Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Flying Off The Rails

The 2010 season for the New York Mets has been a rollercoaster.  The fans have been taken for a ride and I am not just talking about the sky-high ticket and concession prices.  The season started terribly as they started off 4-8 when they returned from a road trip to face the Chicago Cubs.  Enter Ike Davis.  Davis was a defensive whirling dervish early, as his patented flip into the Citi Field first-base dugout became commonplace.  The Mets were hot and catapulted themselves into first place before the end of April riding an eight-game winning streak.  The Phillies came into town as the calendar turned to May and embarrassed the Mets’ two hottest starters in Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana.  The Mets limped along for most of May until the final two games of the first Subway Series against the Yankees.  Two wins there and a series shutout against the Phillies and the Mets were up and running again.  The high lasted until late June, as the Mets carried the play by starting the month 13-2 and entering the last series of the month 17-6.  But, the last series of the month was the only series outside of the United States.  The series in San Juan against the Marlins would become the turning point of the entire year to this point.

The Mets salvaged the last game of the three-game set, but the artificial turf was held responsible for Jose Reyes’s oblique injury, which included him going on the Disabled List and breaking the continuity to the lineup the Mets had enjoyed since Davis debuted in April.  From that fateful series in San Juan to the All-Star Break, the Mets were 0-3-1 in series, only gaining a split of a four-game series at Washington.  After the Break, the Mets hit the West Coast.  Those trips typically undo the Mets and the trip just about undid the 2010 season.  In San Francisco, the Mets were stymied by their talented starters and lost three of four, winning the last game on Sunday in extra innings that was only in extra innings because of a bad “out” call at home plate in the home ninth.  The hitters suffered in San Francisco and the whole team busted in Phoenix.  Arizona swept the Mets and set the tone in the first game with a 13-2 spanking by a last-place team against a road-weary Met squad.  In Los Angeles, Jason Bay suffered a concussion and has not returned since the diagnosis.  Neither have the Mets after losing three of four at Chavez Ravine.  They are 5-7 since the trip and have only won one series since San Juan.

From the highest of the highs in June to the lowest of the lows in San Juan and the West Coast, the rollercoaster season has now officially gone off the rails.  The Mets were not buyers nor were they sellers at the Trading Deadline, which left them in limbo and minimized whatever impact this deadline could give them, either for this season if they wanted to make a playoff push or for future seasons by netting prospects for use in the future.  The team that was supposed to compete at least for the Wild Card this year has been reduced to playing out the string and the questions are already being posed about why this happened.  Some picked the Mets to be a .500 team.  I picked them to win the Wild Card with 89 wins, which was a few games better than most prognosticators.  I based my prediction on several factors:
  • The acquisition of Jason Bay
  • The rebirth of David Wright and Jose Reyes
  • The maturation of Mike Pelfrey and Jonathon Niese
Jason Bay has been a disappointment in his first year.  Most free agents who come to New York need a year to get their feet wet.  Next year will be pivotal for Bay’s overall success in New York, but this year was a feeling out period for both the player and the fans.  David Wright has returned to his former self after psyching himself out of playing at the new Citi Field.  The poor production stayed with him on the road and in the field last year, and when you add a scary beaning by Matt Cain late last season, he had a lot to overcome.  Wright has come through valiantly this year.  Jose Reyes made a cameo last season and missed the first series of the year, but he has played well in May.  He has been streakier this year and his defense has hit a slump lately, but he is hardly the cause for the Mets’ overall struggles.

The real reason has been the pitching.  The problems have been the lack of execution by the staff and the lack of planning by General Manager Omar Minaya.  Mike Pelfrey started to be the number two pitcher he was slated to be last season and this season in April, but he started to teeter in May and fallen way off in June and July.  Since June 13, Pelfrey has had only one quality start in his next nine starts.  He is partly to blame for his rocky performance since May, but the problem really lies with Minaya.  You could look at Minaya’s inactivity to get an established top-of-the-rotation starter to slot behind Johan Santana in each of the last two offseasons and the last two trading deadlines as a challenge made to Pelfrey to mature before our eyes.  You could also look at the inaction as making the best of a bad situation.  But, there is no reason why the Mets have to be in a bad situation.  Minaya was the one who put the Mets in the bad situation.  The Mets have one of the highest payrolls in baseball and Minaya used $36 of that payroll over three years to sign Oliver Perez before last season.  Even at his best, he would never be considered a number two starter.  For what Perez has actually been, he deserves to pitch every fifth day in Triple-A Buffalo.

Jonathan Niese has done the opposite of Pelfrey, starting slowly and really coming on since a stint on the Disabled List in late May.  As of his most recent start on August 6th, he was 6-3 since returning from the DL with 9 of 12 starts being a quality one and allowing more than three earned runs only twice in that span.  He has been a bright spot on the staff along with R.A. Dickey, but they are mid-rotation pitchers.  The Mets have watched the Phillies trade for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt in the last 12 months while holding on to their top prospect, Dominic Brown.  The Mets may not have had the minor league talent to make those deals, or maybe the Mets wanted to hold on to their talent, but you could say the Mets were two arms away from factoring in this year’s pennant race: an established starter and an eighth-inning reliever.  Those arms did not have to be attained this past July.  The seeds for this failure were sown a year and a half ago.  By now, the pitcher would have been in his second season in New York, acclimated to the media, the new ballpark, and the demanding fans.  

The time has already passed for this season’s team.  Who knows if Ike Davis, Jonathon Niese, Ruben Tejada, Jenrry Mejia, Fernando Martinez, or Josh Thole will have a big impact on the big-league club or will be used as trading chips down the line, but the Mets gave up their 2010 season because they are betting on their upside.

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