Mets Are On Precipice of Season’s Extinction

Published on: 19th July, 2012

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*Feb 18 - 00:05*
Mets Are On Precipice of Season's Extinction

Mets Minor League Field Coordinator Terry Collins. New York Mets Spring Training. Pitchers & Catchers working out. Original Filename: _DSC3882.jpg  | read this item

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New York — I’ll admit it. I have been a New York Mets apologist and their biggest cheerleader this season. No, it’s not because I’m a lifelong fan of this franchise and their ownership. But, there’s just been something about this roster, this manager, and it’s key players that, for me, shout out themes of coming back and redemption.

But, these Mets of Terry Collins and his roster of mostly quadruple-A players (better than triple-A minor leaguers but not quite established as major league quality) have provided their fans and this city with a much more interesting story to follow than those dominant, home run hitting, bandbox home-field playing Yankees. That team’s regular season is over and frankly, it became boring a long time ago in it’s sanguine, Hall of Fame environment where the only quotes worth gathering are from Nick Swisher, who is decidedly un-Yankee in his jocular approach to the game.

But the Mets have been a story of comebacks, and yes, redemption. Redemption for a manager most thought had gotten his last chance at running a club a decade ago. The feeling was, his intense temperament had blown it for any future managerial jobs in the big leagues. But, Collins, 61-years old, has taken to this job and to this young team like Gil Hodges took to the youthful Mets of 1968. He’s done it with a calm, controlled demeanor, rarely getting agitated like he used to. He’s figured out how to communicate with his young charges with respect while exhibiting a passion for the game that has been passed down to his players.

Perhaps, it has taken more than half a season for the National League to finally develop a “book” on how to beat this team. Coming out of the All-Star break, they’ve lost six games in a row. After yesterday’s loss to the division leader Washington Nationals, the Mets appear to be on the precipice of the extinction baseball pundits predicted for them before the 2012 season started. This slump has them a full eight games out of first place in the NL’s Eastern division while they’ve dropped five games behind in the race for the second wild card position.

But, it may not be so much that the league has a book, it may just be that the three most important players on this team, with all due respect to David Wright, are Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, and (don’t laugh) Frank Francisco. Each of them, by the nature of their positions, possess the ability to turn around this losing streak. It’s called shutting down the other team from scoring, a well-worn formula in baseball.

Both Santana and Dickey have been less consistent with their command over their past few starts. As Collins will always tell you, a baseball team in a slump is just one well-pitched game away from starting a winning streak. The two aces of the Mets pitching staff need to re-discover their magic to right this ship.

Santana, who has pitched wonderfully for most of this season despite the serious shoulder surgery and rehabilitation he went through over the past year, has not been as sharp since his franchise-altering no-hitter on June 1st against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citifield. Since then, he has thrown 39 2/3 innings in seven starts, allowing 46 hits and 25 earned runs, including nine home runs in that period. His earned run average is 5.67, more than two runs higher per nine innings compared to his performance before the no-hitter. If the Mets are going to continue to challenge for a post-season berth, they will need Santana to revert back to his early-season form. Santana certainly was a great story of redemption as this season was unfolding but if the Mets are to make any second-half noise in the playoff race, he will have to re-discover his redemptive powers, in mid-season.

Same for Dickey. His 12-1 record and sterling 2.66 earned run average has him in the discussion for the National League’s Cy Young Award, something that would be an incredible accomplishment for the 37-year old knuckleballer who was THIS close to being a baseball washout after discovering he couldn’t get major league hitters out with an 85 mile per hour fastball. But, like Santana, Dickey has fallen on hard times in three of his last four starts. Over that time, he’s pitched 26 innings, allowing 27 hits and 15 earned runs, yielding an e.r.a. of 5.19. With the Mets young hitters starting to struggle, allowing over five runs per game at this stage of the season will not lead to many wins. Dickey and Santana will both need to perform at their earlier levels.

Francisco, the Mets closer, created his share of nail-biting scenarios when he came into games in the ninth innings to close out Mets wins. But, his 18 saves (and only three blown saves) up until his oblique injury on June 22 gave the Mets a security blanket in the late innings. As is well-documented, the Mets bullpen has self-destructed without Francisco as it has forced pitchers to take on roles they aren’t equipped to handle. (See B. Parnell). Francisco might be available in a week or so, not a day too soon for Collins.

Of course, it’s not all in the hands of the three veteran pitchers. The young bats, of whom much was expected have begun to show holes. Lucas Duda is batting .138, with just one extra base hit during the month of July. Ike Davis, despite his good power numbers (13 hrs., 50 rbi) just recently pushed his batting average over the Mendoza Line yet he is still struggling to get his .202 average into a more respectable place. Jason Bay has never been able to replicate his production as a Pirate or a Red Sox leftfielder since signing his big contract with the Mets. As badly in need of right-handed hitting as this lineup is, Collins and Mets G.M. Sandy Alderson continue to hold out hope Bay is just one good swing away from regaining his confidence, and his ability to consistently turn on major league fastballs, again.

Even if the Mets do falter and fall out of the wild-card race in the National League over the next couple of weeks, there is hope for their future. These young hitters are getting the experience of playing important baseball games every day, in effect, learning on the job, which the Mets hope will pay dividends down the road. The Mets don’t know for sure if players like Duda, Davis, and Kirk Neuwenheis, who also has fallen drastically from his terrific start are legitimate major league hitters, yet. The Mets think they are, so these kids will have an opportunity to prove they can come back from the adversity they’re going through right now.

From adversity comes the opportunity to redeem oneself. I’m not sure who, if anyone ever said that but it certainly applies to this Mets team.

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