Let’s write about something lighter, shall we?

July 25, 2008

I nominate the 2008 New York Mets, newly minted holders of first place in the National League East. Let’s put it up for a vote. All in favor, say “Aye!”

… And the Mets win by a tally of 1-0.

So.

For really the first time since the beginning of last year, there’s something to be excited about with these New York Metropolitans. A lot of people have expressed doubts that the firing of Willie Randolph and promotion of Jerry Manuel are responsible for this change, and a lot of them are my kind of people — you know, the kind that like statistics that go beyond the typical batting average/home runs/runs batted in type of thing. They say that this sudden outburst of winning by the Mets is coincidental, fueled by key players heating up, and has nothing to do with the changing of the guard.

Well, I’m inclined to disagree.

The first-place New York Mets play harder and play smarter than that team I seem to remember watching earlier this season. Since Manuel took over, they have committed far fewer mental errors (on defense and running the bases) than they did in the earlier part of the season, and they have been much more aggressive both on the basepaths and — it seems to me — on the pitcher’s mound.

Part of the latter credit goes to new pitching coach Dan Warthen, who seems to have really gotten Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez to go right after hitters rather than nibbling and trying to make perfect pitches. When Perez really challenges hitters, he’s almost untouchable, and when Pelfrey mixes some high heat and curveballs in with his heavily sinking fastball, hitters are just plain caught off guard. It was easy early on in his pitching career to just wait on the sinker and spray it around the field, but by adding a little more to his repertoire Pelfrey has turned it around and is now able to make the hitters go after his pitch, which is very important for a pitcher to be able to do. Moreover, because he generates a lot of weak contact with that good sinker, as long as he has good control Pelfrey can keep his pitch count down and go deep into games, which is a big plus for a team that has seen its bullpen get overworked by having to support 5-inning starters like Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel in recent years.

Speaking of Pedro Martinez, the state of his health and Ryan Church’s are obviously this team’s biggest issues down the stretch. If the Mets can get Church back and healthy for the remainder of the year, I think that pretty much negates the need for them to go out and further deplete their already thin prospect pool in pursuit of a guy like Jason Bay or Xavier Nady, both of whom are, arguably, right about at the same level as Church. As for a fifth starter if Martinez continues to suffer from his groin problem, I don’t know if that’s really that much of an issue. Even without Pedro, the Mets have four excellent starting pitchers, all of whom have the potential (some realized, some not) to be frontline starters, #1 or #2 guys on a typical staff.

If the Mets have to fill in with a guy like Brandon Knight (as they will tomorrow, when I next take in a game) and he’s able to give them just league-average numbers, that’s really not the worst thing ever. Consider that the Phillies have been trotting Adam Eaton, Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick and Brett Myers out there all year. In my view, even without Pedro, the only team with a better starting rotation than the Mets is the Los Angeles Angels. Maybe the Brewers come close with the addition of C.C. Sabathia, but that’s only if Dave Bush doesn’t totally blow up like he’s been known to and if young Manny Parra can keep his walks down and if Jeff Suppan can continue his trend of second-half success.

So I think the Mets are in a really good place right now, especially if you consider that Carlos Beltran hasn’t even heated up with the bat yet and David Wright is still underperforming a little. All in all, it should be an interesting next 60 games. After the heartbreak we’ve suffered for the past two years, let’s hope this time they know how to finish.

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