ALL ABOARD. THE FLUSHING EXPRESS LEAVING ON THE FIRST TRACK
Yeah, I know that's a little much, but it feels that way, doesn't it? 7 runs doesn't seem like much these days, does it? Second in the NL in runs. First in slugging. First in doubles. Second in HRs. Fourth in OBP & triples. 40% of the Mets hits have gone for extra bases. In comparison, the six teams that stand 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th & 7th in slugging -- the Reds, Brewers, Dodgers, Rockies, Phils, & Cards -- have the following XBH pcts.: 39, 38, 31, 35, 38 & 31. The remaining teams fall between 30% and 35%. Even one of the few weak or average components of the Met offense -- batting average -- disappears once they leave Shea and play on the road, where the Mets add BA to their "League Leading" categories of OBP & SLG.
Oh, and did I mention that they lead the league in stolen bases?
Of course the Mets don't draw a ton of walks. We suspected this before the season and it's played out that way. But all-in-all, an incredibly balanced attack, with lots of power, lots of speed, and decent doses of selectivity. Away from Shea & its attack on batting average, the Mets are incredibly strong in that category too. I just don't see this offense going into long scoring slumps, and baring a couple tough series against strong staffs at Shea, they have the potential to keep putting up huge numbers.
On the pitching side of the ledger, the Mets and Padres are the only teams with staff ERAs below 4.00. They're second to those Padres in WHIP, their 1.28 and SD's 1.25 miles ahead of the 1.3 and 1.4 tallies the rest of the league's compiled. The Mets also lead in strikeouts, and along with the Brewers, D-Backs & Cubs, are well ahead of the league in that stat too. Mirroring their offensive skills and shortcomings, Mets pitchers are yielding walks at an acceptable, but not league-pacing, rate. Seven staffs have walked fewer batters than the Mets. But otherwise, even adjusting for the Shea factor (they lead the NL in ERA on the road and are third at home), this is a balanced pitching staff, with no glaring holes except for inconsistency at the back-end of the rotation.
But that's why it's the "back-end." Finally, before turning to a few Monday Morning Random Thought, I'll acknowledge that the team has one glaring concern, which could cost them dearly. But I'll get to that later on.
Leading off . . . Jose "El Rapido" Reyes: I couldn't start with any other topic here. This is simply one of the hottest stretches I've ever seen from a Met hitter. Edgardo Alfonzo down the stretch in '99; Straw after coming back from his thumb injury in '85 & again during the summer of '87; Keith, the Met's Eternal Captain, the second half of that same '85 when he brought his BA from a slump-ridden .250-something at the end of June to its familiar .310 at season's end; Piazza the first 4 months of '00; HoJo down the (tensionless stretch) in '89 and again in '91. We've seen hot stretches by Met bats. Hell, one of them's getting discussed in a few paragraphs! But this run by Reyes defies reason.
His numbers in June, the month that's not yet over? 430/480/720. 23 1Bs, 10 2Bs, 4 3Bs, 3 HRs, 8 BBs in 93 ABs. 14 SBs. And 28 Runs in 21 games! He's gone 4-for-5 three times this month. Hit for the cycle. Led off a game with a homer twice.
Jose Reyes has raised his season totals to 302/361/495, and has 67 runs in the Mets 75 games, leading the majors by six over his closest pursuer. He's also leading the majors in steals and triples. Now we know that a player's "pace" towards season totals is over-used, and people tend to rely on it when performers are peaking, managing to eliminate the inevitable slumps that follow.
Yadda, yadda, yadda. You think I'm gonna cheat you of a Stat Geek-gasm? Me? Look at these projected numbers, based on his performance through late June: 212 H, 41 2B, 22 3B, 17 HR, 63 BBs, 73 SBs, 145 R & 78 RBI. And, following last season's charge at Horace Clarke's all-time record for batting outs, Reyes's pace to make "only" 490 batting outs puts those insane numbers in a pretty good light. That's an awful lot of production at a relatively minimal cost. Many leadoff hitters make 500 outs. They rarely trade those outs for 80 XBHs, 63 walks and 73 steals at an 80%+ clip.
El Rapido (or "El Profesor," as others have taken to calling him, due to his third inning Diamondvision Spanish lessons) continues to raise the ceiling daily.
And he's 23.
Batting Second . . . a short, stumpy, slow guy with a .321 OBP. Not much more to say there. He's a funny dude, and I like him. Hell, I like Castro too. But it's high time that someone tells Willie that guys players don't haven't to be second basemen or catchers in order to bat second. For some reason that page seems to be missing from his Manager's Handbook. He batted Chavez second the other day, but since Endy went 0-5, I'm afraid Willie may think the Baseball Gods punished him for violating a tried-and-false tenet. Again, someone needs to set Willie straight here. I volunteer Lastings Milledge for that duty.
Batting third, the best young slugger in the history of the ga--
Wait a sec! Waiiiiiiiit a second! The Prince of New York, Young David "Derek Who?" Wright is not batting third. Should he be? Well, maybe the Beltranator should hit second, and they can move Wright into the three hole. But it's not hurting them too much right now.
But El Rapido is hurting The Prince's shot at sharing the Player of the Month for June with his partner on the left side of the infield. At 366/422/753, Wright would win it easily if not for the Professor's brilliance. With 20 R, 29 RBI and 10 HRs through June 25, Young Mr. Wright's bashed the ball all month long. But can he catch the World's Fastest Man?
And by the way, if this silliness is all we have to worry about as the All-Star break approaches, it's been a pretty good season, huh?
Cleaning Up . . . Carlos Delgado. Just a solid presence in the line-up. Very quietly on pace to score nearly 100 runs, and drive in 114, Delgado is, nonetheless, making a few too many outs in front of Wright with his .344 OBP. After walking once every 6 at-bats throughout his career, Delgado's drawing free passes only once for every 9 1/2 at-bats in 2006. And with speedsters on on front of him, and Wright behind him, he has no reason to be less selective. I don't care if he hits .250 or .300 really, so long as he bangs his customary 30-40 HRs and draws the usual 75-100 walks. Half that formula's in place this year. I'm waiting for the other half as July & August arrive.
Hitting somewhere in the meat of the order, and kicking ass in the process . . . 'Stache Valentino. This just isn't making any sense. 297/338/531? He's nearly 37? He's playing second base . . . well? All this and the freakin moustache? I'm afraid that if I say another word he'll wake up, or Mephistopheles'll cancel the deal, or his woman'll pull a Delilah & shave off his facial hair sending him into a season-long, career-ending tailspin. Something horrible. Best to stop talking about this and move on.
Batting somewhere . . . the three-headed beast known as the Met's corner outfielding corps. And add a gimpy leg to the three heads as soon as Cliff "I've Reverted to Form and Missed 20+ Games Already This Season" Returns.
I'm well-on-record stating that I like the Beltranator-Everlastings Milledge-Emos & Endy Chavez Outfield. Nady & Floyd? I guess keep Cliff's lefty bat and "veteran leadership" on the bench (without Cliff's veteran leadership, where-oh-where would Milledge & Reyes be? Buying crack? Selling Met scouting reports to shady characters? Hanging out with Melky Cabrera? Thank goodness for Cliff's veteran leadership).
I'm just not a Xavier Nady fan. At least not til he hits 4 homers and bats .350 over a ten game stretch. Then I'll be a huge fan and start calling for Chavez' head.
I'm a fan; I can think whatever I want, no matter how irrational. Heh, heh.
Eli Marrero. Nothing more to say. I just wanted to say the name of the guy who'll be in Queens after Milledge returns to Norfolk when The Veteran Leader returns.
Batting 9th, hitting 229/308/357. No, Spaz Matsui hasn't returned to hit at the bottom of the order in interleague games. Hell, the Kazzer never hit that well for the Mets anyway. And, with bat-wielding stiffs like Pedro & Duque, you know that ain't the Met pitcher's hitting. No.
But those are the combined numbers of Glavine, Oliver, Bannister & Longball Trachsel. Including 10 runs and 8 RBI.
And my point here? You mean I'm supposed to have one of those. Damn.
And closing the game, protecting that late-inning lead . . . uhhhhhh ohhhhh. Ya see, I told you I'd get back to the "glaring concern" eventually. The Mets have an 11 1/2 game lead. They're leading the Cards by 4 1/2 for the best record in the NL. With The Prince, El Rapido & Everlastings Milledge starting the All-Star game, they'll obviously win home field in the series. They've got two great young stars, a monster in center, two future HOFers anchoring the staff, and a solid crew of serviceable vets.
But, mark this now, Wagner will screw it up in October. Unless the Met bats and starters are soooooo dominant come post-season, they'll blow their best chance in 20 years to win it all because the closer isn't up to snuff. Wags has always had the rep of coming up small in big games. And so far this year, he's been shaky in all games: 4 blown saves, the horrific meltdown in a non-save situation against the Yanks.
His 17 walks in 37 IP and 1.15 WHIP are not at the level of the premier closers. Check out the numbers of Papelbon, Ryan, Riviera, Jenks, Hoffman & Street in comparison. You'll notice that Wagner walks more than any of them (by a good margin) and except for Street, no one gives up the longball like he does.
And this time, I have a point. This is one of those moments where a great GM, a great manager,needs to look the situation squarely in the eye and ask himself two questions: "Is our goal this year winning a championship above all else?" And "Can we likely accomplish that with the horses we got?"
With the crew of brimming talent, combined with the likelihood that neither Pedro, nor Glavine, nor Delgado, nor Wagner himself will ever again be as good as this year, the answer to Question One has to be, Yes. And if Omar & Willie are honest, the answer to Number Two has to be no. So what do you do? Well, the obvious answer is "play it like they did before the Ordained Closer Days." Yes, back in the pre-OCDs, before that shades-in-the-dugout hombre wrote the "LaRussa Bullpen Handbook." Before guys like Wagner, possessing vicious stuff but perhaps not wired for the pressure of closing game-after-game, were labeled "Closer," and required to save every close contest. Perhaps, based on fatigue, situation, L/R match-ups, historical performance in certain ballparks against certain hitters, Wagner, Heilman, Sanchez, Oliver, Chad-Brad (the domestic partners-as-reliever), Bell, Pelfrey, whoever, should share the "closers" duties. It worked for Mack, it worked for McGraw, it worked for Stengle, it worked for Sparky. It could work for Randolph.
Is this likely to happen? Nope. But the Mets winning three straight rounds in the post-season with Billy Shakester coming in for the saves is also unlikely.
As my friend, who we'll call F.I., asked me last week, do you hear the sound? The sound of a Billy Wagner trainwreck?
I don't want to hear it, as the sound of the Met train crossing the border from Canada is more appealing. But, unless we derail it before then, that other train's arriving in October. Right on schedule.