New York Mets: Contenders for 1st Place in the NL East? How They Did This May

Joe CampioneContributor IIIMay 31, 2012

New York Mets: Contenders for 1st Place in the NL East? How They Did This May

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    Another month down, and the Mets are still in it.

    At 15-13, May was not a dominating month for the Mets. But the Amazin's were without starting left fielder Jason Bay for the entirety of the month, without starting shortstop Ruben Tejada since May 7th, without starting catcher Josh Thole since May 8th, and had to use three different starters in their 4th rotation slot. The fact that the Mets still managed to go over .500 for the month is nothing short of a minor miracle.

    New York is still very much in the thick of things, as they currently sit in third place in the overly competitive NL East. And at 28-23, they are only 1.5 games out of first place.

    Looking ahead, 25 of the Mets' 28 games in June will be against teams who are currently over .500, so if the Amazin's can find a way to stay in the hunt when this stretch is over, people will really start to see them as a legitimate contender to make it to the postseason.

    But before we look forward, let's look back on the highs and lows of what was a wild month for the New York Mets.

May's Most Valuable Player: R.A. Dickey

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    What a month it was for the 37 year-old knuckleballer.

    R.A. went 4-0 in the month of May, posting quality starts in each of his five outings over the month. More important than that, the Mets won every time Dickey set foot on the mound all month, including rallying to overtake the Reds in Dickey's only no decision of the month.

    Dickey seemed to get stronger as the month went along. His last two starts were nothing short of fantastic, going seven innings in each of them, allowing only one earned run over both starts, and striking out a combined 21 batters.

    The back to back double digit strikeout games were the first by a Met pitcher since Pedro Martinez did it back in 2006, and Dickey's efforts were rewarded when he was named NL Player of the Week.

    Almost more impressive than his record (which, at 7-1, ties him for third in the NL in wins), is Dickey's control. Knuckleballers are not generally known for their command of the strike zone, but R.A. has been absolutely locked in of late.

    Over the entire month, R.A. walked only seven batters, and over his last two starts he walked just one man. Dickey is only the fourth Mets pitcher in history to post consecutive double digit strikeout games with only one walk, joining the likes of Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and David Cone, Not bad company.

    One of the most understated parts of Dickey's game has been his defense,which shone all month as well - just look at the incredible diving play he made against San Diego.

    If Dickey never wins a Golden Glove before he retires it will be a crime, though his pitching mate Johan Santana may have something to say about that.

    Overall, a fantastic month for Dickey. He has earned the right to be called an ace this year for the Mets.

    Honorable Mentions:

    David Wright: Ended the month in a bit of a slump, but still was over .400 for most of May and is batting .365.

    Tim Byrdak: The bullpen has been questionable, but Byrdak has not, leading the league in stranding inherited baserunners.

    Lucas Duda: The master of the two-out RBI, 13 RBIs for the month, and his home run stroke is making a comeback, with three of them this past week alone.

May's Least Valuable Player: Ike Davis

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    For the second month in a row, Ike Davis gets the dubious distinction of being the month's LVP.

    Davis watched as his meager average dropped another 15 points to an abysmal .170, continuing his horrific first half of the season.

    Davis struggled to even make contact with the ball for much of the month, striking out 25 times in only 78 at bats. The power numbers have been nonexistent for Davis as well, who has not homered since May 11.

    Due to his struggles, Davis has seen a lot of bench time, particularly against left-handed pitchers, who seem to have completely mystified him. It got so bad for Davis, that team management actually considered demoting the big guy to AAA in Buffalo to work out his struggles.

    In the end, Terry Collins decided Davis was best served staying in the majors and working out his problems with the Mets, and thus far, Davis has rewarded Terry's faith. Since the decision to leave Davis is the majors, Ike has scored a hit in four of his last six games, including driving in six RBI's.

    Just like last month, it appears that Davis may slowly but surely be breaking out of his slump, but I know that I, like many other Met fans, have my reservations. I'll believe that Davis is back when I see it.

    Dishonorable Mentions:

    Manny Acosta: Wow, was he bad. An 11.86 ERA and imploding in nearly every appearance was finally enough to designate this reliever for assignment.

    Andres Torres: He came back hot, but only has five hits and one RBI in his last 13 games, and has not provided the stolen base numbers the Mets were hoping for.

    Frank Francisco: He is actually second in the NL in saves and has been strong of late, but imploded for a solid week in May, leading to the second closer controversy in as many months. Met fans still hold their collective breath when he enters a game.

May's Biggest Surprise: Mike Baxter

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    What can't this guy do?

    Mike Baxter has exploded onto the scene this past month, first off the bench, and then as a starter.

    Baxter quickly established himself earlier this month as a big time threat off the bench, becoming statistically the best pinch hitter in baseball. Baxter saw his role as that of an offensive relief pitcher, taking up to 80 swings in a batting cage during the game to get ready for his at-bats.

    Baxter's methods worked, and Terry Collins took notice, giving Mike Baxter starts in left field. Since joining the starting lineup, Baxter has continued his torrid pace at the plate, and is now batting .339 on the season.

    More than that, Baxter has been useful in the field, including making an outstanding catch and double play off the wall just last week, when the Mets took on San Diego.

    Just to put into perspective how great Baxter has been this month, the man who was the last player added on the Mets Opening Day roster received an intentional walk in a key spot against Pittsburgh a few weeks back.

    Thanks to the efforts of Baxter, the Mets have not been missing Jason Bay, and that has enabled them to keep their record a solid five games above .500.

    Honorable Mentions:

    Tim Byrdak: Who would have thought that a guy who underwent knee surgery would be used so often or be so effective?

    Scott Hairston: The guy is 32 years old, and before Duda's home run explosion last night, was leading the Mets in long balls.

    Dillon Gee: Since shaving his huge beard, Gee is 2-0, including one of his best starts of his career against the Padres.

Lowest Point of May: Frank Francisco's Meltdown

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    I don't think I've been this frustrated or angry about a baseball game in a long time.

    The Mets were riding a five game winning streak into Miami on May 11, and rallied to take a lead into the bottom of the 9th. The bullpen handed the ball off to close Frank Francisco, who promptly allowed both the tying and winning runs to score in the ninth.

    Met fans, who were clearly already frustrated with Francisco, lamented the loss but seemed willing to move on from it. On May 13, however, they were not so quick to forgive.

    Staked with a two run lead this time, Francisco allowed a leadoff triple before walking the next man on some close pitches. Believing that many of the pitches in his last at-bats were strikes, Francisco was visibly frustrated on the mound, and allowed an RBI single for the next man to face him.

    Having seen enough, Terry Collins came out to pull Francisco, leading to a tirade from Francisco directed towards the home plate umpire, who subsequently threw Francisco out of the game.

    The Marlins would go on to win the game in the ninth on a walk-off grand slam from Giancarlo Stanton.

    Mets fans were angry, as they watched what could have been an eight game winning streak be derailed by one man. Not only that, Frank Francisco literally lost an entire series to a division rival by himself.

    Francisco's childish tirade towards the umpire just led to further embarrassment for Mets fans, and made the call to replace Francisco as the Mets closer even stronger.

    A hard loss, a series loss to a rival, and extreme doubts about the closer definitely made Mets fans feel that their season of overachieving was coming to a premature end.

    Dishonorable Mentions:

    May 2: Chris Schwinden was bombed by Houston, completing a sweep of the Mets by the no-name Astros in their final visit to Minute Maid Park as an NL rival.

    May 19: A day after getting embarrassed, the Mets drop a 2-0 decision to the Toronto Blue Jays, highlighted by a missed call by the second base umpire in the top of the ninth, killing the Mets chances at a rally.

    May 30: The Mets end May with a thud as the bullpen implodes to allow the Phillies to run away with a 10-6 win; their first series win against the Mets all season.

Highest Point of May: Mets Sweep the Phillies

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    Beating the Phillies is always sweet. Managing three comeback victories in a row to sweep the Phillies in their own house? Now that's even sweeter.

    From May 7 through May 9, the Mets made their second visit to Philadelphia, and boy were the Phillies happy to see the Amazin's leave town.

    The Mets swept the Phillies in Philadelphia for the first time since 2006, and improved their season record to 5-1 against their heated division rival.

    But it wasn't just that the Mets were winning; it was how the Mets were winning. In each game, the Phillies handed a lead to their bullpen, and each time the Mets rallied with big hit after big hit to win the game. 

    Probably the most dramatic victory of this series was the first one. All-Star closer Jonathon Papelbon came into a 2-2 game in the top of the ninth and faced the recently called up Jordanny Valdespin. With two on and two out, the rookie launched a no-doubter three run home run to right field for his first major league hit, bringing Mets fans memories of Omir Santos in 2009.

    Maybe it was because of the recent rivalry between these two teams, or maybe it was the sold out crowds in Philadelphia, but something about these games had an almost playoff-like atmosphere to them, and the Mets going out there and winning three straight really lifted the spirits of Mets fans everywhere.

    Honorable Mentions:

    May 6: The Mets bounce back after a four game skid to win their series against the Diamondbacks with a 3-1 victory, highlighted by a great performance from R.A. Dickey. 

    May 17: The Mets cement themselves as bullpen killers and comeback kids, scoring six runs off of two members of the Reds bullpen with 0.00 ERA's to erase a 4-0 deficit and win 9-4.

    May 26: Johan Santana tosses his first complete game shutout since August of 2010, and Mike Nickeas drills the first Mets grand slam of the season in a 9-0 drubbing of the Padres.