Mets Continue to Grow, Is Real Playoff Contention A Possibility This Season?

Published on: 31st July, 2014

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Murphy
Murphy banged a three-run homer   | read this item

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NEW YORK —  The Mets won another game today. They won another series, which makes it four in a row against National League teams. They have won six of their last nine games and 14 of their last 21. They are 5-1-1 in their last seven series, including 4-0 at Citi Field. and they won 15 games during the month of July (against 10 losses). 

How long has it been since you’ve seen the word, won, this often in any report about the New York Mets? Usually, Mets keywords over the past several years have included such gems as Madoff, broke, disappointing, and of course, The Wilpons. It feels a little different now around Citi Field, where the emphasis this season has actually been on baseball.

And, you know what? The baseball hasn’t been half bad. The question is, is this recent string of winning games and taking series a blip in another Mets season of congenial mediocrity or, is it the beginning of a serious trend for the aforementioned downtrodden Metsies towards pennant contention?

It says here, the signs are moving into place for your Mets to become a serious force in the National League over the next several years. Are they there, yet? No, of course not, not with a sub-500 record of 52-56 and a few holes in the lineup that need upgrades. But, if you look at today’s game, for example, you see more than a tinge of what the future may hold for this franchise.

In today’s 11-2 win over the hapless Phillies, the VERY young and VERY talented Zack Wheeler gave one of his most impressive performances, on a day he didn’t have his best stuff or command of his pitches.

“You saw a guy battle without his best command,” manager Terry Collins said proudly of the 24-year-old right-hander. “He had to battle through six innings, just behind the count, kept battling, hung in there and made pitches when he had to make them. His stuff is so good. It’s hard to hit. There’s one of the outings we’re going to talk about down the road that, you know what, he didn’t have real good stuff today [but] you looked up and he pitched really good.”

But, no matter. Wheeler (6-8) may not have dominated hitters with his laser-like 97 mph fastball today.  But, he gave up just two runs and scattered seven hits with just four strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings — the sixth consecutive outing in which he allowed two runs or fewer. Wheeler added another line to a career-best stretch, winning his third straight decision, which improved him to 3-0 with a 1.63 ERA over his past six starts.

“Obviously I didn’t have my best stuff today, so I was just trying to get in and out of there as quick as I could,” Wheeler said. “First couple innings, they had a few things going and I had to get myself out of it, but after that I started to coast a little bit better and hit my pitches more often. … I guess that’s part of maturing.”

If the lessons Wheeler learned today about grinding through a ballgame without your best stuff can stick with him, you will see a very interesting future from this young man.

After the Phillies went up 1-0 in the top of the fifth, New York quickly responded — with Wheeler helping himself at the plate. Juan Lagares opened the bottom of the inning with an infield hit when backup shortstop Andres Blanco double-clutched after ranging far to his left to field the grounder up the middle. Ruben Tejada singled to bring up Wheeler, who fouled off his first two bunt attempts. But with two strikes, he got the ball in play — and it was a good one, easily advancing the runners to second and third. 

Curtis Granderson walked to load the bases, then Kyle Kendrick‘s wild pitch with Murphy at the plate tied the game. Three pitches later, Murphy put the Mets ahead 4-1 with his first homer since July 1.

“It happened quick,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “(Kendrick) just wasn’t able to keep it at one or two runs there.”

Jimmy Rollins, out of the lineup for the noon start after a night game, pinch-hit for Kendrick (5-11) to open the seventh and homered for the second straight day to pull the Phillies within 4-2. They had runners on first and third with two outs, but Jeurys Familia came on to retire Marlon Byrd.   Familia went on to get his first career RBI with a single in the bottom of the inning, when the Mets broke the game open with the help of an error by reliever Justin De Fratus that led to two unearned runs.

With one out, the Phillies intentionally walked David Wright to bring up Lucas Duda, who was batting .153 against lefties. But he singled off Mario Hollands to put New York up 5-2.

Duda added his fifth homer in eight games in the eighth. He was robbed of another in the fourth by center fielder Ben Revere‘s leaping catch at the wall.

Duda sent his 19th homer  to the upper deck in right field

Duda sent his 19th homer to the upper deck in right field

 

Duda, officially installed as the Mets first baseman and turning into a dangerous hitter in front of our very eyes, now has 19 homers and 60 rbi’s, to go along with a .262 average. His confidence is soaring as is Collins’ confidence in him. The only thing Duda is working hard to prove to the Mets manager is that he can hit lefties in the major leagues, a part of his game he struggles with.

After his single off Hollands, Duda is 10-for-60 (.167) against lefties this year. Only two of his 41 extra-base hits have come against southpaws, and his career average against them is .215.

“The more he is out there, the more comfortable he becomes, the better player he is going to be,” Collins said. “He is bound and determined to show me he can hit lefties, so he can be out there all the time.

 “It’s amazing the transformation in such a short time period where he’s become one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League,” David Wright said. “It’s been fun to watch. Every time he picks up the bat, you think he’s going to hit the ball hard.”

So, in young Wheeler and a still-young Duda, you have a glimpse into what the very near future for the Mets looks like. Power pitching, with a cerebral, bulldog approach when all the tools aren’t working. And, power hitting, in which even a pitcher’s park like Citi Field can’t hold the Mets’ first baseman’s home run swing.

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