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Recent Call-Ups Show Glimmer of Hope for Mets

by Jay Schwab

Can the patch-work lineup consisting mostly of backups, utility players, and rookies keep the Mets afloat in the NL East? That’s the question everyone, including Omar Minaya, is trying to answer in this current rough patch for the Mets. After enduring an absurd number of injuries to star players so far this season, the latest being Carlos Beltran, Minaya and Jerry Manuel have had their hands tied in one of the toughest stretches of the season. Minaya has been reluctant to make a move thus far, in part due to the high number of playoff contenders around the league. Minaya has also admitted that he is unwilling to sacrifice the future of the Mets for the present. As Minaya continues to wait for the price of players to drop as more teams fall out of the race, Manuel and the Mets will be forced to use makeshift lineups. With Beltran, Delgado, and Reyes on the DL, streaky David Wright is the only household name in the lineup on a daily basis. Aside from Wright, the lineup consists of a combination of utility players, such as Alex Cora, Fernando Tatis, and Jeremy Reed, and players not able to play consistently everyday (either due to inexperience or lack of talent) such as Daniel Murphy, Fernando Martinez, Argenis Reyes, and Nick Evans. The other components of the lineup are veterans Gary Sheffield and Luis Castillo, who often need days off, and injury-prone Brian Schneider and Ryan Church. (Omir Santos is the only other position player; he has played so well this season that he does not fall into any of these categories yet).

While this lineup does look weak on paper, it has kept the Mets from fading in the division (along with help from the Phillies who can’t seem to win at home). Though the Mets are 8-13 in June, they are nearing the end of the toughest part of their schedule this year (over their past 15 games, the Mets have faced teams with a combined record of 15 games over .500) and are only 1.5 games out of first after beating the Cardinals 11-0 Wednesday night.

So once again we ask, can the Mets generate enough offense to survive over the next month before their major stars return from the DL? If Wednesday night is any indication, then yes, but if history is any indication, then no. In Wednesday’s game against the Cardinals, the Mets scored a season-high 11 runs on 16 hits. Nick Evans belted a 2-run homer, Wright tied a career high with 4 hits, Church continued his hot streak with 3 more hits, and Argenis Reyes is batting a cool 1.000 on the year after knocking a single in his first at-bat of the season. Even double-play-plagued Fernando Tatis had 2 hits and 3 RBI in the game, though he did hit into another double play to make that 9 on the year. So the offense was great for the Mets, utilizing both power (5 extra-base hits) and speed (6 infield hits and a stolen base), and hitting in the clutch, going 8-13 with runners in scoring position. The starting pitching was excellent as well; Fernando Nieve lowered his ERA to 1.31 after pitching 6 scoreless innings and improved to 3-0 on the year in his first three starts. Even the bullpen, which was beginning to bring back memories from last year’s 29 blown saves, was great for the Mets Wednesday night. Brian Stokes continued to show Manuel that he should be trusted, pitching a scoreless inning, and Pat Misch and Bobby Parnell pitched a perfect inning each. If only the Mets could do what they did Wednesday night every night.

On a more realistic note, however, Mets’ fans may not be so optimistic. It is extremely difficult for a team to have success with three of its four best players out of the lineup for an extended period. Teams with only one legitimate threat in the lineup (in this case Wright) are often not able to have success, as opposing teams can easily pitch around the one star. Wright also shows that he is susceptible to New York pressure, not always playing like the calm, cool, and collected third basemen we saw tonight. In addition, utility players are utility players for a reason, just as rookies often belong in the minors early in their careers. Success at the big-league level with these types of players cannot be sustained. While Alex Cora may be fundamentally sound and a solid fill-in for spot starts, he is no major league starting shortstop. Similarly, Daniel Murphy is no big-league first baseman, providing very little power (13 extra-base hits on the year) and showing average to poor defense to say the least. Fernando Martinez has shown that he is not ready for major league pitching, batting .174, and Fernando Tatis reminds us why he was out of baseball for a year in 2007 with every double play ball he hits.

As Jerry Manuel said last week, the best the Mets can hope for is to hover around .500 until their stars get back. If the rookies and veterans and utility players can play like they did tonight though, the Mets could be the first team in baseball history to play better with their stars out of the lineup than in it.

1 comment:

  1. They need to end the Fernando Martinez experiment and play Reed instead. Also Tatis is not the same player as last year. They need to get a power hitter to stay in the race. Good article.