Raise your hand if you thought at the end of April that the Mets would be in first place.
There is nothing wrong with taking a deep breath and enjoying the view from the top of the standings. It is especially sweet since no one saw it coming. Now, after an incredible 9-1 homestand, the Mets have a day off to savor things before heading to Philadelphia for a three-game series against the second-place Phillies. It promises to be a great weekend, capped by an appearance on Sunday Night Baseball with Johan Santana on the mound.
But let’s take a trip back in time to April 12th. At the end of the day, the Phillies were in first place with a 6-1 record, while the Mets were in last place at 2-4. This date is special not because it was the low point of the season for the Mets (they would go 2-4 over their next six games, too) but rather because it might be the high point of the year for the Phillies.
On April 12th, Jimmy Rollins got hurt and he has not played a game since then. Rollins went down with a strained calf and his return is up in the air. Originally, it was thought that he would be back shortly after his 15-day DL stint was up (4/28) but the latest news is far less certain. Yesterday’s update from RotoTimes said, “his return could come in a week, but just as easily could be a full month from now.”
Last year, when the Mets finished 70-92, they were 21-19 and in second place, a game behind the Phillies, when Jose Reyes played his last game of the season on May 20th. They were 49-73 (.402) without their sparkplug shortstop. This year the Phillies are 6-8 (.429) without Rollins.
Now, the Phillies have only played 14 games without Rollins and could easily post a much better record for however much longer he remains sidelined. Still, it is hard not to find it interesting how, in a very short sample, the alleged best team in the National League, has looked so ordinary once one player is removed from their lineup.
Philadelphia’s struggles without Rollins is further proof of what an amazing uphill battle the Mets faced last year when they had double-digit number of players on the disabled list at the same time.
To be fair, the Phillies also have three pitchers on the DL now – starters Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ and reliever Brad Lidge. But after what Lidge gave them last season (7.21 ERA, 11 Blown Saves and a -0.7 WAR), the Phillies are better off with a replacement level pitcher on the staff. Blanton, who has been out since the start of the year, has been a big loss. Happ was one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball last year, and once again his peripherals (which added up to a 6.45 xFIP in his two starts), were nothing to get excited about.
The Phillies’ rotation currently consists of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and veteran de jour, perhaps Jose Contreras or Mets castoff Nelson Figueroa. That is a pretty good top two and then a substantial dropoff. Again, the Blanton loss hurt, but even with him the Phillies were depending on their offense to score a lot of runs to make winning pitchers out of whatever two pitchers they put out in the fourth and fifth slots.
Since Rollins went down, the Phillies have scored 64 runs and allowed 68.
Last year the Phillies were saved when three pitchers not in their starting rotation at the beginning of the season – Happ, Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez – went 24-9 (.727). I am going to go out on a limb and say they do not get similar production this year. And if the offense struggles because Rollins is out for an extended period of time, so much the better.
It will be curious to see how the Philadelphia fan base treats the Phillies’ front office if the team suffers a non-playoff season due to injuries to key players like Blanton and Rollins. I know if I rooted for the Phillies, I would not be happy about the Cliff Lee trade and that the Ryan Howard extension would have me scratching my head. If they miss the playoffs on top of those two things, will they start calling for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to be fired?
One man who has to be taking the early season turn of events with a contented smile is Omar Minaya, who drew criticism from just about everywhere (Mets360 included) for not acquiring a starting pitcher or two this offseason. The Mets are currently third in the National League with a 3.06 ERA and their starters have a 3.43 mark.
April has given us the Mets in first place, the Phillies struggling because of injuries and Minaya looking like a genius for standing pat with his starting rotation. Now we just need the remaining five months of the year to continue with the same script.