MLB Handicapping: Beleaguered Mets Face Tough Stretch
by Robert Ferringo - 06/08/2009
"East side, West side, everybody's coming down,
To meet the M-E-T-S Mets, of New York town."
- "Meet The Mets"
I have no problem proudly proclaiming that I'm a diehard New York Mets fan. Someone has to be, right? But even someone that's been following them for more than 20 years like myself is having a hard time figuring out whom the hell the guys in blue and orange are these days.
The Mets began the 2009 season as one of the presumptive favorites to win both their division and/or the National League pennant. But with the lineup that New York is trotting out these days I wonder if they would have trouble winning Division 5 in the Triple-A ranks. Injuries have ravaged the roster and forced New York to dig deep into the minor leagues, the scrap heap and maybe even their fan base to find healthy bodies to trot out each day.
Friday's lineup in Washington featured significant at-bats for Alex Cora, Daniel Murphy, and the Fabulous Fernandos -- Tatis and Martinez. On Saturday Emil Brown, freshly out of the Pacific Coast League and playing in just his third game of the season, was hitting second. The catching has been split between Brian Schneider and Omir Santos, neither of who has been the primary catcher this year (that was recently traded Ramon Castro, who had caught 26 games for the Mets this year). I've seriously been waiting to see Jeromy Burnitz, Charlie O'Brien, and Tim Teuffel trot out there and get some at-bats.
So far this season the Mets have only four players - David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo and Murphy - that have managed more than 150 at-bats or 170 plate appearances. That number is the lowest number in the Majors and is just further proof that the Mets' clubhouse door has been a revolving one.
But the Mets have had no choice. Injuries have been shredding their ever-expanding and contracting roster. Carlos Delgado is out with an injured hip and may or may not be back this year. Jose Reyes has a slight tear in his hamstring and will miss at least a few more weeks. J.J. Putz is set to undergo elbow surgery and will miss two months. Ryan Church is coming off the disabled list but still doesn't seem to be fully recovered from a concussion he suffered over a year ago. And just last week there was a cycle of stories discussing whether or not swine flu had been ripping through the Mets clubhouse, as John Maine and Carlos Beltran were sidelined with illness. All in all, it's been a mess in Met Land.
However, despite the attrition the Mets have managed to keep their heads above water. They are 9-6 in their last 15 games and, with the exception of that awkward sweep at the hands of pathetic Pittsburgh last week - during the height of the swine flu epidemic - they have been playing strong baseball. In fact, the Mets have won four of their last five series dating back to May 20.
But the Mets have managed to keep their heads above water against Major League lightweights. Their last four series have been against Washington, Florida, Pittsburgh and then Washington again. But things are about to get a whole lot more daunting. And over the next month this rag tag unit is going to be put through a gauntlet that will likely define their season.
The defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies come to Citi Field this week and will be trying to extend their three-game division lead. After that the Mets head to Yankee Stadium to bang heads with the hottest team in the Majors. After that they head for Baltimore in an obvious letdown series and then the fun truly begins. The Mets host Tampa Bay, St. Louis and the Yankees before heading to Milwaukee and Philadelphia, before finally hosting the Dodgers and Reds heading into the all-star break.
That all adds up to this: 29 of the Mets 32 games to close the first half will be against teams currently at or above .500. That group includes three division leaders, the defending A.L. and N.L. champs, and second-place challenger St. Louis. Ouch. Making matters worse is that the Mets aren't just playing without a full deck against some of the most talented teams in the Majors but they are facing rivals that will show no quarter and that look forward to kicking the Mets while they are down.
And if you were expecting Mets General Manager Omar Minaya to go out and shake the money tree to pick up some pieces in trades and other maneuvers I wouldn't bet on it. The Wilpons were victims of the Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme that fell apart last December. That has obviously put a crimp in New York's pocketbook and so far the Mets have seemed content with standing pat and letting the chips fall where they may.
This is clearly not the same Mets team that we're used to watching and betting on over the past few seasons. The oddsmakers have started to adjust a bit to their depleted roster but New York has still been favored in nine of their last 11 games. But I think that obviously the value is betting against the Mets through this horror show of a schedule. Obviously they aren't going to go 5-27 or anything ridiculous like that over the next month. But I think that any series that they do win - even in Baltimore - would have to be considered a bit of an upset.
Perhaps the biggest arena in which the Mets have been impacted by injuries has been against the total. Since May 17 the Mets are just 5-13-1 against the total. And while those numbers fall in line with what has been a league-wide trend, the Mets offense has mustered just 68 runs in their last 19 games, giving them a weak 3.6 average. That popgun attack combined with their exceptional pitching (the Mets are No. 5 in the Majors with a 3.93 team ERA) should help keep the Mets as a solid 'under' play even as the weather warms up. That said, be careful about plunging totals. The oddsmakers will adjust and if you start to see lots of 7.0s and 7.5s it might be time to start going the other way.
My advice will be solidly and systematically play against this weakened Mets team over the next month. That, and don't worry about meeting these Mets, they likely aren't going to be around for very long.