What a whirlwind first four weeks of the 2010 season the Mets have had in April.
You could argue that no team in the National League felt more pressure to get off to a hot start out of the gate than the Mets.
After the debacle that was the 2009 season, lots of people believed, and still believe, that there could be repercussions for another poor finish in 2010.
The Mets started 4-8 after losing two of three games in each of their first four series. But being back home at Citi Field, and the promotion of wunderkind Ike Davis from the minors, seems to have given the Mets a shot in the arm at the right time.
The Mets swept the Dodgers today for to cap off a 9-1 homestand that quickly propelled the Metropolitans up from fifth place to first place.
Now, we all know that the standings only matter at the end of the season, after six months not four weeks. That being said, it's very refreshing to see the Mets playing high-quality baseball again.
For once, its the Mets taking advantage of baserunning blunders, bad defense, and questionable managing, instead of the other way around which was the case last season.
It all goes back to the 20-inning game in St. Louis that may have been one of the catalysts to this great stretch of baseball. Many people, myself included, would argue that Jerry Manuel out-managed a future Hall of Famer in Tony La Russa.
Never in a million years would I have ever thought that I would type that sentence.
The starting pitching, thought by most pundits to be the most glaring weakness on the team, has instead become the biggest strength over the first month of the season.
The Mets rank third in the NL with a 3.11 team ERA, and lead the league in strikeouts with 170 in 21 games. However, they also lead the league in walks, with 11 more walks allowed than the second place team.
From the stats on paper, and what I've seen with my eyes, the Mets pitchers have done a fantastic job getting out of trouble with runners on base. Despite the walks and hits allowed, the Mets pitching staff has been clutch over the first four weeks when it comes to stranding runners on base and exiting innings with little to no damage.
No pitcher in baseball has skirted this fine line better than Mike Pelfrey, who is blossoming before our eyes at age 26.
Pelfrey leads the major leagues with a 0.69 ERA and is off to a 4-0 start in four starts. He even recorded a save in that marathon Saturday in St. Louis. The young homegrown righthander currently has a 24-inning shutout streak that he'll put on the line against Roy Halladay this coming Saturday.
And maybe there's something to this homegrown thing. The Mets, often criticized for lacking a quality farm system, finally have a core of young talent worth talking about, they are the future of the organization.
Looking at the 25-man active roster, it is littered by products of the Mets farm system via the draft and international signings.
Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese have pitched well in the rotation. Jenrry Mejia, the 20-year-old rookie, has shown flashes of brilliance in the bullpen. Angel Pagan, David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Ike Davis make up literally half of the lineup.
All of a sudden, the Mets are starting to build a core of young talent to go around the established veterans like Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez. With guys like Fernando Martinez, Dillon Gee, Tobi Stoner, Ruben Tejada, and Josh Thole waiting in the wings, that percentage of homegrown stars is set to go up by next year.
The Mets could conceivably have an entire infield of homegrown stars in 2011 if Thole were catching and either Daniel Murphy, Reese Havens, or Ruben Tejada were playing 2B.
It's things like this that make me believe, as a Mets fan, that this team is headed in the right direction. Building a team based on pitching and defense, (the Mets have allowed only three unearned runs all season) fits Citi Field's dimensions perfectly, and the Mets will be smart to take advantage of their home park even more as the season progresses.
So Friday the Mets will arrive in Philadelphia, facing the team that has caused them so many problems, albeit indirectly, in the past few seasons. Yes, the Mets have actually done far better in head-to-head matchups against the Phillies in the past few seasons than anyone will likely give them credit for so it should be a great weekend.
The Phillies, however, are starting to stumble a bit with Jimmy Rollins on the DL, and the pitching staff is a concern over the course of the season, save for Roy Halladay of course. (Imagine that, turns out any team that starts losing players to injuries will struggle!)
The Mets will face the Phillies 18 times in 2010, the first three of which will take place at Citizen's Bank Park this weekend. Maybe, just maybe, the "team to beat" won't have as easy a walk to the playoffs as they did last season.
Only time will tell. In the meantime, if the Mets can continue playing good fundamental baseball, and get good pitching performances from their starters, they can make some serious noise this season, and finish a lot higher than the fourth place finish many people have pegged them for this year.
(For more Mets, Jets and Nets analysis, visit my personal blog, MetsJetsNetsBlog)