Just in case you’re not buying into Jon Heyman’s prediction of 75-87, or most other writers’ pre-season abysmal expectations, you’ve probably noticed by now the Mets are hovering around respectability.
They bumped into .500 after the first game in the 2011 Subway Series, and were just two games under as of Wednesday afternoon. Hell, they’re even within striking distance of the wild card leading Milwaukee Brewers – just 4.5 games.
And this is all happening while so many key Mets are establishing long-term residency on the disabled list. Johan Santana hasn’t thrown a single pitch this year, David Wright has been sidelined since May 16 with a stress fracture and Ike Davis still is recovering from a bone bruise and sprained ankle suffered on May 10.
So when the team finally gets healthy again, the boys in blue ought to clean up and supplant Philadelphia as rightful heirs to the NL East throne? Probably not.
Santana, Wright, and even Davis these days, all have star power; they’re household names. Their replacements, Dillon Gee, Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner, are not. Too bad for them, because they’ve certainly been playing like all-stars. Gee is sporting a 6-0 record with a 3.33 ERA and 1.111 WHIP, Murphy has a .304 average overall and a .386 average with runners in scoring position, and Turner was named the National League Rookie of the Month for May.
Yes, the original trio is better than the backup cast and yes, they certainly deserve their job when each gets healthy. Just don’t expect a massive upward swing in the Mets play when that happens.
The more important concern suddenly comes to light – what happens to these super sub saviors?
Certainly they don’t deserve to be delegated to the bench, or Heaven-forbid, down to the minors. But MLB rules only allow one player at each position, so GM Sandy Alderson will have to do something.
Both the starting pitching and bullpen have been something of a roller coaster ride so far. Mets relievers kicked off 2011 by being dreadful, before becoming the best in the business, falling apart and slowly recovering yet again. Both R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey were dreadful early on, while Chris Capuano routinely throws a series of good games before imploding in one. According to ESPN, the starters have a combined 4.15 ERA while the bullpen has a 4.29 ERA.
It’s difficult to pinpoint who’s been the strongest or weakest, especially with Alderson’s lack of patience for underperforming players. Instead, notice how the current starting five are keeping the team in nearly every game. Assuming Santana can come back as more than a shell of himself around the all-star break, I would not be opposed to a six-man rotation. It would reward Gee for his performance thus far and allow skipper Terry Collins to dip into his rotation for extra relief help.
Murphy and Turner, on the other hand, may not be so lucky. Both were originally called up to man second base, a position that’s since been handed to Ruben Tejada. The young middle infielder will all but definitely be sent back down to resume his shortstop career, leaving one full-time position for two players.
Both men are capable of playing multiple positions – Murphy at first, second and third, Turner at second, shortstop and third. That fact alone should keep them both on the team, although the Mets don’t have many weaknesses on the infield – except for second base. How often does a healthy Davis, Wright or Jose Reyes need a day off? None of the three are defensive liabilities either, so using Murphy or Turner as a defensive replacement is out.
The ideal solution is probably to platoon them at second base – both hit well in general although each hit even better from one side of the plate, use them frequently as pinch hitters, sub them in across the infield as needed and work out Murphy in the outfield.
I know, I can already hear the groans before this gets published, but the National League doesn’t have a DH so he has to be in the field if he wants to bat. His defense at first base is better statistically this year – both fielding percentage and range factor have increased – and he’s looked solid at second base. Maybe being a regular with the major league club, all around better general defense and a slower introduction into left field – other than being thrown in without warning – could help him see more innings.
After all, who doesn’t want to see more of Murphy and Turner this year?