Having gone on a 4-8 skid after starting the season with four straight wins, the New York Mets looked like they might spend 2012 yet again playing the role of the ragtag band of lovable also-rans in the NL East. But after sweeping Miami at the usually none-too-friendly confines of Citi Field, the Mets look to be on a roll and possibly on pace to take the reins of the division from the red-hot Washington Nationals.
But can they really keep up the pressure? Friends, the answer is yes.
Let’s start with the offense, a sore point of Mets squads over the last few seasons. Thankfully, David Wright has finally returned to form, ripping the cover off the ball in a manner reminiscent of his early-career days at Shea. Currently hitting .362 with an OPS over 1.000, he’s back to being the big bat in the middle of the lineup that the Mets faithful had always hoped he’d be.
What’s more, the future face of the franchise is finally enjoying the assistance of a supporting cast that’s contributing at the plate. Josh Thole is proving he’s the best-hitting catcher in the National League, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the surprise Santa Monica surfer in center, is producing like the team last saw half a decade ago when it had a healthy Carlos Beltran. Daniel Murphy may be the best Mets’ pure second baseman since Wally Backman, and although Ike Davis is slumping in his return to active duty since last year’s injury, he’ll come around.
Finally, even though Jason Bay is playing just as badly as he always has since the Mets signed him out of free agency, the team’s farm system is at last cultivating some real options to replace him.
All in all, it’s not a bad lie for the team. (Or is it lay?) And all this proves in the Mets’ three-game sweep of the Marlins. In each of the three matchups, the team came back to win thanks to late-inning rallies – two of which were sparked by back-to-back-to-back-to-back walks. So, sure, Ruben Tejada may be no monster on the base paths like Jose Reyes. But would Reyes—sad as it was to see him go—have had the patience at the plate to draw a walk at all?
In this era of pitch counts, the Majors are a place where managers are expected to go to their bullpens. (The Mets haven’t had a pitching staff of less than 11 since the days of Davey Johnson.) And luckily, this year, the Mets have a strong one. Closer Frank Francisco (yes, Frank Frank is his actual name) and 40-something Miguel Batista are the glaring exceptions, but the rest of the bullpen is looking strong, holding its combined ERA at a healthy 2.53.
Equally important is the fact that the starters as hurling well, too. Mike Pelfrey and Jonathon Niese are looking like the starters the Mets have always wanted them to be, and most importantly, Johan is back in action.
With four out of five solid starters (sorry, Dillon Gee) and a long relief core helmed by boring, if proven, guys like Jon Rauch and Manny Acosta, the Mets’ staff is looking ready to take on the long road ahead—the road to October.
Look, if you’re a Mets fan, you say this every year, but this time, it might be true: this is finally our year.
You’ve gotta believe. After all, with Chipper and the Braves near total retirement and the Phillies’ aging knees finally beginning to creak, who else has got the stamina needed to carry the flag in the East?
The Washington Nationals?