After back-to-back seasons of historic September collapses, New York Met fans anticipated the 2009 season with weary optimism. But after an active offseason, where general manager Omar Minaya addressed 2008’s biggest weakness, the bullpen, many fans and analysts were again labeling the Mets as title contenders.
However, as we near the midway point of the season, the Mets have struggled to show any form of consistency. Despite this, they are still in third place in the NL East, and only a few games under .500.
One of the biggest reasons for the Mets’ first half inconsistencies has been the astonishing amount of injuries to key players.
The first big name to hit the disabled list was Carlos Delgado on May 11. After an awful first half in the 2008 season, Delgado went on a tear, finishing the season with 38 home runs and 115 RBI. As a result, the Mets anticipated another big year from their cleanup man. And before his injury, Delgado was delivering in a big way, hitting .298 with four home runs and 23 RBI in only 26 games.
Another key player that has missed a significant amount of games is Jose Reyes, who went on the DL on May 21. Since being called up by the Mets in June of 2003, Reyes has been the spark plug that ignites the rest of the lineup. His speed, surprising power, and enthusiasm for the game make him one of the most exciting players in baseball. Without their leadoff man, the Mets have struggled to set the table for their three, four, and five hitters.
The latest victim of the injury bug is Carlos Beltran, who went on the DL on June 22. Before the injury, Beltran was the Mets’ most consistent hitter, batting .336 with eight home runs and 40 RBI. He was also playing a stellar center field, and was surely on his way to another Gold Glove.
The only key player that hasn’t had a stint on the DL is David Wright, but his play thus far has been incredibly streaky. Yes, he is leading the league in hitting with a .345 average, but this is only because of unworldly hot streaks. For example, from June 4 to June 16, Wright went 24-for-43. As a result, his average jumped from .326 to .365. But these streaks are almost always tempered by cold streaks.
Wright has also been in quite a power slump. At this point last year, Wright had already hit 15 home runs, compared to only five this year. One of the main reasons for this stark difference is the size of the Mets’ new home stadium, Citi Field.
According to ESPN, Wright has hit six long balls that would have been home runs at Shea, but have only been fly-outs at the much larger Citi Field. Wright is also missing the protection of Delgado and Beltran hitting behind him.
The starting rotation and bullpen have also been effected by injuries, with John Maine, Oliver Perez and J.J. Putz all spending significant time on the DL. Although Perez and Putz were not performing as well as expected, this could be attributed to the injuries they were placed on the DL for. Fortunately, the Mets are expecting Maine and Perez to return in the near future.
One starting pitcher who has not visited the DL this year is their ace, Johan Santana. However, he too has been incredibly inconsistent thus far. Santana started the season extremely well, going 7-2 through the first two months, with a 1.77 ERA. However, since the beginning of June, Santana has gone 2-4, and has seen his ERA jump to 3.34. In June, his strikeout totals have also been remarkably low, compiling only 18 K’s in six starts.
The rest of the staff has been equally unpredictable. Mike Pelfrey won four of his first five starts, in spite of a robust 5.46 ERA. But since May 12, he is only 1-3 with five no decisions. Lately, Pelfrey has started games well, but then has lost command in the fourth and fifth innings.
Livan Hernandez, Tim Redding and John Maine have also been streaky. They have all had games where their location and command have been on point, which have led to pitching gems. However, they have also had games where they’ve been tagged for six or seven earned runs.
The bullpen has also seen incredible inconsistencies. Putz, Sean Green, Brian Stokes and Bobby Parnell have all been streaky performers. The only pitchers who have been steady thus far are Pedro Feliciano and Francisco Rodriguez.
As the only lefthander in the bullpen, Feliciano is often called on to matchup against the opposing team’s most dangerous left-handed hitter. So far he has performed well, compiling a 2-2 record and a 2.56 ERA in 42 appearances. He also has a very impressive 28:8 strikeout to walk ratio.
K-Rod has also performed extremely well. After last season’s infamous bullpen debacles, Rodriguez was brought in to be that automatic closer. To this point in the season, he has been everything the Mets had hoped for. K-Rod has converted 18 of 20 save opportunities, which includes the “blown save” against the Yankees when Luis Castillo dropped the pop fly. He also has an impressive 1.23 ERA, and 39 Ks in only 36.2 innings of work.
Despite these injuries and inconsistent performances, the Mets have been able to stay afloat thanks to surprisingly good performances by call-ups and bench players.
One player who has really stepped up is Omir Santos. When Brian Schneider went on the DL in mid April, Santos was called-up to be the backup for Ramon Castro. However, when Santos was given the opportunity to play, he ran with it. He performed so well that when Schneider came off the DL, the Mets traded Castro to the Chicago White Sox so Santos could remain with the team. Although he is now sharing time behind the plate with Schneider, Santos is still hitting .263 with four home runs and 23 RBI.
Another player that has played extremely well is Alex Cora. Although he is only hitting .254 with 11 RBI, he has played well defensively, both at shortstop and second, and provided much-needed leadership and grit.
Gary Sheffield has also stepped up. Signed in the beginning of the season as an extra outfielder, Sheff has looked like his younger self, hitting .289, with 10 home runs, and 30 RBI. His familiar bat waggle is just as intimidating as it was 10 years ago, and he still has tremendous bat speed. Sheffield has also played well defensively, both in left and right field.
If the Mets can ever get their team entirely healthy, they definitely have the potential of winning the NL East. This is especially true considering the struggles of their biggest rival, the Phillies. To date, the Mets are only three games out of first place, despite a 37-39 record.