After Sunday’s thrilling 11-inning 4-3 win in Philadelphia, veteran Mets beat writer Adam Rubin posed the question “Are the Mets for real after all?” Those familiar with Rubin’s style – straightforward, with a slight lean toward the negative – were taken a bit by surprise, though recent relative success made the inquiry somewhat valid. At that point, the Mets had won five of their previous six and only a ghastly miscue by Chris Young on Friday night had kept the Mets from a seven-game winning streak. They had played their old nemesis basically to a standstill in the elongated series, having had consecutive games go 14, 14 and 11 innings, respectively. So Rubin could legitimately ask.
From over here, the answer is still “no.”
First of all, remember, the last eight games – in which the Mets won six and lost two – came against the Pirates and Phillies, who don’t exactly inspire Pennsylvanian pride, with their combined record of 51-61 and .455 winning percentage. This is the same Mets squad that dropped two-of-three to the Arizona Diamondbacks at home, and they can’t even crack .400 yet. One is reminded of that old comic strip from the ‘50s, where a kid forlornly drags home his trusty mitt and his mom asks how the game went. The boy’s answer is classic: “Well, I was throwing a shutout until the big kids got out of school.” This Mets team can certainly look like world-beaters against the likes of the Phils and Buccos, but we all saw what happened against Washington and the Dodgers, two teams with legitimate pennant hopes.
The young starting pitching, while promising, is still woefully inconsistent. The bullpen is still in flux, despite looking better while being remade on the fly. These are troubling, to be sure, but there are two main culprits keeping the Mets from contending: the offense and the “little things.”
Taking the second one first, how many losses have we seen this year that hinged on a double play not turned, a cutoff man missed, and extra base either allowed or not taken or a base hit that rolls to the wall? One of the marks of a good team is that it doesn’t look ragged around the edges like that. Yes, they’ll have the occasional flub, but winners make those “little plays that don’t show up in the box score.” The lack of crispness makes the team look worse than it actually is.
Another thing that will make a semi-decent team look absolutely terrible is a stagnant offense. The Mets’ inability to deliver the necessary hit with runners in scoring position and less than two out is well documented. But even more basic than that, their lineup is fatally flawed. This was brought home starkly during the Arizona series, where the bottom of the order was manned by Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, Juan Centeno and the pitcher. That’s one occasional-slugger and three pretty much automatic outs. There is a large element of protection for David Wright and Curtis Granderson missing – no, Young doesn’t count — that this front office will need to address and quickly. What is truly needed is a major trade for a real power threat, a trade on the order of the Mike Piazza or Keith Hernandez deals. Unfortunately, such a deal does not seem to be in the offing anytime soon.
Once a deal happens, then the Mets can get real.
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