For the Mets, .500 Is Step One

Since their 3-1 start to the season, the Mets have scraped the .500 mark twice: on May 20 at Yankee Stadium, and then last night (6/15) in soggy Atlanta. That’s a couple of pretty fair ballclubs, isn’t it? It’s not like they bulldozed the Mudville Nine to get there: they did it at two of their personal chambers of horrors. It’s been a truly fun ride, but it’s nowhere near the end of the line.
Unless you’re of the true Wilponian mind – be just good enough to lure fans through the doors and just bad enough to not win anything or have to pay anybody — deadly dead-even is nothing to write home about. Yes, it’s a nice first step and as the late Tug McGraw told us about September 1973 in his contemporaneous autobiography Screwball, “We had to get to .500 before we could even think of taking the division.”
And for any “old” New Breeders reading this, it was a pipe dream for those Polo Gounds/World’s-Fair-Shea-Stadium teams, of course.

.500 is a start. It’s not the signal for us fans in 2011 to go patting ourselves on the back for sticking with this team. It is June 16 and by the time September rolls around, this stretch could be dust. The thing to do to avoid that possibility is to listen to Terry Collins, in his post-game quotes: “We’re here,” Collins stated after the game. “It’s been a long road and a long, uphill battle. I’m so proud of the way the guys hung in there. Now we’ve got to move forward. We’ve got to keep moving.” Or go back to June 2, 1969 and ask Tom Seaver what he thought about the Mets reaching the .500 so “late” in the season, without a single drop of champagne to be seen in the New York clubhouse: “There are only two places in the league – first place and no place.”


The Mets right now find themselves within shouting distance of the NL Wild Card, 3.5 games back. That’s closer than they were when they jettisoned Scott Kazmir in 2004, so it isn’t exactly misbegotten or as far-fetched as it was back then. In fact, word has recently come down that Kazmir is again available. Would it be a sweet twist of irony to bring him “home” and pitch the Mets into the playoffs?

We can at least dream. 34-34 makes it plausible. It’ll take a bit more than that for it to actually happen.

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Who is the Mets’ ace?

As the Mets once again climbed back to .500 on the year after last night’s 4-0 victory over the Braves, the Mets have been winning games on the heels of some terrific starting pitching. Mets’ starters have now tossed 11 straight quality starts (sans last night’s rain-shortened start for Dillon Gee) and have gone 7-4 in those games. On their current road trip, the Mets have assured a winning record and have gone 6-3 in the process.

This recent surge now has the Mets in third place in the NL East (leapfrogging the struggling Florida Marlins) while still placing them just 3.5 games back in the Wild Card standings.

The starting pitching has been nothing short of fabulous of late, and if the Mets are to make a push for the postseason, the starting pitchers will have to continue to throw gems.

So, in a utopian world, let’s just say the Mets do make the playoffs. (Stay with me for argument’s sake.)

If this were to happen, it begs the question: Who would start the opening game of a playoff series?

In other words, who is the Mets’ ace?

Excluding the rehabbing Johan Santana (who may or not be himself upon his expected return-if he ever does return), let’s closely examine the candidates:

  • Mike Pelfrey
    The de-facto ace entering the season, Pelfrey has simply been too erratic for anyone’s liking. Pelfrey has gone Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde too many times. Pelfrey has been solid in his last two starts (13 innings pitched and allowing only four earned runs), but he is still just 3-5 on the year with a 5.11 ERA.
  • R.A. Dickey
    After a rough beginning, Dickey has been starting to deal of late. Dickey, believe it or not, has been better since suffering a tear of his plantar fascia and has thrown 23.2 innings while allowing only seven earned runs in his last three starts. Dickey has his knuckle ball darting again. However, Dickey has not been the beneficiary of good run support, and as a result he has dropped two of his last three decisions. Still, Dickey loves the challenge and is a true gamer.
  • Jonathon Niese
    Niese has had perhaps the best run of his career in the last couple of weeks. Niese has won three out of his last four starts while throwing 28 innings and allowing only five earned runs. Niese has been devastating hitters with his nasty curve ball, and the maturation he has developed is making him a complete pitcher.
  • Chris Capuano
    Another pitcher who just keeps on getting better as the season progresses is Capuano. Capuano, while building up arm strength after prior injury woes, is now trusting his stuff more and is becoming a valuable asset to the Mets’ rotation. Capuano is 2-0 in his last two starts and has allowed only one run in his last 13 innings pitched. Capuano is still just 5-6 on the year with a 4.40 ERA.
  • Dillon Gee
    The pitcher du jour of the moment has to be Gee. Gee has simply been scintillating as a rookie, and has been better than anyone could have ever imagined. Gee was in top form once again last night (4 innings pitched and only one hit and two walks allowed) before the rain came. Gee is still 7-0 on the year (with the Mets wining each game he started) with a sparkling 2.33 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.

So, with Pelfrey battling inconsistency issues and with Capuano being up and down himself while shaking off the injury rust, the candidates to be the Mets’ ace has to come down to Dickey, Niese and Gee.

In my opinion, if a playoff game is on the line, I would not be willing to put Gee on the mound as my ace. Gee, in all likelihood is in for a market correction and he’s still too wet behind the ears. By the end of the year, it’s doubtful that Gee will be the best Mets’ pitcher, as he is today.

Thus, the race to be the ace of the Mets has to be between Dickey and Niese.

While Dickey is a gutsy trooper, I’d have to go with Niese as the Mets most polished, durable and dependable arm.

Niese has had his growing pains, but he is finally evolving into the pitcher the club envisioned him being when they selected him in the 7th round of the 2005 draft. While he is no Roy Halladay, Niese is no slouch and he is clearly ready to take the next step.

So, the debate rages on. Who would be your choice as Mets’ ace?

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Mets Card of the Week: 1988 Barry Lyons (Experimental)

1988 TOPPS EXPERIMENTAL CLOTH BARRY LYONS

So what of Topps and its abiding fascination with cloth?

Seems someone in the hallowed halls held fast to the hobby-horsical notion that the kids wanted to see cloth versions of their cards.

In 1972, Topps created a test set of brown-backed cloth stickers. These made it out of the factory in uncut sheet form in some abundance, and the fledgling hobby broke out its collective X-ACTO knives and got down to the business of creating singles.

Then in 1976, Topps produced ragged cloth versions of two cards (Duffy Dyer and Bob Apodaca), utilizing a number of different materials. Samples of these also found their way into the hobby, and today will set you back about $50 a pop.

These 1976 cards were no doubt a run up to the widely distributed 1977 Topps cloth stickers, a little-loved set, then as now.

The cloth contingent within Topps then lay dormant until 1988, when another cloth test set was produced in sheets. This set is somewhat generously dubbed an “experimental” issue in the hobby literature, due to the unique tactile feel of the end product.

There has long been speculation that these 1988 cards were meant to turn into sponges when soaked in water, but a quick search of “1988 Topps Cloth Experimental Issue Experiment” on YouTube will demonstrate that they have no absorptive power whatsoever. ShamWow’s they ain’t…

And what of our Mets’ man of the cloth here?

Well, Barry Lyons was the quintessential backup catcher for a few years, giving Gary Carter some much-needed days off in the late ’80s.

I think the most-fascinating thing about Barry is the fact that he spent time with eight different organizations, but never once in his career was he traded for another player. Each and every time he moved to a new team, it was via the release/free agency route.

I defy you to find me another modern player cut from quite the same cloth…

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The 2011 Mets: Ride The Rollercoaster

You would think that after 40 years of watching the Mets’ brand of baseball, I’d be used to it by now.

I was about six-years-old when I finally kind of caught on to what this “base-ball” thingy was. Since then, I’ve seen some seasons where it’s been awful from Jump Street: 1974, 1977 through ’79 (OY!!!!), 1993 and 2003, in particular. Gloriously, I’ve also seen seasons take off and soar right from the beginning: 1986, 1988, 2000 and 2006. Like anything else, it’s those few in the middle which become most interesting. These are seasons in which a six-month narrative is played out day-by-day. These are the years where you dare not take your eyes away from the screen for fear of missing something brand new or a quick glimpse of the future. A year like this may or may not involve a pennant race, but there’s something about it which will hold our interest anyway: Dave Kingman’s home runs in 1976, perhaps, or David Wright’s debut in 2004. For the years that do involve contention, there are also sub-plots that emerge: if Darryl Strawberry hadn’t injured his thumb in ’85, or if Dave Augustine’s ball had actually cleared the wall and not bounded right to Cleon Jones in ’73, these stories may have had different endings. These are the best, in the humble opinion of your intrepid columnist. There is nothing better for a fan than when a single play can either define or alter the entire structure of a season.


The only trouble with that, though, is that you never know when that play might be. It can come on at any time, at the whims of fate, destiny, skill, karma or the baseball gods. That’s why we have to keep watching, that’s why we have to ride the rollercoaster. This season so far has been quite the fun little ride in its own right. We’ve had revelations (Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee), resurrections (Carlos Beltran, Chris Capuano), eruptions (Terry Collins during the Citi Field leg of the Pittsburgh home-and-home), consternation (Jason Bay) and above and apart from everyone and everything else, Jose Reyes. How’s it gonna end? Probably around .500 give-or-take. But getting there – as they say – is half the fun.

Besides, you really shouldn’t get off a rollercoaster in the middle, anyway.

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Comparing Scott Hairston and Justin Turner

Most Mets fans are counting down the days until Ike Davis and David Wright return from the disabled list. This seems innocent enough, as you always want your middle-of-the-order hitters in the lineup. But seemingly the fans want them back just as much for the accompanying removal of players from the current roster. And fans assume that the two players cut will be Scott Hairston and Willie Harris.

When the Mets signed Harris and Hairston in the offseason, the reaction to Harris was, “He can’t possibly take any more wins from us if he’s on our team.” Harris seemingly made a career of coming up with big plays against the Mets. The reaction to Hairston was basically a shrug.

Then, much to our surprise, both veterans pummeled the ball in Spring Training. Harris put up a .268/.397/.518 line during Grapefruit League play while Hairston posted a .345/.406/.672 slash line. Together, the two batted .307 with 10 2B, 3B, 7 HR in 114 ABs. Both made the Opening Day roster and the Mets figured to have one of their strongest benches in years.

With Jason Bay sidelined to begin the year, Harris and Hairston saw some early starts in addition to their pinch-hitting duties. Harris did well, while Hairston did not. Bay did not make his first start of the year until April 21st. In that span, Hairston had a .179/.258/.321 line. But what got lost in the shuffle was Hairston did fine as a starter and was terrible coming off the bench. Here were his splits while Bay was on the DL:

Start – .250/.368/.500
Bench: 1-for-12 with six strikeouts

Since few fans saw Hairston’s impressive Spring Training performance, their first exposure to him was mostly whiffing as a pinch-hitter. And a story line was born. While Justin Turner had the good fortune to start with a hot streak before stinking up the joint (.184/.241/.265 line in his last 54 PA), Hairston started off slow and was labeled a stiff.

Some fans reading this will say it’s just a cold streak for Turner and are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, that same courtesy was not extended to Hairston, who had a much tougher time as he had to pinch-hit in nearly 40 percent of his PA during his rotten start to 2011. And he still had an OPS 63 points higher than Turner does in his current poor stretch.

To compound matters, Hairston has some track record of being a productive hitter in the majors but because he did it for other teams, it seemingly holds no weight with Mets fans. This is a guy who hit 35 HR in 610 ABs in parts of three seasons with the Padres from 2007-2009. Hairston is a guy with a lifetime .823 OPS versus LHP in 671 PA.

But that’s nothing compared to a 17-game hot streak covering 74 PA by a spunky redhead.

Earlier we saw Hairston’s splits to open the season as a starter and coming off the bench the first three weeks of the season. Let’s do those same numbers for the entire season up to this point.

Starter – .313/.389/.469 in 11 starts
Bench: .182/.250/.364 in 24 PA

A large part of Hairston’s job is to perform as a pinch-hitter and it certainly is a knock against him to be hitting below the Mendoza Line here. Hey, would it be piling on to point out it’s still significantly better production than Turner (as a starter) in his last 54 PA?

Right now we could use a little more context. According to Baseball-Reference, the National League average for subs (what I referred to as “bench” above) is a .225/.297/.320 slash line for a .617 OPS. For the season Hairston has a .614 OPS in this role. So, what on the surface looks like lousy production is actually league average when we view it in its proper context.

Hairston is a league-average bench player who has performed quite well when given a chance to start. He’s also a RH power bat, which the club does not have many options for replacements, as Nick Evans failed to produce in his latest limited stint with the club.

So, this is a serious question – Do you think Turner could be a suitable replacement for Hairston as power RH bat off the bench? Because his ability to play numerous infield positions is definitely a point in his favor when the decision on who to cut comes about when the disabled corner infielders return.

His 17-game hot streak aside, Turner is not a guy we should view as a starter. So, is he merely a defensive replacement or is he also a viable bat off the bench? I can see an argument being made that his performance so far in RBI situations make him someone you would want off the bench in a key situation with ducks on the pond.

But even if you think Turner would be great in this role, hopefully you will reconsider your view on Hairston. Instead of counting down the days until the Mets can cut him, we should view him as a perfectly acceptable bench player, one with power and the ability to play multiple outfield positions.

Harris, on the other hand, we can cut him any day you like.

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Mets Minors: Zach Lutz returns

Class AAA Buffalo 3B Zach Lutz returned to the lineup this weekend, going 5-for-13, after missing about two months with a hamstring and finger injury.

He has dealt with a myriad of foot injuries since turning pro in 2009, including missing two months in AA Binghamton last season due to a stress fracture in his left foot.

Lutz is batting .327/.407/.500 in 52 at-bats with six doubles, a homer and six RBI.

“My parents helped me get through a lot of stuff the last couple of years,” he told the Buffalo News. “It’s been the same thing going on and on again and to finally get through all my feet injuries was great and then for something like this to happen it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re back to square one again.’

“A lot of times I’d say, ‘I can’t deal with this anymore, all I want to do is play baseball,’ and all I would do is sit the bench, watch the team play, but I wanted to try and help the team win. They would tell me not to get down and that God has a plan for everything.”

The Bisons got some bad news when CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis was put on the seven-day DL with a left shoulder strain.

****

Low Class A Savannah has won five straight games, 17 of its last 21 and is 5 ½ games ahead of the Greenville Drive with seven games remaining and the South Atlantic League’s South Division title.

The Sand Gnats placed six players on the All-Star team: OF Cory Vaughn, IF Robbie Shields and Ps Gregory Peavy, Taylor Whitenton, Chase Huchingson and Josh Edgin.

SS Wilfredo Tovar, 19, has a personal season-best 11-game hitting streak, going 16-for-37 (.432), raising his average from .185 to .228 during the streak.

****
Below is a scouting report compiled by Baseball America on Mets first-round pick Brandon Nimmo, a high school outfielder from Cheyenne, Wyo.

“Simply getting drafted out of Wyoming is an accomplishment in itself—the state does not have high school baseball and has produced just two draft picks the past decade.

With a lean, 6-foot-3 frame with projection remaining, he’s a good athlete and one of the best sprinters in the state. He tore his right ACL playing football during his junior year in 2009 and spent most of last summer playing with a brace on his knee.

He’s an above-average runner when he’s healthy, which helps him on the basepaths and in center field, and there’s more to his game than just speed. Nimmo has a pretty, efficient lefthanded swing. He’s short to the ball and has outstanding barrel awareness, consistently squaring balls up and shooting line drives to all fields. He has a good eye at the plate and should be an above-average hitter. As he gets stronger, he could add loft to his swing to turn doubles into home runs.

Nimmo worked out for teams in Arizona this spring and had some tendinitis in his knee. His American Legion team started playing in mid-April and their schedule goes right up to the signing deadline, and he has an Arkansas commitment to fall back on.”

AROUND THE MINORS: Buffalo OF Val Pascucci is batting .302 (31-for-102) in his last 31 games and leads the team with 42 RBI. … Binghamton RHP Jeurys Familia struck out a season-high 11 batters Sunday against Trenton, allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision. … Binghamton 2B Reese Havens hit his first homer this past week and is hitting .245/.317/.396 with five walks and 17 strikeouts in 53 at-bats. … His double-play partner SS Jordany Valdespin is 11-for-32 with three homers and four steals in his last nine games, pushing his average to .270/.317/.439.

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Capuano makes case to stay in rotation

The Mets have received strong pitching performances recently. With four of the five starting pitchers you can point to a definite start where they turned things around. For the fifth pitcher, we’ll just pick the start that fits best. Here are their before and after numbers:

Before After
R.A. Dickey 1-5, 5.08 2-2, 2.23
Jonathon Niese 2-4, 5.03 3-1, 1.34
Mike Pelfrey 1-3, 7.39 2-1, 4.11
Chris Capuano 1-1, 8.76 4-5, 3.52
Dillon Gee 2-0, 4.72 5-0, 2.59

There’s no real cutoff point for Pelfrey. His before numbers are his first six starts and his after numbers are his final seven. But included in those final seven are two starts where he gave up 12 ER in 11 IP. Still, his ERA in those seven, including the two bombs, is three full runs below his stinker to open the season.

The overall National League ERA this year is 3.76, down from 4.02 a year ago. Of course, we are now entering the summer months and we should expect the numbers to go up from here to the end of the season. Still, it’s a good number to use right now to judge how the Mets’ pitchers are doing.

Four of the five pitchers are below average and three of them – Dickey, Niese and Gee – significantly. Combine this strong pitching with the Mets offense seemingly delivering 10 or more hits on a nightly basis and it’s easy to understand how the team has gone 9-5 in its last 14 games, including 6-2 in its last eight.

At some point Johan Santana will come back and the question will be: How should the Mets handle their rotation? Of course, this is still a month away and plenty can change between now and then. But assuming that the Mets pitchers continue more or less on their recent path, what should the team do?

The most likely scenario is that Capuano moves to the bullpen. He has experience relieving and would give the team another lefty out of the bullpen. Also, Capuano has generally struggled his third time through the opposing team’s lineup. Finally, the Mets might prefer not to have three lefties in the rotation.

But is Capuano really better suited for the pen than Pelfrey? Even with Capuano’s much-discussed trouble the third time through the order, they have virtually the same number of innings pitched over their last 10 starts, with Pelfrey holding a 62.1 to 61.0 edge. However, Capuano has delivered much better quality in that span, with a 3.54 ERA compared to a 4.33 mark for Pelfrey.

Despite Pelfrey’s attempts to diversify his repertoire, he is still more of a one-pitch guy than Capuano. According to FanGraphs, Pelfrey throws his fastball 65.3 percent of the time and his other four pitches make up the remaining 34.7 percent. Meanwhile, Capuano throws his fastball 58.4 percent of the time while he uses changeup 26.6 and slider 15.0 percent of the time.

Subjectively, Pelfrey feels like a reliever, the type of guy who could add 2-3 miles per hour to his fastball if he didn’t have to pace himself. And with Capuano coming off all of the arm troubles he’s had in the past few years, is it really in his best interest to be pitching multiple times each week? Pelfrey could be in the mix for 7th inning or later duties. Could you really imagine Capuano coming on with the bases loaded and a one-run lead?

Of course, the Mets could go in another direction and look to protect Santana and Capuano by going to a six-man rotation down the stretch. It’s unorthodox but it might be the right thing in this situation. Nobody right now is screaming to be moved out of the rotation and this move babies the pitchers who have had recent arm troubles.

This will be another test for manager Terry Collins, as much as how he handles the lineup once the injured corner infielders return. Generally, Collins has done a good job keeping the Mets afloat under difficult circumstances through the first 65 games of the season. Will he have the necessary creativity and fortitude to make the right calls for the final 65?

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A second look at Mets 2B Justin Turner

In the month of June, six of the Mets eight regulars have an OPS over .800 and two regulars carry a sub-.600 OPS. It will surprise no one that Jason Bay is in the latter category. But many might be caught off guard that the other member of the poor-hit club this month is Justin Turner. In nine games this month, Turner has a .216/.268/.297 line, which earned him a day off Saturday night.

Turner’s slump started the last day of May, when he took an 0-for-4. Coming into that game, Turner had a .337 AVG and an .851 OPS. In 10 days, his overall line has fell to a .293 AVG and a .746 OPS.

Generally, the fan base very much likes Turner. He acquitted himself well in limited action last year and didn’t complain when he received only token consideration for the open second base job in Spring Training. But Turner saved his ace for when he was promoted to the majors in 2011. Nothing will endear you to fans more than hitting when you get your first real chance. Turner was installed as a starter for good on May 12th and in his first 17 games he batted .342 with an .899 OPS.

Meanwhile, fans have swallowed the Turner Kool-Aid and begun thinking of this as his true talent level, rather than a well-timed hot streak. I hate to break it to everyone, but Turner is simply not this good. Coming into this season, he merited just two projections from the systems available on FanGraphs. Marcel saw him producing a .702 OPS in 211 PA. ZiPS pegged him with a .697 OPS over 531 PA.

Now, projection systems are certainly not infallible. But these two systems saw Turner as virtually the same hitter. They saw him as someone who certainly wouldn’t embarrass you if you had to play him, but not someone you would want in your lineup at any cost.

Turner’s hot streak mentioned above came thanks to a .390 BABIP. It is simply not realistic to expect someone to maintain that BABIP over a full season. Guys like David Wright, who had a .394 BABIP in 2009, are the exception, sort of like seeing someone in the Chess Club being able to bench press 250 pounds.

Clearly, Turner is not a .513 OPS hitter, like he’s been in his last 10 games, just as he’s not an .899 OPS hitter. But where in the middle does his true talent lie? Overall this year, he has a .746 OPS, which is probably at the top end of what we should expect over a full season. ZiPS forecasts him to post a .702 OPS over the remainder of the season to finish the year with a .716 mark in the category.

A .716 OPS would rank 14th among full-time second basemen this season. Last year there were 17 second basemen who played enough to qualify for the FanGraphs leaderboards. Turner would rank 11th with that .716 OPS.

Meanwhile, the preseason projections on Daniel Murphy forecasted a better hitter. Marcel had him with a .748 OPS (46 points higher than Turner) while ZiPS projected a .764 mark (67 points higher). So far this year, Murphy has a .774 OPS, higher than what the two other systems forecasted, but beneath the .794 Bill James projection.

ZiPS sees Murphy putting up a .768 OPS the rest of the way and now projects Murphy to finish with a .774 OPS. That’s a difference of 58 points in OPS in end of year projections between Murphy and Turner, a pretty substantial amount. The difference is 66 points the remainder of the season.

At some point Wright and Ike Davis are going to come off the disabled list. And when that point happens, those guys should play their normal spots and Murphy should be the second baseman while Turner becomes the bench guy.

So, be grateful for the production that Turner gave the Mets when Davis hit the disabled list. He was the shot in the arm that the club so desperately needed. But do not look at him as a potential starter on a playoff-caliber club. As a starter, Turner is a place holder, someone to hold down the position until a better option comes along. And the Mets already have a better option in Murphy.

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Return of a healthy Angel Pagan has become forgotten storyline

While Mets’ fans bemoan lingering injuries to David Wright and Ike Davis, as well as Jason Bay’s free fall, lost in their angst is the fact that the Mets are actually playing some good baseball of late.

The Mets are now 8-4 in their last 12 games and are just one game back of being .500 once again. They are also now just 4.5 games back in the wild card standings. (And still a respectable 6.5 games back of the Phillies)

While the ‘Buffalo Soldiers,’ i.e. Justin Turner, Ruben Tejada, Dillon Gee etc. can rightly lay claim to some of the success the Mets are currently having, the return of Angel Pagan has gone rather unnoticed and under-appreciated.

Since his return on May 27, Pagan has gone 20-58 with five extra-base hits, seven RBI’s, nine runs and five stolen bases. Pagan has shown great burst in the field as well. Most of all, Pagan has brought back a stabilizing presence to the clubhouse.

With Wright and Davis out, it is up to Pagan-as well as Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes-to lead these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed tots through the treacherous waters known as Major League Baseball.

The thing that separates Pagan above all other players (looking at you Jason Bay) is his confidence.

There is a calm resolve inside Pagan that is unmatched by few Mets’ players. Pagan is a good leader and is never one to step on toes.

One such instance was the way Pagan and Carlos Beltran had to decide who should play Center Field for the club in Spring Training. Pagan and Beltran amicably came to the conclusion that it was in the best interest of the Mets that Pagan man center field. There was no bickering or any contempt between the two.

Besides his leadership qualities, Pagan also helps the Mets out with his versatility. Pagan has batted in several spots in the order. To date, Pagan has batted lead-off, second, fourth, fifth and sixth. With his speed and moderate amount of pop, Pagan can be used in various spots in the lineup.

Currently, Pagan is at the five-hole and he should remain there while Bay works out his seemingly never-ending issues. Whenever the Mets get Wright and Davis back, then a move up to the two-hole would be a natural spot for Pagan.

While his season numbers don’t tell the story (.246/.310/.349 1 HR, 13 RBI’s, 16 runs), do remember that Pagan was battling an oblique injury for most of April, and since his return he has raised his batting average 87 points.

With each passing day, we are steadily seeing the 2010 breakout version of Pagan. It’s not a moment too soon, and it’s no coincidence that the Mets are 8-6 with Pagan back in the lineup.

So, while Turner, Gee, and Tejada (not to mention Jason Pride-who did an admirable job filling in for Pagan) should get a tremendous amount of applause, don’t forget to pat Pagan on the back too. Without Pagan’s experience, versatility and presence the Mets could be in an even bigger hole than they already are.

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Mets are wasting time with Bay

There is only so much that can be done with a slumping player. You can send them to the batting cages. You have them work with the hitting coach. You can give him advice until his ears bleed or his brain explodes. However, at some point, you do have to realize that maybe the player is just not going to get it done and leave it at that. This is the story of Jason Bay.

So what exactly do you do with a player as currently bad as Bay? When mechanics and injury have all been ruled out, the only thing left is mental issues. Time off is always an option so that he can clear his head. Could he possibly be psyching himself out without the presence of David Wright? People have made it known that Wright is stellar when he is surrounded by other powerful hitters in the line-up. So it could stand to reason that Bay is dealing with the same thing. Is he feeling a certain amount of pressure to perform without Wright and Ike Davis in the line-up? The only player who can really hit for power that is with him is Carlos Beltran. It does not seem to be enough.

No matter what the reason is, I hardly think two days off is going to get the job done. You have to explore the options of sending him down to the minors. I would rather see Fernando Martinez come up and let Bay go down to the minors to work on that swing rather than take up valuable space on the bench. He is of no use to the team the way he is right now. He should not be here.

The New York Mets should not be wasting time on players who are underperforming. With the All-Star break coming up next month, signaling the end of the first half, and the team still 6.5 games out of first place, they need to make quick decisions. They need to start pulling guys who are not getting it done and bring up those who can. Send down Bay to work on what he needs to work on. There is no harm in it. The worst that can happen is he will do no better there. In which case you know what needs to be done. If Martinez were to be successful, he can continue with the club. There is no time to be prideful. Do what is best for this team while they have a chance. While the division seems like a long shot, they are only 4.5 games out from the Wildcard. Tick tock! Tick tock!

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Besides a Quality Bullpen, Mets Lack Presence

“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

A four-run lead headed to the bottom of the eighth is supposed to be safe. To paraphrase Howie Rose, I was putting this one in the books before the eighth was over. But we know the narrative these past two weeks, don’t we? This bullpen stinks and no lead is safe until the 27th out. Yes, I know Pedro Beato and Jason Isringhausen were horrid last night (6/8). Yes, leadoff walks to geriatrics the likes of Craig Counsell are inexcusable. No, Dale Thayer has no business in a Major League ballpark, unless he possesses a ticket. I get all that. There might be a bigger, less tangible problem out there.

Angel Pagan batted fourth last night. For real. Not a typo.

Where the Mets have been playing some pretty decent baseball of late, there’s still a chasm in the middle of the order that has nothing to do with the talent level of the players per se. Angel Pagan is a good ballplayer, who has had some great moments. He is a valuable asset for the Mets, one which – as was seen earlier in the year – is sorely missed when it’s not around. But when you think “cleanup hitter,” does the name “Angel Pagan” immediately leap to mind? Does the guy in the other dugout whine, “Oh crap: how do we pitch to Pagan?” The sad part is, with the lineup as presently constituted – taking into account DL denizens David Wright and Ike Davis – he was their best option last night.

But this has nothing to do with the players who are missing, really, because neither of them is the type of player that gives a team a mental advantage in a ballgame either. Wright is a terrific hitter, who opposing pitchers know they can K with some semi-regularity. Davis is more of a Keith Hernandez, line-drive kinda guy. And of course there’s Jose Reyes, who is living up to his rep as TMEPIB (“The Most Exciting Player In Baseball”) right now. No. The Mets don’t have a Prince Fielder, an Albert Pujols, a Chipper Jones (as much as it galls me to speak that name in this context), a Ryan Howard, a Darryl Strawberry or a Mike Piazza. Not even a Troy Tulowitzki. There isn’t anyone on this squad right now who can put sweat on the upper lip of a pitcher they way those guys can/could.

Is there anyone on the horizon in the organization who can fit that bill? Maybe new draftee Brandon Nimmo…in 2016.

Oy.

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Month of June could ultimately define Alderson’s tenure with Mets

With the Mets still playing just good enough to be four games back in the Wild Card standings prior to Wednesday’s game, General Manger Sandy Alderson has some tough choices to make.

Alderson will have to balance a delicate situation in the next month by trying to please a growing apathetic Mets’ fanbase, while also trying to build a competent ballclub through his own innovative visions.

These two ideologies are set to clash in the upcoming weeks. Either way you slice it, the choice Alderson makes to determine the Mets’ future will undoubtedly be universally un-liked.

Channeling your inner die-hard fandom, you have to love how gritty and determined the Mets are playing in the face of adversity(injuries, economic woes, owner tirades).

Who doesn’t enjoy the Mets getting unexpected production from the likes of Justin Turner, Ruben Tejada and Dillon Gee?

Who doesn’t get a smile out of the improvement Daniel Murphy has made in the last month or so?

This club just does not quit, and that’s what you love to see as a fan. When the Mets get their full lineup back with the return of David Wright and Ike Davis (not to mention the anticipated return of Johan Santana), there is a faction of fans/media that think the Mets could contend for a wild card spot.

It’s not a real stretch to imagine they can’t. After starting 5-13, the Mets have gone 24-19 (which places them well above the means in the NL) since.

And that’s why it will be so hard to say goodbye to fan favorites like Jose Reyes, if Alderson does decide to trade him at the deadline, as everyone is penciling him to do.

Trading Reyes would absolutely cripple any chance the Mets would have at the postseason (basically rendering them hopeless). Dealing Reyes would also strip the fanbase of any plausible excitement in the last few months of the season. A reason to go to the park, if you will.

Even with a full lineup, does Alderson really think this team can contend as presently constituted? That’s a tough decision he’s got to deal with. He can’t think like a fan, he’s got to think like an executive.That’s what he’s getting paid the big bucks for.

We haven’t even delved into the possibility of trading other cornerstone players like Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez.

Regardless of how well, or not well, the Mets are doing in the present, Alderson has to think what his team is going to look like in 2012 and beyond.

Playing devil’s advocate, can Alderson even afford Reyes? Wouldn’t he have to pay ‘Carl Crawford money’? As owner Fred Wilpon has notoriously said, he’s not worth it, and he isn’t going to get that type of money.

And continuing to play devil’s advocate, wouldn’t it also be prudent to deal Beltran and K-Rod (granted he would waive his vesting 2012 vesting option in a trade) when their value is as high as it can get.

After returning from my recent trip to Las Vegas, I am reminded of the old poker adage. You got to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them. With just a few weeks until the trade deadline, the clock is ticking.

The pot is building and the stakes are getting higher, and Alderson has to make the ‘call’ of his life, or make the safe ‘fold’ and rebuild for the future.

The thing is, a ‘call’ (retaining at least Reyes til the end of 2011) might appease the fan base, but a ‘fold’ might be the economical, and as painful as it is to say,  most sensible thing to do.

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