 10 of their past 31 have been against teams with a losing record.
Is that an excuse for a 1-9 stretch? No. Will it get easier for New York? Not anytime soon. After they're done with the Yankees the Mets host three consecutive series against 2006 playoff teams - Minnesota, Oakland and St. Louis - before a four-game stop in Philly. Oh yeah, and those games are just the beginning of a 24 game in 25 days stretch. Good times.
I expect the Mets to play around .500 between now and the All-Star Break. After that, seven of their next 11 series are against teams that currently have a losing record. July has always been a good month for the Amazin's, and a 16-8 run isn't out of the question.
But there's always a silver lining. Right now the only team that might be worse than the Mets has been the Braves, who have hit a 3-9 skid to coincide with New York's slide. As a result, the Mets are still at the top of the East. And if anyone, with a straight face, mentions Philadelphia as a threat it will take all of my resolve not to mock them with impunity. Neither club has managed to spear the Mets while they're flopping around on the docks, which means that my dreams of postseason conquest and glory are still very firmly intact.
New York is going to get healthy. They're going to get their key guys back healthy, and get production from their big names. When that happens they'll go back to being the same reliable wager that they were for the previous 14 months. And that will be really, really good.
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