As I write this, I have just witnessed the New York Mets get two-hit by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second game of a four-game set at Citi Field to fall to 35-34 on the year, three losses back of the first-place Philadelphia Phillies.
One year ago tonight, the Mets were 37-39 and just getting the feel of things in their first week under new manager Jerry Manuel.
Now, they have played a full 162 games for Gangsta Jerry and have racked up 90 wins in that span.
It took 92 wins to win the NL East last season and I’m here to tell you, by the numbers, why the Mets can overcome some earlier season adversity to top that and advance to the postseason this year.
Each number relates to the appropriate player(s) or statistic.
- Luis Castillo—I know what you’re thinking, “he’s leading with Luis Castillo?” Trust me, it’ll make sense. Castillo was not to blame for any of the Mets' collapse in 2007. In fact, he had an .822 OPS (100 points higher than his career average) in that September. Last year, he disappeared for a majority of the year, to the point where he was replaced by Ramon Martinez down the stretch. This season, despite his costly error in the Subway Series, Castillo has looked rejuvenated and his championship experience will come into play as the Mets move to turn this ship around.
- Daniel Murphy—Murphy needs to hit second in this lineup. In 97 at-bats in the two hole, Murphy is hitting .289. Everywhere else, he’s hitting .210 in 100 at-bats. Murphy takes pitches, allowing the leadoff hitter to run, and can control the bat well enough for hit-and-run opportunities. He was good enough to earn the No. 2 spot coming out of the spring, and his struggles have come from infrequent playing time and an uncertain spot in the order. In this case, stability will breed success from the young Murphy.
- Double Plays—The Mets are third in the National League in GIDPs with 62. What this means is that, despite being second in the NL in team batting average, on base percentage, and even leading the league in average with runners in scoring position, they kill a TON of rallies with “twin killings,” a function of the Mets' lack of power and high ground ball rate (second highest in the NL at 0.99 ground balls to fly balls).
- Carlos Delgado—In 63 of the Mets 69 games, Delgado, Gary Sheffield, or David Wright have hit cleanup. The three have combined for eight home runs, 49 RBI and 45 runs—admirable numbers, especially in Sheffield's case. However, the most effective of the three is Delgado, who in 91 games since last year’s All-Star Break has hit .301 with 25 home runs and 86 RBI. Getting him back from his hip injury will go a long way toward helping the power drought that has struck the Mets in 2009.
- David Wright—Wright sports No. 5 on his back and is most productive hitting fifth in the order. Wright has spent 34 games hitting fifth, where he produced three of his four home runs and drove in 26 runs. In Wright’s other 34 games, he has hit either third or fourth and driven in only 13 runs. Wright has also amassed 13 of his 18 steals (second in the NL) while hitting fifth.
- Jose Reyes—Bet you thought I was going to use him for No. 7. Nope. Reyes plays shortstop, defensively referred to as No. 6 in your scorecards. With 232 runs scored and 134 stolen bases from 2007-'08, Reyes is clearly the most important player in the Mets lineup. He’s the catalyst, the “straw that stirs the drink.” Getting Reyes back will allow Alex Cora to go back to being a pinch-hitter and part-time second baseman, which will help keep Castillo’s legs fresh down the stretch.
- Wins vs. Phillies in the Last 11 games—July 3-5 in Philadelphia, August 21-24 in New York, and September 11-13 in Philadelphia (including a double dip on the 13th). These games are where the division will be decided.
- The 8th Inning Issue—First it was J.J. Putz's ineffectiveness (5.22 ERA, 19 BB, 29.1 IP) before a bone spur pushed him to the DL. Then it was Bobby Parnell, who has hit the rookie wall early and watched his ERA rise to about 5.00 and confidence fall to almost zero. Sean Green’s hot streak has recently ended with three earned runs in his last two appearances. So who bridges the gap to K-Rod? Perhaps a late season return from Billy Wagner will give the bullpen the boost it needs.
- September—The ninth month of the year. The site of the collapses of 2007 and (to a lesser extent) 2008. Success in this month is non-negotiable if you want to play in October.
Should the Mets get healthy and successfully negotiate these issues, not only will a playoff berth be in their sights, but they’ll have a relatively fresh team with bench players who've received a ton of at=bats and playing time during the season.
Note: While I like John Maine a lot and think it will be nice to get him back, I don’t view him as a necessary part to the success of this team. I also prefer to keep Oliver Perez away as long as possible.