Friday, July 13, 2012

Joey's Soapbox: Six Degrees of Mets Contention

Hi, everyone.  This is Joey Beartran, coming to you from atop my soapbox.  After a four-day hiatus, baseball is finally back tonight as the Mets take on the Atlanta Braves for the first game of a three-game series at The House That Ted Built.  (No, I’m not referring to Mark Wahlberg’s foul-mouthed furry friend … and as Forrest Gump would say if speaking about that particular Ted, “No, we are not relations.”)

Tonight also marks the first of 12 consecutive games in which the Mets take on teams that currently have better records than they do.  After their weekend series in Atlanta concludes, the Mets will travel to Washington to take on the first place Nationals, followed by a six-game homestand at Citi Field against the NL West-leading Dodgers and another date with the Nats.

How they perform in this 12-game stretch could answer a lot of questions about what this team is and where it’s headed.  But even after the fortnight is complete, the Mets will still have many questions that must be answered.  Here are six questions that come to mind.

Can R.A. Dickey continue his run of excellence?

Although he went 12-1 prior to the All-Star Break, he did not fare well against teams who already had seen him at some point this season.  So far, Dickey has made 17 starts this year.  Of those 17 starts, three of them came against teams who had already faced him in 2012.  His ERA in those three starts is an ungodly 7.79.  Even Tim Lincecum would shake his head at that figure.  If Dickey can make the proper adjustments before teams get too familiar with him, then he will continue to be the team’s co-ace.  But if he doesn’t, Frank Viola might hold on to the title of “Mets’ last 20-game winner” for another year.

Can Johan Santana’s arm hold up for another 15 starts?

When Johan Santana threw his 134-pitch no-hitter, Terry Collins pushed his next start back two days.  After turning his ankle on a play at first base last Friday, Collins is once again pushing Santana back two days, sending him to the mound on Sunday instead of tonight’s second-half opener.  Fortunately, last week’s near-injury was not arm-related.  In fact, Johan’s arm has held up quite well this season, enabling him to make more starts during the season’s first half than most experts predicted he’d make all season.  Although Santana is not on a Stephen Strasburg-like innings limit, the Mets will have to monitor his workload, especially if they remain competitive for the rest of the season.  Burning out in August could spell doom for the Mets in September.

Is Matt Harvey ready for the bright lights of the big stage?

With Dillon Gee’s artery surgery potentially keeping him out of action for the rest of the season, the Mets are going to insert Miguel Batista into his spot in the rotation.  Should he fail, Jeremy Hefner or the man who has enough frequent flier miles to get him free travel for a lifetime (Chris Schwinden) could step into the role.  But another option that is being discussed is top prospect Matt Harvey.

Photo by Michael Baron
Although Sandy Alderson has been trying to keep him at Buffalo for as long as he can, Harvey might have to be called upon to help the parent team before rosters expand in September.  Over the past 20 years, the Mets have not had much success when they have called up pitching prospects too soon (see Jenrry Mejia, Mike Pelfrey, Generation K).  But Harvey has pitched at every minor league level, succeeding wherever he has pitched.  If he does get called into Wally Backman’s office to get the good news (Backman himself has gone on record saying that Harvey is ready for the big leagues), his performance with the Mets over the final 2½ months of the season could not only determine the Mets’ outcome this year, but also for many years to come.

Will Jason Bay’s return help or hurt the team?

Prior to his latest concussion, Jason Bay was hitting .187.  Bay was so confused at the plate that even Ike Davis was giving him tips on how to improve his batting average.  With Bay now playing in rehab games, his return to Flushing appears imminent.  But with Scott Hairston tied for the team lead in homers and with Bay also swinging from the same side of the plate as Hairston, it may be time for Bay to either:
a) play a different position,
2) ride some pine, or
iii) start getting some frickin’ hits already!
We all appreciate that Jason Bay goes all out on the field (his concussions are proof of that).  He also hustles to first on every ground ball in the hole, every pop-up that might fall in, or whenever he strikes out and the ball evades the catcher’s mitt.  But if he really wants to show off his hustling skills, how about trying to extend a single into a double?  Fans would really go for that.  You know why?  Because that means he actually got a hit!  What I’m trying to say is, Jason Bay is a likeable guy.  He’d be even more likeable if he was actually productive at the plate.  And if he was more productive at the plate, the Mets would have a better chance at winning more ballgames.

Will David Wright continue to carry the team on his back?

I guess David Wright really does carry the team on his back.

If you look at the everyday lineup, you’ll notice that four players have already reached double figures in home runs (Wright, Hairston, Duda and Davis).  There are also four players with 40 or more RBIs (Wright, Murphy, Duda and Davis).  Although that suggests that a good chunk of the lineup is contributing, that hasn’t exactly been the case.

Scott Hairston still can’t hit right-handed pitching and has only been forced into everyday action because of Bay’s continued membership in the injury of the month club.  When he was in his formative years, Lucas Duda clearly eschewed Tom Emanski’s Defensive Drills videos for something else.  I have more confidence in a blind driver getting through a demolition derby unscathed than I have in Lucas Duda making a routine catch in the outfield.  If not for his three-day power surge a few weeks ago, Daniel Murphy would still be asking former Met Rey Ordoñez for tips on how to hit with power.  Oh, and speaking of Rey Ordoñez, we heard a rumor that he has also been in contact with Ike Davis in an attempt to help him raise his batting average.

This brings us back to David Wright.  He has been the one consistent bat in the everyday lineup since Opening Day, reaching base in all but four of his 82 starts.  If not for Andrew McCutchen’s performance with the first place Pirates, Wright would be at the top of the National League MVP race.  Unless the players batting around him can turn things around, Wright will have to continue to keep his back in shape, not because of last year’s injury, but because he’ll need it healthy to carry his teammates on it.

And finally … one last question …  one that doesn’t need any embellishment … and that question is,

Who the @&%$ is going to fix this godawful bullpen?!?!

"Put me in, coach.  I'm ready to play!"

Well, that about does it for tonight.  I’m going to get off my soapbox now so I can get ready for tonight’s game.  Hopefully, I won’t have to climb back on it anytime soon to complain about something else bugging me regarding the Mets.  But I wouldn’t count on it.  Such is life as an animated inanimate Mets fan.

I hope you enjoy tonight’s game, the second half of the season, and the third half which will hopefully begin for the Mets shortly after the regular season ends on October 3.  (Yogi Berra helped me with my math.  Don’t judge.)  Let’s Go Mets!

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