With just one game remaining before the traditional end of the first half of the season, the Mets sit with a 46-44 record. While most people would not have been too surprised with that mark before the season started, I think everyone would be surprised how the team reached this point.
A 5-13 start, six key contributors missing a month or more to the DL, the HR drought, the dismal production from the second slot in the order, the struggle for either R.A. Dickey or Mike Pelfrey to win games, losing records both at home (19-22) and in one-run games (10-13) are just some of the obstacles this team has had to overcome.
So, let’s look at the Top 10 surprises for the first half of the season and look for clues how this team is two games over .500 here in the second week of July.
10. Not losing players on waivers
This probably has very little to do with the club’s overall record, but I find it amazing that they did not lose Manny Acosta, Nick Evans nor Pat Misch to waivers, especially given that Evans and Misch were exposed multiple times. Right now both Acosta and Evans are in the majors, although neither is playing key roles. None of the three players have played key roles for the Mets, but each has something to offer a club and it’s very surprising none of the other 29 teams could see upside here.
9. The production of Ike Davis
Last year Davis had a .791 OPS in a solid rookie season for the Mets. It was reasonable to expect some improvement in his sophomore season, but did anyone foresee him being while healthy one of the top producers at the position? Of the four projection systems available on Davis’ page at FanGraphs, the highest OPS projection this year for Davis was the .862 forecast by Bill James. Davis currently sits with a .925 OPS. While this is due for some regression when he returns from the DL, he still has a chance to exceed his most optimistic preseason projection.
8. Lucas Duda power outage
Duda is big and has lots of power. If at the beginning of the year you found out that Duda would have zero home runs at the All-Star break, you would probably conclude that he spend most of the year in the minors. Instead, Duda has 102 PA with the Mets. He’s not a good defender and not a particularly good hitter for AVG, so if Duda is not delivering the long ball he has limited use to the club. When the corner infielders return from the DL, Duda is likely headed back to Buffalo.
7. The general acceptance of Francisco Rodriguez
Last year Rodriguez’ season ended with a domestic abuse suspension. This year all of the talk in Spring Training was how the Mets needed to avoid having Rodriguez finish 55 games and have his $17.5 million option vest for 2012. Here he is with 34 games finished and so far no buildings have burnt and no mobs have assembled with torches. Yes, everyone is expecting a trade, but a deal is far from a sure thing, as Rodriguez has a limited no-trade clause and no team will trade for him to be a closer anyway. But Rodriguez has been successful on 23 of his 26 save opportunities, which has bought him some slack from the fan base.
6. Mets fourth in NL in RPG despite being 14th in HR
The Mets lost Davis and David Wright for most of the first half and Jason Bay’s power has been MIA for most of the year. From May 16th to June 26th the Mets hit just 11 HR in 38 games. Yet somehow the club went 20-18 in that span and scored 164 runs. Overall the Mets have averaged 4.41 runs per game, compared to a 4.10 league average. When Davis and Wright left the lineup, the Mets lost a lot of strikeouts in addition to a lot of power. The team leads the league in walks (320) and has the third fewest strikeouts (613). More baserunners and some solid clutch hitting has kept the scoreboard active for the Mets in the first half.
5. Dillon Gee wins his first seven decisions
To the surprise of no one, Chris Young was unable to remain healthy, which opened the door for Gee to take a spot in the rotation. But Gee dazzled everyone by winning seven straight decisions and posting a 2.86 ERA in his first 15 games. Gee has stumbled since then (1-3, 6.35 ERA in his last four starts) but he provided a much-needed shot in the arm for the Mets for two months.
4. Mets release Brad Emaus after 14 games
Much was made about Emaus after the club selected him in the Rule 5 Draft. Supposedly the Mets had inside information about Emaus, as new front office hire J.P. Ricciardi had drafted him when he was the GM in Toronto. Emaus won the second base job despite being outhit by Daniel Murphy during Spring Training. The Mets got off to a dreadful start and with Emaus having a .162/.262/.162 slash line, Sandy Alderson quickly cut ties. While many thought the decision was rash, it allowed Murphy a chance to play every day and the Irish Hammer has done what he’s always done when given a chance – hit. This has been one of the best decisions that Alderson has made in his brief tenure with the club.
3. Justin Turner becomes fan favorite
Turner earned a lot of bonus points from the fans by the way he handled the allegedly open battle for second base during Spring Training. Turner clearly got the short end of the stick but never complained once. And when injuries to Davis and Wright opened playing time for him, Turner went on a hot streak (.351/.400/.500 in 18 games) which helped keep the Mets afloat. Of course, it was a hot streak and not his true-talent level. The hot streak had too many people believing that Turner was a starting-caliber player, which he clearly is not, at least not on a team with post-season aspirations. In his last 32 games, Turner has a .201/.280/.261 slash line. But the fan base has not turned on him, believing instead that this is all due to an injured hand.
2. Jose Reyes turns in MVP first half
No one doubted Reyes was an impact-type player. But many thought he was a better fantasy player than real player and of course the threat of a DL stint lingered over him. So, while many people began the season thinking the Mets should trade Reyes and use him to help rebuild the farm system. Instead, Reyes stayed healthy for most of the first half and seemingly delivered a multi-hit game every night. Media speculation became that he would exceed the contract given to Carl Crawford but then Reyes was done in by a hamstring injury. Hopefully Reyes can return before the end of July and maintain his early season pace. The injury most likely cost him 10s of millions of dollars on his next contract, but ultimately might keep him on the Mets.
1. Carlos Beltran leads the Mets in games played
Coming into the season, most people considered Beltran the Met most likely to end up on the DL. Instead, he leads the team with 88 games played. And not only has he been healthy, but Beltran has been extremely productive with a league-leading 28 doubles, a team-leading 13 HR and an .888 OPS which earned him an All-Star berth. Despite being 34-years old and missing extensive time the past two seasons, Beltran has come back to be the player he was in 2007-08 when he was last healthy.
Beltran has never been fully appreciated by the Mets fan base and is most likely gone after this season. But at least he is leaving on an up note and fans can remember him for what a fantastic player he’s been while on the Mets. There is no doubt that history will remember Beltran more fondly than the majority of fans did while he was here.
So, the Mets have kept afloat because of outstanding seasons from Beltran and Reyes, along with the club’s ability to string together hits and score runs without the benefit of HR. Cutting the cord on Emaus and getting Murphy in the lineup certainly helped, as did Turner’s out of nowhere hot streak. And let’s not forget Gee acting as staff ace for two months of the season.
Through it all, Terry Collins has done a wonderful job of keeping the club together. I look forward to seeing what this club can do in the second half of the season, hopefully with the return of Davis, Reyes, Johan Santana and Wright for the last two months of the year.