Sunday, May 06, 2007

Kings of NY

The Mets do not receive enough attention. Not in this column, not from the NY media, not in the national media. But Willie Randolph is just fine with that, so long as they keep winning.

Lets spend some time on these Mets. The biggest question mark heading into the season, has become their biggest strength, pitching. John Maine is 5-0 with a miniscule ERA. Glavine shows no signs of slowing down on his march to 300 wins. El Duque was off to a solid start, looking dominant at times with that darting breaking ball, until the inevitable injury bug hit. But you had to plan for the old man to take off about 6-8 weeks throughout the long regular season. He is one of those semi-retired employees working part time before moving down to the retirement community in Florida. As long as he is there October 1, you accept it. As for Oliver Perez, he is either great or terrible. I am still not sold, but when he keeps the walks down he is dominant, ask Florida and Washington, his last two victims. Still inconsistent, but overall he is closer to the 250 K pitcher of 2004, than the 6+ ERA thrower of last season. How did the Pirates, not exactly a team trying to win now, give up on a lefty pitcher with immense talent? If there is any team, outside of KC, that can afford to sacrifice wins for giving young players chance after chance, its Pittsburgh. I think this will burn them. It could be like the Dodgers ditching Pedro.

The story is clearly Maine. Baltimore must be kicking themselves. Their pitching staff is missing the ace that Maine is becoming. Will he keep a sub-2 ERA and go unbeaten, no chance. But he is showing the make-up and stuff to be a top flight pitcher. Maybe the playoff run last season built the confidence he needed, or the magic wand of Rick Peterson uncovered his talents, or a little of a both. Watching him pitch against Arizona the other night, without his best stuff, relying mostly on his fastball, and still shutdown the D-Backs proves this is no fluke. I did not see this coming.

Another potential sore spot, the bullpen, has also stepped up. You expected Wagner to be Wagner, but the emergence of rookie Joe Smith, and the effectiveness of Pedro Felciano and Scott Schoenweis is surprising. Randolph has used the pen effectively, putting each into spots where they can succeed, and the starters have helped by going deep into games, taking the pressure off the pen. Maybe they teach the Yankees a thing or two.

The scary part, is the Mets are in first place, playing great, but they have yet to hit their stride. David Wright is just starting to emerge from a season-long slump with a few homers this week, while Delgado continues to struggle around the Mendoza line and show no power. With the middle of the lineup ineffective, the Mets offense has relied on Reyes, who is a legitimate MVP candidate now. Reyes is better than I thought. He is the Carl Crawford of the NL, the proverbial 5-tool superstar. If you start a team today, he is one of the first three players in the discussion.

Besides Reyes, and the expected contribution from Beltran, Shawn Green is playing like its 1999, Moises Alou continues his steady production, though he is on the El Duque injury time off program, and new role players seem to step up everyday. Drag bunts from Endy Chavez, ninth inning homers from Damion Easley. The formula reeks of late ‘90’s Yankee success.

And lets not be so quick to bury Mike Pelfrey. As I warned with Phil Hughes, Pelfrey is only 23 and less than ten starts into his career. A few rough starts, and all of a sudden people question if his stuff is really top flight, how good is he really going to be, and are ready to send him down. Come on people. Maybe he is not as good as the hype, but he is better than Chan Ho Park, and he is still destined to become a top of the rotation starter. Live with the rookie pains, let him learn, and be patient. Don’t pull a Pittsburgh and jettison his talent out of town before he has a chance to develop.

The Mets are playing great, and I think will make the playoffs. But, Met fans, temper the enthusiasm a bit, they still have flaws, and the Atlanta Braves are for real. Too many people scoff at Atlanta, as if last season erased fourteen years of success. The Braves are for real. Their starting pitching, led by Hudson and Smoltz, both of whom are better than anyone the Mets trot out to the mound, the bullpen is solid after adding the righty-lefty combo of Soriano and Gonzalez in the off-season, and the lineup is anchored by two All-Star sluggers named Jones. I think the Braves and Mets will battle, and both be standing in the end, since the other two divisions are extremely weak. So do not get too cocky yet Met fans, remember, you still have not beat the Braves at their peak.


Post a Comment

<< Home