Road sweep is latest good thing

Posted on June 14, 2010 by

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The Orioles are not very good.

But it counts when the Yankees and Red Sox beat them and it counts when the Mets do the same. And given the team’s poor road record this year, the three-game sweep in Baltimore was met with open arms. Perhaps most encouraging was how the sweep was a total team effort. The hitters tallied 19 runs in the three games, all three starting pitchers recorded a win and the bullpen usage was both sensible and effective.

Jose Reyes went 6-13 with a double and home run.
David Wright matched Reyes by going 6-13 but had two doubles, two homers and 7 RBIs/
Chris Carter hit two 3-run homers
Jason Bay broke an 0-16 stretch with a 4-4 day Sunday, including a homer to straight away center field.
Alex Cora delivered three hits and two RBIs.
R.A. Dickey ran his record to 4-0 and set a career-high with 8 Ks.
Hisanori Takahashi bounced back from two rough starts to go a season-high 7 IP and allowed just 1 ER.
Mike Pelfrey battled to win his team-high ninth game of the year.
The bullpen allowed just 1 R in 7 IP and had a scoreless inning from both Ryota Igarashi and Raul Valdes, two pitchers who had struggled as of late.

The Mets are now 35-28, a season-high seven games over .500 after going 8-1 in their last nine games. The Mets have outscored their opponents 43-21 in that stretch. The team’s starting pitchers have notched six wins in that span, including two each by Dickey and Jon Niese. Overall the starters have 7 QS in the last nine games and have a 2.25 ERA in that time period.

So many things are going right for the Mets, reminiscent from earlier in the year when they went 10-1. The key going forward is to determine what is merely a hot streak unlikely to last and what moves can the team make to improve.

Reyes and Wright are unlikely to continue to hit .462 with a .923 slugging mark. The offense should look to see where it can improve to pick up the slack. By far the easiest move is to incorporate a platoon in right field where Jeff Francoeur starts against LHP and Carter starts against RHP. Here are their stats this season when they have the platoon advantage:

Francoeur – .370/.426/.481 in 61 PA vs LHP
Carter – .281/.324/.563 in 34 PA vs RHP

Francoeur has a .695 OPS versus righties this year, which is right in line with what he has done in his career against them. Lifetime Francoeur has a .258/.299/.410 line against RHP in 2,269 PA. Perhaps Carter is not really likely to put up an .887 OPS versus righties over an entire season. However, it is quite likely that Francoeur will put up that .695 mark. Even if Carter drops 100 points of OPS from here on out, he is still a better option at the plate than Francoeur against RHP.

There is not a whole lot else to be done offensively. The Mets have to hope that Bay will produce the power that he has every other year in the majors when he has been healthy. They have to hope that the catching tandem of Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco can keep hitting homers. And finally they have to hope that Ike Davis can keep providing a power threat from the left hand site of the plate. Davis is batting just .227 vs RHP but does have 5 of his 7 HR against righties. Overall the Mets are slugging 48 points higher against LHP than RHP, another reason they need Carter’s bat in the lineup.

Starting pitching-wise, the Mets have to assume that Pelfrey is for real at this point. Now they have to determine what they can realistically expect from Niese, Dickey and Takahashi going forward. Can the Mets go .500 when those three guys are on the mound? Here’s how it has broken down so far:

Niese – 10 starts, 6-4
Dickey – 5 starts, 4-1
Takahashi – 5 starts, 3-2

So far, so good, as the Mets have gone 13-7 in games started by these three pitchers at the end of the rotation. At this point, the Mets are committed to Niese, so the question becomes should they have the same commitment to Dickey and Takahashi? Should John Maine go back into the rotation when he comes back and should the team actively pursue a SP on the trade market?

Personally, I believe both pitchers have done enough to keep getting the ball every five days. I am not thrilled with the idea of John Maine, reliever, but that is where I would pitch him when he came back. I would not pursue a trade for a SP until Maine got a chance in the rotation, and perhaps not even then, if Maine came back and was effective.

If nothing else this week, we learned that Kevin Millwood is not an upgrade and that the club should not pursue him in any way, shape or form. A true upgrade like Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt probably costs more than the Mets are willing to commit at this point. I would be thrilled to see either pitcher on the team, but here in mid-June, neither seems like a realistic option. A month from now we could be singing a different tune.

And finally we have the bullpen. Jerry Manuel seems to have lost his obsession with pitching Fernando Nieve in every game. Francisco Rodriguez has been solid as the closer and Pedro Feliciano has been good against LHB and tolerable against RHB. Hopefully Igarashi and Valdes are back on the right track and Elmer Dessens can continue to give quality innings.

Are the 2010 Mets still best served having Nieve and Jenrry Mejia in the bullpen at this point? I like having a pitcher who can come in and throw gas. Now that Nieve is not pitching every day, he can still dial it up to the mid-90s and Mejia can go even faster than that. I still say that both of these guys should have been in the minors as SP this season. But at this point, one of them is needed in the pen. Pick one, make him the designated gas thrower and send the other back to the minors to be a SP. Manny Acosta or Bobby Parnell or Pat Misch can come up and throw the lowest-leverage innings in the pen in their place.

The Mets are on pace to win 90 games right now. When you factor in the banishment of Oliver Perez (Mets were 1-6 in his starts), the potential return of Carlos Beltran and a few easy moves at the major league level, the Mets could even squeak out a few more wins if everything breaks right.

This is a team that should score runs, has starting pitchers who give the team a chance to win every night and a bullpen that can be effective if the manager does not decide to overwork guys for no reason. Obviously they have a huge home field advantage and if they can win a few games on the road, this could be a playoff team.

The Phillies are finding out that it is no fun when your catalyst is on the disabled list. While the Mets scuffled without Reyes last year, the Phillies are 23-26 when Jimmy Rollins does not play. Last year Philadelphia got a huge boost when three pitchers not in its rotation on Opening Day (Happ, Lee, Martinez) combined to go 24-9 (.727). This year it is the Mets who are healthier and it is the Mets getting the unexpected SP boost. Dickey and Takahashi are 9-2 (.818).

The last three seasons, the expectations were for the Mets to make the playoffs and each time they fell short in excruciating fashion. This year there was virtually no talk of the playoffs. So, this is payback time for the fans. Now we get to sit back and enjoy things. This is a team that has had its share of bad breaks yet still finds itself in the playoff hunt.

It is time to get on the bandwagon.

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Posted in: Perspectives