Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mets Have It Niese And Easy Against The Phillies

Before the season began, the Mets were picked by the general consensus to finish in last place in the NL East.  The main reason for the prediction?  The division was supposed to be so much stronger that the Mets would have no chance in head-to-head competition.  So if that's the case, then why are the Mets cruising with a 6-2 record, especially since all of their games have been against division opponents?

After today's 5-0 victory over the Phillies, the Mets are now 5-0 against Philadelphia and Atlanta, the two teams that finished atop the division in 2011.  The top three pitchers in the rotation (Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese) have combined to post a 1.77 ERA in six starts, collecting more strikeouts (35) than hits allowed (28).  In addition, the bullpen has been superb, with the three new acquisitions (Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez) combining to allow one earned run in 13⅓ innings.

But the main reason why the Mets are playing so well is because each player is capable of picking up one of his teammates when that teammate doesn't perform.  For example, in today's game, Jason Bay came up to to bat in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and no outs.  He promptly grounded into a double play, scoring a run but leaving the Mets with two outs and a potential big inning squelched.  In the past, the next batter would have been retired and the Mets would be left to wonder "what if".  But not the 2012 Mets.

After Bay's double play, Lucas Duda smacked a two-run homer to give the Mets a 4-0 lead, which gave Niese all the cushion he needed.  The Phillies never really threatened after Duda muscled Vance Worley's pitch out of the ballpark.

The teams that were supposed to compete in the NL East all have flaws.  The Phillies and Braves can't hit.  The Marlins can't field.  The Nationals have fewer flaws than the other teams in the division, hence why they're in first place.  But the Mets are not far behind.  They know they have flaws but they're finding ways to play around them.  Whereas past Mets teams continued to repeat their mistakes, this Mets team is learning from them.

Jason Bay and Ike Davis are not hitting well over the first eight games of the season.  But Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy and Josh Thole are.  David Wright is not swinging and missing as much as he has in the past.  The result of his better approach at the plate is a 10-for-17 start with only one strikeout.  And the pitching staff has excelled during the first week and a half of the season.  Even when it experiences hiccups (such as Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee's first starts of the season), the bullpen has kept the damage to a minimum.

No one expected the Mets to do anything in the NL East in 2012.  No one except the Mets themselves, that is.  With continued belief in their ability to perform well on the field, plus a dash of good health (which hasn't exactly been the Mets' fort√© over the past few years), don't be surprised if the Mets shock the league this year.  The Mets might not make the playoffs in 2012, but they won't be pushovers either.

The first eight games have me believing in the team.  Are they making believers of you?

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