New York Mets: 10 Ways to Ensure the Team Avoids Another 2nd-Half Collapse

Shale BriskinContributor IIIJuly 24, 2012

New York Mets: 10 Ways to Ensure the Team Avoids Another 2nd-Half Collapse

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    At the All-Star break, the New York Mets were in third place with a 46-40 record and only 4.5 games  behind the NL East-leading Nationals. However, the Mets' second half has gotten off to a terrible start with a 1-9 record so far to lower the Mets' total record to 47-49. This currently puts them 9.5 games back of the Nationals in the division and 5.5 games back of the Pirates and Dodgers in the wild-card race.

    The Mets currently seem to be in the midst of a free-fall downward spiral. Their starting pitching, which was the backbone of their success in the first half, is starting to falter. The Mets bullpen was already the worst unit in baseball, but now they are even worse, and their relievers seem to be giving up runs every time they make an appearance. Aside from Tim Byrdak and Bobby Parnell, there really isn't another reliever whom the Mets can trust.

    Offensively, David Wright and Ike Davis have been hitting well, but Lucas Duda and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (among others) have been struggling recently. The Mets will need to get consistent offensive production from the entire lineup to be able to keep up with some of the more powerful lineups in the league.

    What's worse is that the injury bug is starting to affect the Mets once again. Dillon Gee is now out for the season after a blood clot was found in an artery near his shoulder. Johan Santana also is on the disabled list right now with an ankle injury. If the Mets keep getting marred with injuries, this season that has been great overall so far could go down the drain very quickly.

    Here are 10 ways the Mets can avoid yet another second-half collapse.

1. The Mets Cannot Afford to Lose Johan Santana for the Rest of the Season

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    If the Mets want to even have a shot at staying in contention, they will need Johan Santana to remain healthy once his 15-day stint on the disabled list is over.

    So far the Mets have gotten a great comeback season from their ace, who is 6-7 with a 3.98 ERA. This of course includes the no-hitter he threw on June 1, which was the first no-hitter in Mets history.

    New York will need Santana, who has historically been a great second-half pitcher, to pitch well and help carry the team to a potential postseason berth. Even with the way the second half has begun, the postseason is not yet out of the question.

    Hopefully Santana does not have any setbacks with his ankle, and if he can avoid all injuries when he returns from the disabled list, that would be as big of a lift for the Mets as anything.

2. R.A. Dickey Needs to Keep Pitching Like a Cy Young Award Winner

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    With the way the last 10 games have played out, the Mets will need R.A. Dickey to keep putting together one superb start after another as he continues to be on pace for winning the 2012 NL Cy Young Award.

    If Dickey pitches well in most (if not all) of the remainder of his starts this year, he will definitely help the Mets remain in contention. He has been the Mets' stopper this year and has had great starts that have propelled the Mets onto various winning streaks during the season.

    Many people have predicted that Dickey will falter in the second half despite pitching very well against the Nationals on July 19. If Dickey keeps throwing seven or eight scoreless innings per start the rest of the way, he will at least give the Mets a very good chance to win on the days he starts.

    Again, with the rotation in shambles now compared to earlier in the season, it's imperative that Dickey's pitching remains very good.

3. Jon Niese and Chris Young Need to Keep Making Quality Starts

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    Jon Niese and Chris Young both have had solid seasons so far.

    However, they both have also been frequent victims of the Mets' bullpen struggles all season. As a result, many of their quality starts have turned into no-decisions and losses for the Mets thanks to the bullpen.

    Niese is 7-4 with a 3.98 ERA, while Young is 2-4 with a 3.91 ERA. However, Niese has made 13 quality starts, and Young has six of his own. This shows how much of a disaster the Mets bullpen has been for Niese's season in particular. Had he gotten more run support and better pitching from the bullpen this year, he easily could have more than 10 wins by now.

    What's important, though, is that Niese and Young both stay healthy and pitch well for the rest of the season. If the bullpen keeps ruining their starts, then there is nothing Niese, Young or any of the other starters can do.

    Nonetheless, Niese and Young need to at least keep giving the Mets chances to win ballgames.

4. Matt Harvey Will Need to Show Why He Has Been One of the Mets' Top Prospects

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    Now that Johan Santana is on the disabled list, the Mets basically had no choice but to promote Matt Harvey to the major league club. He will make his major league debut against the Diamondbacks in Arizona in the first of an 11-game West Coast road trip for the Mets.

    The seventh overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Harvey was 7-5 with a 3.68 ERA in Triple-A Buffalo, but had pitched well for most of the season and made the Triple-A All-Star team. He has a fastball that can reach at least 95-96 MPH, plus a very strong curveball.

    However, if he wants to succeed right away in the big leagues, Harvey will need to establish consistent control with his changeup, which he has been developing. He also has an above-average sinker and a cutter that he has been working on this year.

    Harvey is currently the Mets' second-best overall prospect behind fellow pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. It was likely that Harvey would be ready for his major league debut by now, and he is very much going to become a cornerstone for the Mets pitching staff for years to come.

    With a pretty much guaranteed starting spot in the Mets rotation for the rest of the season, Harvey can use this time to show the Mets and their fans why he can become a huge part of their success right now and for the future.

    Hopefully everything will go well for him and the team.

5. The Mets Bullpen Needs to Improve Dramatically

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    Just about everyone who has made at least one relief appearance for the Mets this year has not done particularly well, and it has cost wins for the team more than anything by far.

    Closer Frank Francisco is currently on the disabled list, but was inconsistent when healthy despite having 18 saves. Setup man Jon Rauch has been inconsistent and has given up a lot of runs in critical situations. Ramon Ramirez has underachieved and not pitched anywhere close to what he did with the Giants. Miguel Batista did some decent long relief work, but was terrible in his few starts and short relief appearances, hence leading to him being designated for assignment.

    Other pitchers such as Manny Acosta, Pedro Beato, Jeremy Hefner, Chris Schwinden, D.J. Carrasco, Elvin Ramirez and Robert Carson have all struggled mightily for the Mets this year in their brief appearances.

    Having inexperienced relievers in a bullpen that is trying to contend is certainly not a recipe for success.

    The only two relievers who have actually been good for the Mets throughout the season are Tim Byrdak and Bobby Parnell.

    Despite a 4.28 ERA, Byrdak has been one of the most consistent relievers and has pitched very well against left-handed hitters. He also is one of the few veteran relievers in the Mets bullpen.

    Parnell pitched well enough to become the Mets' new closer once Francisco went on the disabled list. Parnell has done relatively well in this new role, but the Mets still would be better off trading for a more experienced closer to pitch the ninth inning down the stretch.

    Generally speaking, the Mets bullpen has been a disaster, and if they want to improve, the bullpen needs to pitch much better in critical situations.

6. David Wright and Ike Davis Need to Keep Carrying the Mets Offense

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    The Mets offense does not include that much power and has not been consistent by any means.

    Yet, they are now getting consistent offensive production from David Wright and Ike Davis.

    Wright has been the heart and soul of the Mets offense this year, with a .348 average, 15 home runs and 67 RBI. He is certainly in the discussion for the 2012 NL MVP Award and has been carrying the Mets since Opening Day.

    As for Davis, he has overcome a horrendous start that lasted through most of June. Despite currently batting just .208, he has 15 home runs and 55 RBI. Ever since he broke out of his long slump, Davis has been one of the Mets' better hitters and will hopefully continue his recent success for the rest of the season.

    Wright and Davis are not the only Mets hitters doing well, though. Daniel Murphy also has overcome a June slump that lasted almost a month. He is now batting .308 and already has 30 doubles for the year. New York will need Murphy to keep getting on base and driving in runs for more guaranteed success.

    As for Ruben Tejada, he needs to keep getting on base from the leadoff spot and possibly steal a few more bases.

    Scott Hairston has been a revelation this year, with 12 home runs, including nine against left-handed pitchers. The Mets as a team have struggled mightily against southpaws, so it's critical that players like Hairston and Wright keep hitting well against them.

    The real surprise, though, has been rookie Jordany Valdespin, who already has hit five pinch-hit home runs in late-inning situations and has been a spark plug for the team ever since his arrival.

    However, Valdespin currently does not have an everyday job because Murphy is at second base and Tejada is at shortstop. Valdespin also can play the outfield, but is not a natural outfielder, and it's his defense that is basically costing him a regular starting spot. Hopefully Valdespin can find a way to get in the lineup every day.

    At times, the Mets have had good offensive contributions to help support Wright's career season, but the entire lineup will need to click for the Mets to win more often.

7. The Struggling Hitters Need to Pick Up the Slack

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    On the flip-side, other Mets hitters have been struggling recently.

    Lucas Duda has struggled since the second half began and could be heading toward a demotion to the minor leagues. He has 12 home runs and 44 RBI, but needs to be more consistent at the plate to make up for his less-than-spectacular defense in right field.

    Rookie outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis got off to a fast start after getting promoted on the second day of the season. However, he has struggled in the last month, and his average is down to .259. He also has 92 strikeouts in just 274 at-bats, which translates to about one strikeout in every three at-bats.

    Nieuwenhuis has been getting less playing time now and will need to work out to get back to where he was earlier in the year.

    Jason Bay is another hitter who will certainly need to improve for the Mets to become a postseason team.

    Bay has underachieved throughout his Mets years so far and has already missed most of the season due to a broken rib (and later a concussion). If Bay wants to repair his image toward Mets fans, a big second half would mean so much to everyone.

    He is being paid to be a big hitter, but has become quite the bust so far. If he continues to struggle, Jordany Valdespin could soon become the everyday left fielder.

    Andres Torres and Josh Thole both will need to improve their hitting dramatically as well for the lineup to produce more runs on a daily basis. Torres is batting just .221 and has struggled from the left side of the plate for most of the season.

    Thole dealt with a minor concussion in early May and missed a month because of it. Before the concussion, he hit very well in April, but his offense has not been the same since his return. Thole is currently batting .274, with just one home run and 13 RBI.

    While Thole is not a power-hitting run producer, he should be expected to contribute more than what he is putting up right now. If he can get on base and drive in some runs in clutch situations more often, it will help the Mets that much more.

    The Mets offense has been inconsistent, and the consistency needs to be found to support the team's pitching staff and to keep up with other offenses.

8. A Big Trade or a Pair of Trades Need to Happen for Any Chance of Competing

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    In order for the Mets to keep up in both the NL East and wild-card races, general manager Sandy Alderson will need to make at least one big trade to improve the team.

    The team's biggest need is bullpen help. A new closer in Huston Street, Jonathan Broxton or Grant Balfour would be a huge addition, and an experienced left-handed reliever to complement Tim Byrdak would be great as well.

    Offensively, the Mets could use another right-handed bat to even out the lineup, which includes a majority of left-handed hitters. The Mets are likely looking at possibly acquiring a new right-handed hitting outfielder or a right-handed hitting catcher who could platoon with Josh Thole.

    Carlos Quentin of the Padres was likely on the Mets' radar, but he just signed a three-year extension to stay in San Diego. With that being said, Josh Willingham and even Jeff Francoeur are the most likely right-handed hitting outfielders to be on the Mets' radar. The likelihood of New York acquiring either, though, is not particularly high.

    Instead, the Mets are more likely to acquire a veteran right-handed hitting catcher like Ramon Hernandez of the Rockies or Kelly Shoppach of the Red Sox to platoon with Thole.

    The Mets' current backup catcher, Mike Nickeas, has always been a great defensive presence, but has never hit well in the major leagues. He is batting .172, with one home run and 13 RBI for the season. 

    New York could certainly use an upgrade over Nickeas, who is better off in the minor leagues working on his hitting.

    Time will tell how the Mets do in the next week and whether Alderson will make a big trade. Hopefully, by August, the Mets will have a new closer and a new veteran catcher on the team if all goes well.

9. The Mets Will Need to Play Well Head-to-Head Against Their Competition

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    One good thing about the Mets' schedule is that there are still plenty of opportunities for them to help themselves by defeating the teams they are competing against for postseason berths.

    The Mets currently are in the middle of a three-game series at home against the Nationals. If they can win both of those, they could improve by two games in the division standings just like that.

    New York also plays the second-place Atlanta Braves nine more times, with six of them being at home. Those games could all become very critical down the stretch.

    Among teams in the other National League divisions, the Mets will travel to Cincinnati to play the Reds in the middle of August and will host four games against the Pirates in late September. They also will go to St. Louis to play the Cardinals in early September, beginning on Labor Day.

    With the Dodgers having just swept the Mets at home, the two teams will play each other again in the regular season. However, the Mets will be in San Francisco for four games as part of their big West Coast trip. The Giants took three of four games in New York in April, so it would be nice for the Mets to get some revenge in the Giants' home ballpark.

    However, this all does not mean that the Mets should not care as much about games against other teams that are not contending. Every single game counts a lot now, so the Mets have to give their best efforts at every moment no matter what. The wins against the losing teams are just as important because the Mets literally need to beat up on them just to keep up with the other contenders.

    The only difference between playing against a contender and a non-contender is that games against contenders could increase New York's position in the standings and decrease the other team's standings. On the other hand, if the Mets defeat a non-contending team, they will have to hope for the other contending teams to lose their respective games that day in order to make progress and move forward.

Other Teams Can Always Be One Big Injury from Falling Apart

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    For years, the Mets have been ravaged by various injuries. Some have been more critical than others, but it certainly has not helped them have a winning season since 2008 and a postseason berth since 2006.

    This year, yet again, significant injuries have happened to players like Dillon Gee, Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Frank Francisco, Jason Bay, Andres Torres, Ruben Tejada and Josh Thole, among others.

    However, other teams could very well have one of their players sustain a serious injury as well.

    The loss of Matt Kemp for much of the Dodgers' season this year is a great example.

    Kemp carried the team on his back in April before getting hurt in early May. He made one appearance before re-aggravating the injury and missed the rest of the first half. The Dodgers stayed afloat and on top of the NL West for much of the first half, but when Andre Ethier got hurt as well, the offense completely fell apart and could not score runs for the remainder of the first half.

    Now that Kemp and Ethier are both healthy, the Dodgers are a dangerous team once again. It just goes to show how important certain players are to their teams.

    If a perennial National League star like Bryce Harper, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Cain or Andrew McCutchen, for example, gets hurt and misses the rest of the season, it will have a monumental impact on their teams, without question.

    One cannot predict that any team will have their best player go down with an injury, but the point is that any player on any team can get injured at any given moment. While the Mets have definitely had bad luck with injuries for years, it's possible that the potential injury of another team's star player can help the Mets out going forward if such a situation does arise.

    The Mets are certainly due to catch some lucky breaks, and it could very well happen later this year.