New York Mets: Reviewing the Mets' July
Well, it finally happened.
The Mets were having a dream 2012 season, far exceeding the low expectations every expert placed on them at the beginning of the year and making themselves legitimate contenders to not only make it to the playoffs, but to win the NL East.
Going into the All Star Break, the Amazin's were sitting at six games over .500, and with a key stretch to start the second half, including series against the Nationals and Braves, the Mets were in perfect position to really make some noise in the National League.
However, instead of taking advantage of their opportunity, the Mets fell flat, losing 11 of their first 12 games, effectively crushing their postseason hopes in only two weeks. After a 7-18 July put them at 50-54 overall, the Mets are still in third place in the NL East, but are now 12.5 games back of the first place Washington Nationals, and are 9.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot in the East.
Is the season over for the Mets? No. Will it take an incredible, almost miraculous turnaround to even get the Mets back into playoff contention? Yes.
So what went right this month? Where did it all go wrong? Who's to blame? Let's try to make sense of it all as we review the month of July for the Mets.
July's Most Valuable Player: David Wright
The one solace Mets fans can take in this month is that David Wright is still doing everything he can to help the Amazin's win.
Now let's clear the air first. Clearly, July wasn't Wright's best month overall. His average was a season low .258 on the month, he had a dismal 1-16 stretch last week, and he's fallen to 5th in the NL in batting average, a full .042 points behind leader Andrew McCutcheon.
But I think there is a reason for his dip in batting average, and it has to do with the team's needs.
Clearly, power has been an issue all season for the Mets, and with guys like Lucas Duda and Jason Bay not hitting home runs, it seems like David Wright has taken it upon himself to provide the Mets with some muscle. Just look at his swing in May as compared to July, particularly after the All Star Break. Wright's swing has been longer and more powerful, which will of course lead to less hits, but considerably more power.
The reason why I can call Wright the MVP of July is for two reasons: not a lot of competition this month and his change to being a power hitter has worked.
In July, Wright hit seven home runs, which is one more home run than he had for May and June combined. Wright also brought in 21 RBIs, which leads the team and has him placed third in the National League.
His defensive play at third continues to be Gold Glove quality, and despite everything falling apart around him, Wright continues to be the most consistent everyday player on the Mets and looks like he is doing everything to try and keep the team from falling into complete disarray.
Daniel Murphy: His batting woes are a thing of the past, as he hit .376 over the month of July, including 11 doubles.
Ruben Tejada: Has had a strong glove at shortstop and his .355 on base percentage has been just what the Mets need from a leadoff hitter.
July's Least Valuable Player: The Entire Bullpen
I normally try to only pick one person as the LVP of the month, but it's impossible to pick just one member of the bullpen to put blame on, so they're all getting thrown in this one.
Where can I even begin with this unit? Mets fans knew that the bullpen was a weak point on this team, but even they couldn't predict the utter self destruction that happened in July.
Need proof of how bad things were? Manny Acosta, who was demoted to the minors back in May after posting an 11.35 ERA, was recalled by the Mets to actually help the bullpen. If that's not a sign that things have been broken beyond repair, then I don't know what is.
Particularly after the All Star Break, it just felt like the bullpen could not only not hold a lead, but couldn't even keep the Mets close in games.
Want proof? On two consecutive days, the Mets went to extra innings, which would obviously imply that the game was tied going into any inning after the 9th. The Mets lost one game by five, and the next by six.
Again, there is no one person to blame for this collapse. Sure, some were worse than others, like Pedro Beato, who was demoted after imploding in extra innings against the Nationals, or Miguel Batista, who sadly was let go by the Mets after just running out of steam.
But everyone in the bullpen, at one time or another, had a terrible outing, and it all comes down to a lack of consistency.
Look at a guy like Josh Edgin, who I think has great talent and has had some fantastic outings, but then will come back with a subpar outing only a few days later. Or Bobby Parnell, who can look unhittable in the 9th inning some days, and incredibly average on others.
I could go on and on about the bullpen this month, because it really was that bad, but the point is simple: the bullpen let the Mets down this month, and it may have cost the Amazin's their season.
Lucas Duda: His fielding was atrocious and that led to him putting too much pressure to himself at the plate, resulting in a surprising demotion to Buffalo.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis: The pitchers finally adjusted to the rookie, and his abysmal month has also landed him in Buffalo.
Jason Bay: His monthly spot on this list has yet to change, thanks to his recent 0-24 stretch. Bay has only eight RBIs all season.
July's Biggest Surprise: Jordany Valdespin
He most certainly "is the man right now."
You may remember Jordany Valdespin from back in May, when he took Jonathon Papelbon deep for a game winning three-run home run as his first major league hit. After a couple stints in the minors, Jordany came back in July with a vengeance and proved that his moment against Papelbon was no fluke.
Valdespin's numbers were outstanding this month, smashing five home runs and posting a monster slugging percentage of .689. More importantly, Valdespin has proven to be one of the game's most dangerous pinch hitters, as four of his five July home runs were pinch hits.
Valdespin is currently sitting on five pinch hit home runs this season, setting a Mets franchise record for a season. With two months of the season left to play, who knows how many home runs 'Spin can add to that record.
What has impressed me most about Valdespin is how much he has matured and improved over the course of one season. When we first saw Jordany in May, he had a big, long swing and was basically going for home run or bust.
After some time in the minors, Valdespin worked with Buffalo's coach Wally Backman to shorten up his swing and find a way to be successful at the major league level, and his work has paid major dividends.
The most underrated part of Valdespin's game is his flexibility in the field. So far this season, we have seen Jordany play second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions. These are the most positions played in one season by a Met since Kevin Mitchell.
Between his fielding and his flair for the dramatic, we may be seeing the beginning of a long, exciting career for Jordany Valdespin.
Scott Hairston: He has become the right handed power bat the Mets have craved. Four more home runs this month made teams salivate over him at the trade deadline.
Andres Torres: While the team fell apart to start the second half, Torres was as hot as he was all season, posting an on base percentage of .400 this month.
Matt Harvey: He's only made two starts, but has turned a lot of heads so far. Keep an eye on this guy into the future.
Lowest Point of July: Mets Crash and Burn in Extras
When Mets fans look back on the 2012 season, they may look at their July 17th game against the Washington Nationals as the turning point of the season.
After being swept by Atlanta to start the second half, the Mets needed to perform well in Washington, and the first game of the series felt like a must win for the Amazin's.
Things looked bleak for the Mets, who were down 2-0 in the 9th inning against Washington's automatic closer Tyler Clippard. Then, Jordany Valdespin struck.
It took a video review, but Valdespin cranked a go ahead three run home run to give the Mets a lead in the 9th, and for the moment, Jordany seemed to have saved the Mets season.
But in a sign of things to come, Bobby Parnell couldn't hang on to the slim lead, and the Mets went into extra innings in possibly their most important game of the season.
A Josh Thole double gave the Mets another shot at a victory, but again, it was not meant to be. Tim Byrdak allowed a Bryce Harper triple to tie the game, and inexplicably, Pedro Beato lost the game on a two out, bases-loaded wild pitch.
The Mets have had their fair share of devastating losses this season, but this one just hurt more than the rest. That game was more important, and that made their loss more painful.
Even worse, this game showed the first signs of trouble within the Mets clubhouse. Beato criticized and partially blamed Josh Thole for the wild pitch after the game. Although the comments had virtually no effect outside of a team meeting, it was the first news of any finger pointing from the Mets all season, and it wouldn't be the last time a pitcher blamed Thole for a mistake.
All in all, this game sent the Mets reeling, and it may very well be the reason why the Mets' season ends the way it does.
The All Star Break: Mets fans were irked that neither Wright nor Dickey started the game, and the break ended with the terrible news that Dillon Gee's season was likely over.
July 23rd: A bullpen meltdown in extra innings crushed what is likely the last chance for the Mets to make a move on the Nats.
Highest Point of July: The Mets Walk Off on Philadelphia
It was a rough month, but this was definitely a shining moment for Mets fans.
Ever since 2007, the Phillies had haunted the Mets, but in 2012, the Mets old rivals were finally struggling. When Philadelphia visited the Mets in early July, the Amazin's had a chance to bury their tormentors for good.
R.A. Dickey was touched up for the first time in months, and the Mets were looking at a 5-4 deficit going into the bottom of the 9th against All Star closer Jonathon Papelbon.
Ike Davis started the 9th with a double. Thole followed with a sacrifice bunt, but a Kirk Nieuwenhuis strikeout put the Mets one out from a tough loss.
Then Jordany Valdespin was hit by a pitch. Tejada worked the count to load the bases with a walk. Daniel Murphy fired a comebacker off of Papelbon's leg that trickled just far enough to tie the game.
The stage was set for the franchise player, David Wright, and he came through with his fourth RBI of the game on a bloop to right field to walk off in dramatic style.
Walk-off wins are always fun, but doing it to the Phillies just made it that much sweeter. It was the perfect culmination to a magical first half, and it showed off all of the qualities that we loved about this Mets team. They rode their two out hitting and a never say die attitude to a victory.
After this game, Mets fans felt good. We slayed another demon from our past, rallied against another incredible closer, and it really felt like this season was going to be a special one.
Considering how the rest of the month went, this is the clear cut high point of the month, and may prove to be one of the highest points of the season.
July 19th: The win finally broke the Mets' six game losing streak dating back to the first half of the season in a great effort from R.A. Dickey.
July 26th: Matt Harvey gave a phenomenal effort in his first Major League start, giving Mets fans something to beat their chest about again,
July 30th: It was ugly, but the extra inning win gave the Mets consecutive victories for the first time in July.
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