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Is It To Early To Panic?

By Jason Levy

The first month of the New York Mets 2009 season looks strikingly similar to the last month of the 2008 season. And the 2007 season. The Mets are losing close games mostly because their hitters can’t come up with a hit when there are runners on base in late innings.
Three Mets, Carlos Beltran, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan Church are in the top 25 in batting average in the national league. But the Mets outfielders have only combined for 29 RBI, 14 of which from Beltran. Carlos Delgado has hit the skids, and David Wright, weather he is swinging or watching, is striking out at an unprecedented rate. He currently leads the national league, along with Prince Fielder and Fred Lewis, in strikeouts with 27. When the bases are empty, Wright is batting .316 with 12 strikeouts. When runners are on base, he’s batting .250 with 15 strikeouts. And with runners in scoring position, its .226 with 11 strikeouts. The Mets won’t be going far if Wright doesn’t bust out of this extended slump.
The Mets bullpen has been much better this year, but the freshest memory of the bullpen is Sean Green and J.J. Putz letting games against the Marlins slip away. No reliever will ever have an ERA of zero, so these games will happen. This hasn’t been the reason for the Mets struggles in 2009 though. The pitchers the Mets need to worry about are every starter not named Johan Santana. Mike Pelfrey and John Maine are each coming off their best starts of the season, but they have been inconsistent and prone to having one big inning that spoils everything. They might be learning that from Oliver Perez, who can turn from Good Ollie to Evil Ollie in the middle of an at-bat. He is making his three year-$36 million contract look more ridiculous every time he takes the mound. It seems like every year he needs to be re-educated on the mechanics and mentality of pitching in the major leagues. If he can’t get his act together during his next start he will shuffle off to Buffalo and try an re-learn how to pitch.
Speaking of Ollie’s next start, it will be against a team that he has been at his best at since joining the Mets, the Philadelphia Phillies. The defending champs have had their ups and downs to start the season, entering the series 11-9, 2.5 games better than the Mets. Maine, Ollie and Pelfrey will get the starts in Philly against Chan Ho Park, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton, respectively. With none of the aforementioned pitchers off to great starts, and the fact that the series is in Philly’s bandbox Citizens Bank Park, expect a lot of runs to be scored. The Mets will need to get those big hits with runners on base that have eluded them in April if they want to have a chance in this series. The Phils can put together a big inning as good as anyone, and with all their powerful lefties (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul IbaƱez, and switch hitters Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins) the Mets lefty relievers Pedro Feliciano and newcomer Ken Takahashi will be called upon often in the late innings to get those guys out. If they are not up to the task, the Mets will need to come up with plenty of hits. Fortunately, many of the Mets batters have had success at Citizens Bank, and should be able to break their power slump as they are 28th in the majors in homers with 13.
But even if the Mets lose two (or even, gulp, three) over the weekend, would it be an appropriate time to panic? With 138 games to play after the weekend, the Mets will have plenty of opportunities to string together victories and climb the standings. But the problems they have displayed in 2009 are the same exact ones from the past couple of seasons with this roster, and the Mets fans, and maybe even the front office, might not be as patient with this core if things don’t improve. Fans have turned on Wright for the first time, and a new stadium won’t be enough to keep the Mets fans forget about the team on the field. There are still at least five months of baseball to be played, and right now no one is sure if that is a blessing or a curse to Mets fans.

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